|CHESTER ALLEN -- GRAVE MARKER|
Some time ago, meandering out in the Appalachian plateau area, I came upon a small family graveyard. It was the first of many that I was to eventually discover over the next couple years.
That day, I saw a grave marker made out of cement with a hand scrawled epitaph. I took a photo (shown above) as I had never seen one made out of cement. It was definitely handmade -- not commercial -- and was the only cement one in the back-country graveyard. There were other interesting grave markers but I didn't have my senses about me to take more photos. I really didn't have a strong idea then of what I was seeing.
That graveyard exerience ignited a comversation. It was with Ann Johnson, a Kentucky State Historical Society expert on Kentucky graveyards. She gave me a great book recommendation titled, Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy, by Terry G. Jordan. I bought it second-hand on Amazon and soon devoured his book -- and have since discovered others that offer material on folk graveyards and grave markers.
With Jordan's book I learned a few things about cement markers:
- They fall into the folk category.
- Commercial cement was adopted by rural southern folk to use for handmade markers in the early 1900s.
- Folks made molds in which to pour the cement -- waited until it was almost hard -- then they used a pointed instrument to scratch the epitaph into the cement
- Commercially made markers eventually caused the decline of folk cement markers.
The markers seem to last. I figure that Chester Allen's is about 93 years old. His epitaph is short and simple:
June 31 ????
Died Oct 11, 1918
Perhaps if you find a cement marker someday, while walking in a graveyard, you might be left with the thoughts of a low-income family that cared enough to construct a marker for their loved one as stone cutter's markers were expensive during the early twentieth century. Their alternative choice would have been a plain rock marker.