Symbols

I know this place, and even think it’s true (If places can be true), but what does it say?”

John Koethe, from his 2011 poem ‘Stele’

Last Testaments

The sheer quantity of gravestones in Forest Hill Cemetery can be overwhelming. It is easy to allow the thousands of stones, similar in shape, size and color, to blend into one another and only focus on the grandest, largest, and most distinctive. Yet, each gravestone, even the smallest and simplest, provides a final enduring testament to a human life. Each stone is inscribed with symbols—text and image—that communicate a brief narrative outline to the life of the person it memorializes.

The brevity of the biographies you will find etched and carved in the gravestones of Forest Hill Cemetery can’t begin to express the full richness and complexity of the lives they summarize. However, if we know how to read them, these stone summaries can speak to the forms of identity that the subjects or their loved ones considered most meaningful or important to remember.

Below you can explore four categories that introduce signs and symbols that express some of the forms of identity you will find throughout Forest Hill.

Individual

SAYING IT WITH PICTURES You may be struck, as you walk around Forest Hill Cemetery, by the number of gravestones bearing personal images. In many cases, memories of daily life have been chosen as memorials: ice skates; local wildlife such as sandhill cranes; pets; playing cards; drum sticks; Yoda; a microscope; golf clubs and other sports […]

Sacred

This page is intended as a starting place for thinking about the sorts of sacred symbols and symbols of faith that you might encounter at Forest Hill Cemetery. We encourage you to explore both this site and Forest Hill Cemetery further! Here are some useful starting places: Symbols: Expressions of Collective Identity, Symbols: Inherited Identity, and Ethnic […]

Collective

Forest Hill is full of graves that express group or collective identity. These groups are, for the most part, formed by organizations that require time, commitment, and loyalty from their members in exchange for the support and kinship of a family that is chosen rather than born to. The symbols that denote this kind of identity […]

Inherited

There are a number of ways that clues to inherited identity may be inscribed on a gravestone. These forms of identity—including ethnic, cultural, and familial—often overlap and incorporate symbols from many other sections of this website, but contextualize those symbols with the depth of shared histories that characterizes inherited identity. FAMILY The most intimate boundaries of […]