Understanding Cemetery Symbols by Tui Snider
[The following is an adapted excerpt from my book, Understanding Cemetery Symbols. I hope you enjoy it! Also, full disclosure: that’s an Amazon affiliate link. If you buy my book after clicking it, I make a few pennies at no additional cost to you.]
Scraped Graveyards used to be common
Lush green lawns are such a common feature of today’s burial grounds that if you could travel back in time to the 1800’s for a graveyard tour through the rural South, you might be in for a shock. Back then, many graveyards were kept free of vegetation. Why?
An African tradition that was brought to America
Historians think this practice came to America through the influence of African Americans, since a similar custom of scraped burial grounds with mounded graves is seen along the slave coast of Africa.
It’s assumed the custom then gained popularity throughout the South due to its practical aspects.
Grass was a nuisance, not a luxury
To early settlers, grass had different connotations than it does today. Not only could it harbor bugs and snakes, but in the days before lawn sprinklers, a large expanse of dried grass could be a fire hazard. Just as a homesteader’s cabin often had dirt floors, their yards, as well, were often kept free of vegetation.
By the same token, early cemeteries throughout the South were often scraped clean of plant life. This practice spread throughout 19th century cemeteries in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.
So why did this tradition change? I’ll get into that in another blog post!
But as you can see from the photos I’ve shared, Denson Cemetery near Grapeland is one of the few remaining examples of a scraped graveyard here in Texas.
Want to learn more about cemetery symbols?
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