Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography

by Douglas Keister (Photographer)

Hardcover, 2004



Call number

NB1800 .K45


Gibbs Smith (2004), 256 pages


Certain symbols abound in modern Western culture that are instantly recognizable: the cross signifies Christianity, the six-pointed Star of David is revered by Jews, the golden arches frequently means it's time for lunch. Other symbols, however, require a bit of decoding-particularly those found in cemeteries. Cemeteries are virtual encyclopedias of symbolism. Engravings on tombstones, mausoleums and memorials tell us just about everything there is to know about a person- date of birth and death as well as religion, ethnicity, occupation, community interests, and much more. In the fascinating new book Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by noted author Douglas Keister, the secrets of cemetery symbolism are finally revealed. For instance, did you know that it is quite rare to see a sunflower on a tombstone? Did you know that the human foot symbolizes humility and service since it consistently touches the earth? Or the humble sheaf of wheat-while it is often used to denote someone who has lived a long and fruitful life, do you know other meanings it might carry? Stories in Stone provides history along with images of a wide variety of common and not-so-common cemetery symbols, and offers an in-depth examination of stone relics and the personal and intimate details they display-flora and fauna, religious icons, society symbols, and final impressions of how the deceased wished to be remembered. Douglas Keister has created a practical field guide that is compact and portable, perfect for those interested in family histories and genealogical research, and is the only book of its kind that unlocks the language of symbols in a comprehensive and easy-to-understand manner. --… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member cmc
A neat little book, but not quite as comprehensive as I might have hoped.

Has some amazing photographs and interesting historical tidbits, but isn’t quite as useful as it could be. The descriptions of various motifs are often accompanied by photographs that don’t show all of the elements
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described; having multiple examples would have been nice.

Heavily concentrated on U.S. funerary art, with occasional examples drawn from major European cemeteries.

Much more about gravestones and smaller monuments than mausolea and other larger cemetery structures. (For which James Stevens Curl’s A Celebration of Death: Introduction to Some of the Buildings, Monuments and Settings of Funerary Architecture in the Western European Tradition (B.T. Batsford, 1993) is a better resource.)
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LibraryThing member Joles
As a person who spends vacation time learning about history of places, I often find myself in cemeteries. This is a wonderful guide about the markings found there. It touches first on the architectural style of the grave and later on the symbols found on the stone itself.

I was disappointed that
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there wasn't anything specific about cadaver stones. I realize there are very few of them left in the world, but at least a mention would have been neat. They are so very fascinating.

And as someone else mentioned, having an edition that has more gravestones from around the world would be nice, since most of those pictured were from the US.
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LibraryThing member MerryMary
Profusely illustrated field guide to tombstone carving and symbolism. Concise paragraphs give meaning and historic background. Excellent book - fascinating.
LibraryThing member caerulius
Extremely interesting to anyone interested in history, art, or headstone iconography. Not only does this volume give an overview of grave-marker and monument history and give some details regarding some of the finest cemeteries in the world, but it also supplies a dictionary of iconographical
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LibraryThing member patricia_poland
This is one of those beautiful books -- from it's half-sized book jacket to the excellent photographs this is a great reference tool for cemetery motifs and symbolism. In the back is a good list of Acronyms for Societies, Clubs, and Organizations often found on stones. Can't imagine being without
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this one!
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LibraryThing member FayetteFiles
Since I am a lecturer involving cemetery research, cemetery symbolism, funeral customs and art, death (customs, photographs, invitations, etc), I purchased this neat book. This book does include wonderful photographs and interesting information. Although I would highly recommend to anyone seeking
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additional information, it was not as comprehensive as I had hoped.
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LibraryThing member amkm
Handy, informative guide to cemetery art. It has been very useful, particularly in regard to fraternal organizations.
LibraryThing member bookishbat
First, this is a great size to take traveling. And the color photos are also lovely, especially when so many other books are stuck in black and white. This book is especially good if you're looking up symbols on tombs and finding out what they mean - from animals to Greek letters to societies
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(there's a multiple page listing of acronyms and what they mean).

This isn't the first book I'd recommend for scholarship - but I have spent many hours on airplanes reading or just looking at the photos.
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LibraryThing member debbieaheaton
In Keister’s book, the author has created a field guide for cemetery enthusiasts that decodes the meanings of all the symbols encountered on gravestones. A must have for the serious sleuth.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

256 p.; 4.75 inches


158685321X / 9781586853211




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