Friday, March 26, 2010

The Hands of Highland Cemetery

Dusty D has been working on writing a small self-guided tour of some of the most beautiful and interesting iconography to be seen in Highland Cemetery.

The guide includes a map to go from spot to spot and a brief explanation of what the various symbols are said to mean. The tour will be a printable pdf and will form my upcoming story for the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

One of the areas of tombstone iconography that fascinate me are the depictions of hands. In Highland, there are hands pointing up to heaven, down-pointing hands holding the "broken chain" of a severed family connection, hands pointing to a book, representing the Bible, hands pointing a scroll curled around an arrow, and this handclasp, representing the deceased being welcomed into Heaven by Jesus.

One wonders, just out of curiosity, if it is the left hand or the right hand depicted here on Tillie Booth's grave that is the hand of Jesus.

Other things included in the tour are: graves showing the "draped urn" symbol, the "sheaf of wheat" symbol, the ivy symbol, and symbols corresponding to occupations and fraternal groups. It also features the three (?) dogs to be seen in Highland.

I'd like to know what you think would be of interest to a visitor not necessarily familiar with Highland. Is there a grave of particular beauty that is a favorite of yours? An unusual symbol you've noticed? I can include a quote by you about it if you give me permission to quote you. Time to go back to the cemetery now for more research!


Dusty D said...

Are you, like me, a taphophile?

Lisele said...

Definitely a taphophiliac.

I think of the tree stump stones, I guess denoting a tree cut down in its prime, also I never thought of that meaning til just this moment. Also many weeping willows icons, I guess denoting sadness. Also, since they are a waterside tree, perhaps bringing to mind crossing over the river Jordan to heaven, or just simply, weeping.

And why so many lambs? "Like lambs to slaughter"? Grisly if so. Probably it means resignation to death. Or perhaps being a "lamb of God," with Jesus, shepherding the dead into heaven.

Hmmmm, I must say, "Watch" is my favorite symbol in the cemetary -- he is so deliciously enigmatic.

I can't WAIT for this guide, DD!

Dusty D said...

There are at least 4 "tree stump" stones in Highland, 3 by the same artist whose work appears in other cemeteries around the county. I wish I knew who it was.

I find your interpretation of willow + river Jordan beautiful and poetic.

Lambs signify children. Lambs on graves signify a very young child who died. There are a very large number of them in Highland as you know--pretty sad to see so many.

Other animals to be seen on stones include dogs, doves, one heron I think, at least one (modern) fish, and....a raccoon, I kid you not.

Lisele said...

Wow, I hope the raccoon and the heron appear in your tour!

Anasia said...

holy cats! can't wait to go on the tour myself!

Dusty D said...

That is very nice, Anasia! Worked on the map last night and a rough draft of the descriptions is just have to make it as nice as I can. Hope you like it! :)

cmadler said...

Just found this site, which explains a lot of the different symbolism in Victorian cemetaries: