- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Beth Santore shares what she has learned from her lifelong fascination with gravestones to help other people understand what they find in cemeteries.

Santore, 33, became fascinated with the artwork and carvings on headstones when she and her sister would play in a cemetery as children, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (https://bit.ly/RpRREp ).

“My sister and I were years and years younger than our cousins. The family reunions were torture,” Santore said. “So my sister and I would walk up the hill to the cemetery (behind the park) and play.”

Since then, Santore has visited more than 1,400 cemeteries to learn more about the symbolism, artwork and lore.

“There are always mysteries in the cemetery,” Santore said. “Solving them is a lot of fun.”

Recently, she visited Lincoln from her home in Columbus, Ohio, and led a symposium for over 60 people on gravestone symbolism. Santore works as an information technology specialist, but she spends much of her vacation and free time exploring cemeteries.

She even has her GPS system set to alert her whenever she’s near a cemetery.

Santore said she’s always learning more about the symbols carved into gravestones and their meaning. Sometimes the carvings offer the only clues about the life someone lived.

One gravestone Santore pointed out in Lincoln featured a three-link chain that signified the man was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and a wreath that symbolizes victory over death.

Santore said it’s also interesting to see trends in gravestone styles from different periods of history. For instance in the 1920s, gravestones that looked like a broken tree trunk were popular to symbolize a life cut short.

The laser etching techniques available today are allowing new possibilities. Even photographs can be carved into stone with lasers.

Santore said some modern gravestones are even being decorated with QR codes that would allow someone with a smartphone to easily connect to a website.

“Although cemeteries are obviously connected to death, that’s not the main reason I visit them,” she said “I like walking through them to see all the different symbols, art, architecture . not to mention all the history!”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com


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