Decoding the Secret Symbols of Tombstones

Boot hill gravesites and historic cemeteries are popular tourist destinations, attracting scholars and sightseers with their unique epitaphs, architecture, and sense of history. To taphophiles (also known as cemetery enthusiasts or tombstone tourists) cemeteries are a place of discovery and exploration where research, gravestone rubbing, photography, and art combine to satisfy an interest in the past. The carvings and symbolism found on tombstones and cemetery structures are more than decorative, conveying information far beyond that of text. Emblems have historically been used to communicate personality traits, social standing, familial relationships, affiliations and trades, religious status, pastimes, and achievements. To tell these stories carvers have employed a variety of objects, animals, elements from nature, and figures to enrich the narratives of the past. In this program Cindy Lee, Debe Branning, and Jenn Shaffer Merry, experts from the Arizona Chapter of the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS), decode the meanings behind tombstone symbolism and reveal some of the subtle regional distinctions common to gravesites in the west.

Debe Branning, Jenn Shaffer Merry, and Cindy Lee

AGS is an international organization that was founded for the purpose of furthering the study and preservation of gravestones, with an interest in gravemarkers of all periods and styles. Through its publications, conferences, workshops and exhibits it promotes the study of gravestones from historical and artistic perspectives, and expands public awareness of the significance of historic gravemarkers.

Program included in museum admission; free for museum members.