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  • Writer's pictureNancy Rogers

Iconography


I’m supposed to take part in a cemetery event tomorrow at the Settle’s Cemetery in Charlotte. The cemetery dates to around 1770 and contains the grave of at least one Revolutionary War soldier.

The cemetery’s pretty beat up. A year and a half ago, people tore through it with baseball bats, and a hundred years ago, it was use as a ram’s run—an enclosure where rams owned by local residents were quarantined to keep them away from female sheep.

I have to wear an antebellum dress and a BONNET! I hate wearing that dress, but it absolutely draws the attention of tour goers. There’s something about petticoats that people are drawn to.

I specialized in iconography—the picture graphs or decorations found on headstones and cemetery monuments.

During colonial times, cemeteries were ghoulish places where things went bump in the night. Skulls, crossbones and scary-look angels dominate those early headstones. But by the mid-1800s, attitudes changed. Cemeteries became more park-like—places where families could tarry to remember their loved ones. No more skulls and crossbones.

There wasn’t enough space on a headstone to tell passersby how amazing their depart were, so Victorians turned to symbols that told their story for them. Today those symbols are a mystery to most people, but if you lived 150 years ago, you’d easily be able to read your way through a cemetery.

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