Creativity abounds in memorials to the dead. The epitaph itself runs a wide gamut from religious quotations and solemn messages of loss, to wisecracks.
Some seek to warn us of the lack of joys to come: “Sinners are never saved by putting their trust in self,” or “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Others are a tad more upbeat: “I’ll be back,” is quite popular, and comedian John Belushi speaks from the great beyond: “I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on.”
Some folks rest beneath replicas of things that were important to them; a BMW, a Harley-Davidson, or a pool table seem to be guy things. Women, if they are into showy declarations, choose more artistic devices such as books and pianos.
Humour in the face of the Grim Reaper shows up on many memorials.
Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, and many other cartoon characters, has “That’s all folks” inscribed on his headstone.
Comedian Spike Milligan is one of several to have “I told you I was sick” engraved on their markers.
Talk show host Merv Griffin tells us “I will not be right back after this message.”
Kathryn (Kay) Andrews of Utah was clearly a fun person, for her headstone tells us that “Wherever she goes, there’s laughter.” Included on the marble is Kay’s recipe for fudge.
Advice From Beyond the Grave
Clement Gillman (1882-1946) tells us he “Led a common sense and therefore happy life because he stubbornly refused to be bamboozled by his female relations by his scientific friends and by the rulers spiritual and secular of the society into which without his consent he was born.”
John Ely (1908-1998), who went by the moniker “Fast Eddy,” “did it my way and wound up here.” But, he did it his way for nine full decades.
Whereas Jerry L. Farrer, 66 years old when the end came in 2003, expressed disappointment at his untimely demise with the inscription “I was supposed to live to 102 and be shot by a jealous husband.”
An unknown left this behind: “I made some good deals. I made some bad deals. I really went in the hole with this one.”
A gentleman of the writer’s acquaintance wanted “Was that it then?” on his marker. His widow vetoed it.
Coy B. Shillinger blames others for her passing at the age of 83. Her headstone in Skagit County, Washington says “5 bratty kids done her in.”
Robert Clay Allison's (1840-1887) friends and/or relatives expressed their belief in dubious frontier justice: “He never killed a man who did not need killing.”
The Cryptogram Headstone
“Dr.” Samuel Bean was a teacher in Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada. He acquired a medical certificate from a diploma mill and set up practice as a doctor. On September 27, 1865, his 23-year-old wife, Henrietta, died. He married Susanna Clegg and she died in childbirth on April 27, 1867, at the age of 26.
Bean had his two wives interred in a double grave in Rushes Cemetery, Wellesley and he erected a headstone with a curious inscription. He never told anyone what the cryptic code meant.
People came to crack the code and so many took rubbings of the message that it became illegible and a replica was made in the 1980s. The custodian of the cemetery said he'd solved the puzzle in the 1940s but, like its creator, he kept the knowledge to himself.
It was left to a 94-year-old resident of a senior's home in the neighbourhood to unravel the mystery; she shared her solution, which follows below. (Feel free to skip the answer if you want to try to solve the puzzle yourself).
Writing for Atlas Obscura, David McWilliams tells us the trick is “Beginning on the seventh character of the seventh row down and reading in a spiral fashion.” What appears is a record of the names and deaths of Bean's spouses followed by “2 better wives 1 man never had, they were gifts from God but are now in Heaven. May God help me, S.B., to meet them there.”
Remembering the Unloved
Relatives sometimes reach out to those that have wronged them in life, and not in a good way.
Bernard P. Hopkins (1904-1993) of Texas seems to have been a particularly unsavoury character. On a plaque next to his grave marker is the “Legacy of BPH: Liar, Thief, Cheat, Selfish, Unsharing, Unloving, Unkind, Disloyal, Dishonorable, Unfaithful.” It seems marriage counselling might have been a challenge.
Herman Harband erected a memorial in the Beth David Memorial Gardens, Florida to what seems to have also been a troubled marriage: “My wife Eleanor Arthur of Queens, N.Y. lived like a princess for 20 years traveling the world with the best of everything. When I went blind she tried to poison me. Took all my money all my medication and left me in the dark. Alone and sick it’s a miracle I escaped. I won’t see her in Heaven because she’s surely going to Hell.” Ouch.
Another angry spouse sent his companion off with this message, “Here is resting my dearest wife Brunjilda Jalamonte 1973-1997. Lord, please welcome her with the same joy I send her to you.”
Jilted and distraught wives get their revenge too.
John (no other identification) had a unique send off in the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, Montreal.
“Free your body
Unfold your powerful wings
Climb up the highest mountain . . .”
The sentiments continue so that the initial letters of each line spell out a well-known, two-word salutation, and it isn’t “Love you.” Apparently, the stone was jointly paid for by John’s wife and his mistress.
Lawrence L. Cook (1934-2004) seems to have been a bit of a louse. His marker no doubt put in place by his aggrieved partner reads “Ma loves Pa. Pa loves women. Ma caught Pa with two in swimmin. Here lies Pa . . .”
And how about this rhyming couplet?
“It does my heart a world of good
to see you in a box of wood.”
Sibling rivalry in La Pointe, Wisconsin, or is it an unfortunate absence of punctuation?
“To the Memory of Abraham Beaulieu
Born 15 September 1822
Accidentally shot 4th April 1844
As a mark of affection from his brother.”
Maxine Menster’s Christmas cookies were celebrated as confections of wonder. The Cascade, Iowa woman died in 1994 at the age of 68 and her family put the recipe on the back of her gravestone.
And here it is:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cream
Cream sugar and butter then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients and add to the dough while drizzling in the cream. Chill and roll out with flour before cutting out cookies. Bake in a 350 degree oven and frost.
- “Interesting Epitaphs.” Find a Grave, undated.
- “Just Kidding: Using Humor Effectively.” Louis R. Franzini, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, July 2012.
- “Here Are some Funny Epitaphs from Real Tombstones.” Thomas L. Fletcher, Brigham Young University, undated.
- “The Funniest and Meanest Tombstone Engravings.” Gary Buiso, New York Post, October 26, 2014.
- “Bean Puzzle Tombstone.” David McWilliams, Atlas Obscura, December 5, 2016.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Rupert Taylor