Headstones, also called tombstones or gravestones, are memorial stones set at the head of a grave. Originally a headstone was the stone lid of a stone coffin, or the coffin itself, and a gravestone was the stone slab that was laid over a grave. Now, all three terms are also used for markers placed at the head of a grave. Once it was common to use a headstone and a smaller stone a short distance away called the footstone. Footstones were usually made of the same material as the headstone but were much smaller. The footstone was usually inscribed with the initials of the deceased. Today, only headstones accompany the grave.
Materials for headstones can vary. From 1861 until around 1873, wooden headstones were used to mark the graves of Civil War soldiers. Due to the lack of durability of this type of headstone, they were changed out for a more durable stone such as marble. Marble was a popular choice by the Greeks for headstones. We now know acid rain can cause severe damage to poorer grades of marble. Victorians opted for granite headstones. The variety of colors and crystalline textures, in addition to the durability, make granite a popular choice for headstones. Bronze headstones are equally as popular as granite headstones. On the contrary, white bronze headstones and sandstone headstones are much rarer. The difference between bronze headstones and white headstones is their composition. While bronze headstones are composed of copper and tin with small amounts of lead and zinc, white bronze headstones are pure zinc. They were given the name White Bronze to make them more appealing to customers. The zinc carbonate is what gives the headstones their characteristic bluish gray color. These two types of headstones were used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many cemeteries prefer granite headstones or bronze headstones in keeping with the overall aesthetics of their grounds.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims have practiced burials for centuries. However, Muslims believe in a humble passing -- one without flowers or headstones. Historically, the cremation of Buddhists was a standard ritual, but, more and more, burial with headstones is becoming the norm among Chinese Buddhists. With Hindus, however, cremation remains a long-standing tradition.
Headstones, regardless of their material, can offer genealogical information that can be valuable to members of families who have left the ancestral home of their forbears. Many descendents of European families lost significant genealogical information during the Bubonic Plague and worse, the Holocaust, because of a privation of headstones. In the early to mid-seventeenth century, it is believed that headstones for the first Dutch settlers along the lower Hudson River were limited to the wealthy -- again, suspending ancestral ties.
As the American landscape continues to flourish as one grand mosaic of different cultures, it is extremely important to utilize headstones as a link to onesí heritage. With a variety of granite headstones or bronze headstones that are available one can choose a headstone to reflect the personality of the loved one.
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