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Historic Cemetery Symbols: What Weeping Willows Mean

Weeping Willow (photo by Bill Dodds)
Weeping Willow (photo by Bill Dodds)

Inspired by a Newsletter Subscriber!

This week’s historic cemetery symbols post was inspired by an email from Bill Dodds, a reader who subscribes to my weekly author newsletter. Like me, Bill enjoys traipsing through historic graveyards and taking photos of interesting headstones.

Bill lives in Massachusetts, and he had a question about the symbolic meaning behind Weeping Willows: “As far as i can tell it started to appear on stones in the 1820’s and had about a 50 or 60 year run before it more or less disappeared again.”

Weeping Willow (photo by Bill Dodds)
Weeping Willow (photo by Bill Dodds)

What do weeping willows mean on a headstone?

I’m still researching Weeping Willows, but here’s what I’ve learned, so far:

As you might have guessed Weeping Willows symbolize grief and mourning. I have also been told that in some Native American traditions, a weeping willow means that the deceased was an Iriquois Indian. I doubt, however, that Bill is running into a slew of Iriquois graves during his jaunts.

Most likely, the weeping willow that Bill is seeing up in Massachusetts and the ones that I see here in Texas are referring to ancient Greek symbols that were popular during the 1800’s. In this case, the willow tree is associated with the Underworld. According to ancient Greek lore, Orpheus carried a willow branch with him when he traveled to the Underworld to rescue Eurydice from Hades.

Weeping Willow (photo by Tui Snider)
Weeping Willow (photo by Tui Snider)

What do weeping willows mean on a headstone?

By the way, the first 2 photos in this post were taken by Bill Dodds up in Massachusetts, while the 3rd one was taken by me, here in Texas. Isn’t it interesting to see how differently the willow trees are represented even though the graves are from the same time period? To me, the ones I see here in Texas look a bit like rag mops!

Isn’t it interesting how cemetery symbols go in and out of fashion – just like everything else! I also find it interesting how many links there are between cemetery traditions and ancient Greece? I guess this means I need to bone up on my ancient Greek myths!

Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism:

I am currently writing a field guide to historic cemetery symbolism. Each Tuesday, I share a small snippet from my upcoming book. It’s my goal to create a handy-dandy pocket guide for taphophiles, genealogists, ghost hunters, and anyone else interested in the historic graveyard symbols that have become forgotten over the years.

Which symbols are you curious about?

Let me know in the comments if there is a certain symbol that you are curious about. Also, if you would like to know when the cemetery symbolism guide is available for purchase, scroll down and sign up for my newsletter! I look forward to hearing from you!

Want to read more like this?

To read about more weird, offbeat, and overlooked places, check out my best-selling travel guide:
UNEXPECTED TEXAS: Your Guide to Offbeat & Overlooked History, Day Trips & Fun Things to do near Dallas & Fort Worth

For ghost hunting hot spots, check out my best-selling travel guide to haunted places:
PARANORMAL TEXAS: Your Travel Guide to Haunted Places near Dallas & Fort Worth

For a strange-but-true tale of Texas history, check out this bizarre piece of West Texas history:
The Lynching of the Santa Claus Bank Robber



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No matter where you live in the galaxy, Tui's books can take you on a FUN adventure!
No matter where you live in the galaxy, Tui Snider’s books can take you on a FUN adventure!

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Published inCemeteries & SymbolismHistoric Cemeteries


  1. It’s funny, I’ve never seen that symbolism on UK headstones – the Victorians had a whole range of other things they liked using. Do you know if the Weeping Willow was restricted to the US?

    • Tui Snider Tui Snider

      Oh, wow! I don’t know whether the Weeping Willow is restricted to the US or not. It’s been a while since I wandered through a cemetery in the UK, but now I definitely need to get back there ASAP. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! :)

  2. Tui Snider Tui Snider

    Hehe! I know, I know… it’s a strange pastime – especially since I’m not the slightest bit morbid. (At least, I don’t think I am!)

  3. That’s interesting.
    The second sentence in the first paragraph made me laugh too. That’s some hobby. ;)

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