10 Graveyard Facts

Highgate Cemetery, North London, England

Highgate Cemetery, north London, England

Halloween is coming! In honor of the spooky holiday, I’m participating in Bish Denham’s The Listing Hop* with ten graveyard facts.

1. The word graveyard and cemetery are interchangeable. However, technically, a graveyard is located within a churchyard.

2. In the west, many gravestones face east. This way they (the dead) face the rising sun.

3. Obelisks began showing up in American graveyards in the 1840s during a period of Egyptian Revivalism. Obelisks were associated with greatness and patriotism. They were also cheaper than intricate sculpted monuments.

4. Graving is the hobby of searching out and often photographing specific graves for genealogy or curiosity about the rich and famous.

5. A cenotaph is a marker or monument erected in honor of a person whose remains are elsewhere. It may also be a marker at the initial grave site of a person who has been reinterred elsewhere.

6. An epitaph is a phrase, poem, or statement inscribed on a gravestone.

7. The images carved on gravestones have different meanings (though they are open to interpretation), for example:

  • anchor: hope
  • broken flower or tree: life cut short
  • chain with a broken link: loss of a family member
  • cross: faith
  • hand with the index finger pointing down: God reaching for the soul, often in association with an unexpected death
  • hand with the index finger pointing up: hope of heaven
  • hourglass on its side: time stopped for the deceased
  • mother and child: charity
  • skeleton: life’s brevity
  • winged hourglass: time flies
safety coffin

safety coffin

8. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the anxiety of being buried alive was elevated to new heights. With cholera and yellow fever epidemics and less than ideal medical care, people feared premature burial. To combat this, safety coffins were invented. These coffins came equipped with a bell that one could ring if they found themselves in this most unpleasant situation. Often fresh air came in through a hatch as well. There are no documented cases that anyone ever needed the bell.



9. In 1816, the mortsafe was invented to keep out grave robbers and Resurrectionists who supplied medical/anatomy schools with bodies.

10. Ghouls live in graveyards where they consume human flesh.

Okay, that last one may not be fact as much as myth. I’ll let you decide.

listing hop*Bish Denham‘s The Listing Hop (with co-host Ninja Alex) is a bloghop where one puts together a list of anything! See all the entries here.

Do you have any graveyard trivia to share?

Foxes like to nap in cemeteries!

image of cemetery: Duncan Harris from Nottingham, UK, Wikipedia.org
mortsafe: Kim Traynor, Wikipedia.org
safety coffin: public domain, Wikipedia.org

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  1. Hi there! This was a great list. In Australia we have what we call a cenotaph which is an object which has an eternal flame burning which represents the war dead. So I guess your definition still fits, though in the plural. I was intrigued by what the symbols on headstones meant. 🙂

  2. God reaching for the soul – I like that.
    I wonder if any bells rung in the night when no one was around to hear?
    Thanks for participating in the blog hop!

    1. That would be the case wouldn’t it! 🙁

    2. People were assigned to the "THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT" and their responsibility was to listen for bells ringing in the cemetery. They were listening for "Dead Ringers"

      1. Hello Mountaineer 1!

        Unfortunately, it’s a myth those terms are related to cemeteries. Dead ringer is an old horse racing term for substituting a look-alike horse, and the graveyard shift is just the midnight to eight shift. Both were coined around 1800.

  3. Were the mortsafes to keep robbers out or to keep the dead inside?

    1. There is myth that is was to keep them in, but apparently that is just urban legend.

  4. Thanks for listing with me! This is a wonderful Halloween list. I didn’t know about about gravestones, in the west, facing east. And your list within the list, of symbols on graves stones, was very touching.

  5. Great list! I especially like #2 and #8. Safety coffins are a neat concept!

    1. I didn’t mention the escape vaults some people had installed. It was less common and only the wealth could afford it. There were hatches to get yourself out if needed.

  6. Those are cool facts. I never realized the stones face the sunrise. Now I’m going to pay attention to that.

    Susan Says

    1. I didn’t realize that either. I just thought they were being all organized and stuff.

  7. We like to go to old graveyards and read the stones. Some interesting stuff to read and we just like going to different sites.

    Happy Halloween Week!!!!

    1. There are some really beautiful graveyards out there. I’d kind of like to visit that one in Merry ‘ol England.

      1. I would love to go to England, Ireland and Hungry. Really, so many places for food and graves. Wishing you a great day, Miss Holly.

  8. Wow, never knew graving was a hobby. To each their own I guess. I’ll go with myth on the last one.

    1. I didn’t either. I do think they could have come up with a cooler name.

  9. Oh, spooky list and intriguing facts. Things like this inspire the horror writer in me. 🙂

  10. What a great Halloween list, Love the fox video, Had to nab it for my FB page,
    Juneta Writer’s Gambit

    1. I love that video. The fox is so cute just trying to catch some Z’s.

  11. OMG that fox is too adorable. I don’t plan on having a gravestone, but if I did, I’d want a fuzzy fox to come and keep me company. Great list for the season.

    1. Me too. After I found that video, I found lots of photos with foxes in graveyards.

  12. Love this list! Fascinating. I have taken cemetery photos for genealogy but didn’t know it had a name. 🙂


  13. Very cool! I grew up next to a cemetery. I always wondered why all the headstones faced the same way.

  14. Awesome list! I love visiting old graveyards and cemeteries.
    The “caged graves” that inspired my book are supposedly the only known examples of mortsafes in the U.S., according to the local historical society. Of course, the history behind these two particular mortsafes is a little peculiar, and so the purpose of them has always been slightly in doubt.

    1. I thought of “The Caged Graves” when I was writing that too!

  15. Such a cool list of facts. It’s just perfect for Halloween!

  16. I recently discovered that my grandfather was buried in a “normal” casket, but then they lowered a huge, 4 inch thick slab of concrete the breadth and length of the casket over it and then put the dirt in. That would definitely put a crimp in graverobbers and easy access! Thanks for commenting on my blog! This was a great list and I’d never heard of a mortsafe…

  17. Fabulous list, Holly, and the fox is adorable. As a dedicated taphophile, I love to visit cemeteries. I’ve never run into a mortsafe, however—fascinating. Cemeteries are also great places to find story inspiration.

  18. Wow, I learned a lot of new things, thank you! Can’t say that we have any strange burial details in our family. The most out of the ordinary thing might be that one set of grandparents are buried in a mausoleum. Yeah, we like to live life on the edge, I guess. 🙂 Have a great week!

  19. Hi Holly!
    This is the perfect Hallowe’en list.
    I’ve always wondered about the difference between graveyard and cemetery… now I know.
    The safety coffin is a great idea. Probably still needed today though affordability would be a huge factor. A coffin is about 6 feet underground so I’m wondering how that bell was attached so that it worked above the ground?
    I learned lots of new things here.

  20. I grew up in a house across a cemetery! It was my fave playground 🙂

  21. Very cool list, H.R.! Number 3 I found interesting about the headstones located in the west facing the east. Was this some sort of superstition from earlier times? I’m working on my Friday post, which I hope to incorporate your link for my readers to enjoy. Thanks for stopping by. It’s nice meeting you! Have a spooktacular week!

    1. There were various theories behind the origin, but most of it has to to with greeting the day or meeting your maker on judgement day and stuff.

  22. I’d heard of some of these while others were new to me. If safety coffins allowed some fresh air into the coffin I wonder if likewise the smell of the decaying body escaped?

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Wrote By Rote

  23. This list is fascinating. I didn’t know a lot of cemetaries face east. I’ve read horror stories about people waking up in their coffins. Awful! I read about one man who told them to cut his head off after he died, and they did.

    1. The cutting off of the head would certainly keep you from waking up in a coffin!

  24. Interesting stuff. Fist time coming across the ‘mortsafe’.

  25. I didn’t know that the images had meanings. There was a graveyard I used to visit that was very interesting.

  26. Awesome list. I have a friend who is writing a book on cemetery symbolism.

  27. Interesting list, loved the information. Don’t ever plan on residing in one though! 🙂

  28. Really interesting tidbits! I especially liked #10 🙂

  29. Those are some interesting facts, especially # 7 and 8, and I love the fox video 🙂

  30. What an awesome list! I loved learning about this, especially the images carved on gravestones, and their meanings.

  31. I had no idea of the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard. Actually, there were several things that were new information for me. Interesting! (And awwwww, fox.)

  32. I know I’ve seen images on gravestones before, though I’d never put a lot of thought to what they could mean until I read your enlightening post.

  33. This is a great list—and a great idea for a list! Yep, I was clueless about cemetery / graveyard, too. I remember reading somewhere that Ben Franklin invented (or maybe just popularized?) the safety coffin… And I always wondered how they found out they’d buried someone prematurely. Wouldn’t you have to dig them out to see the, uhm, evidence? And, if so, why were you digging them out in the first place? Hmmm… worth an exploratory (Halloween) Google session 🙂

    Great post! And thanks for stopping over at my blog yesterday.

  34. The symbols and their meanings were definitely interesting. Thanks for this informational post!

  35. This was a very interesting spooktacular post and I learned a few things. 🙂

  36. Interesting facts! I didn’t know the graveyard specification.

    That is an amazing picture of Highgate Cemetery. That’s one of your photos, right?

    Cute fox! 😀

    1. No, it’s by Duncan Harris. The credit and link is at the end of the post. It’s a cemetery I’d like to visit though. If you google it, you’ll see some amazing photos.

  37. Oh, interesting stuff! And very thematic this week before Halloween.

  38. I knew about the bell-coffins. Imagine what a grave robber must feel like when the bell starts ringing just as he begins to dig… 😀

    1. That right there is a great story waiting to be written!

  39. Wow, I was not aware of safety coffins. That is truly interesting.

  40. You covered that pretty thoroughly. We added a symbol you won’t find on most gravestones for my brother. It was a cheese wheel. Guess you’d have to have met him to really understand.

    1. It must be very special.

  41. Cool trivia! Perfect for Halloween. 🙂

  42. Wow. A fascinating post. That fox seemed right at home!

  43. Hello. Spooky but great list. Thanks for the chills!

  44. This was a great post. I learned so many interesting facts. I hope your Halloween was fun. Thanks for visiting my post and commenting. 🙂

  45. Stephen T. McCarthy

    I’ve been so busy (JOB CHANGE, BOTB, LISTING HOP) that I’m only now making it over here. I profusely apologize for my lateness.

    Hey, this was a really interesting list and I learned quite a bit. I’m not really into Horror or Gothic type stuffs, but I’m always interested in learning new things. Thanks!

    ~ D-FensDogG
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

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