From coins left on military tombstones to the random items found at the burial site of an alleged extraterrestrial being, cemeteries are filled with gravesite offerings whose meanings have been forgotten.
Clown noses left at a grave in the Showmen’s Rest cemetery in Hugo, Oklahoma.
Photo from Grave Goods by Tui Snider.
There’s a rural burial ground I like to visit about a half hour drive from Cult of Weird headquarters in the village of Glenbuelah, Wisconsin. At the edge of town, Walnut Street runs through a quiet neighborhood to the base of a hill, where it dead ends at the entrance to Walnut Grove Cemetery. There, an old drive winds up through the woods to a clearing where locals have been buried as far back as the late 1800s. Their final resting places are marked by broken gravestones with epitaphs so worn they are barely legible.
There’s a small granite headstone near the entrance engraved with a lamb and the name Grace Baumann, a child who who died in 1943 at just five days old.
Despite little Grace coming to rest there nearly 80 years ago, visitors to the cemetery still bring her offerings of toys and teddy bears.
The first time I visited, I found a small mouldering bear holding a heart, propped in a sitting position on her grave. When I returned two years later, that bear was still there, albeit reduced by the elements to little more than a pile of wet stuffing and matted fur with legs. This time, however, it was joined by two more plush animals and a small rubber duck.
These items, I learned from fellow cemetery explorer Tui Snider’s latest book, are called Grave Goods.
Mardi Gras beads left on a grave. Photo from Grave Goods by Tui Snider.
The reason specific things are left on a grave can vary greatly from being extremely personal in nature to having roots in old folk traditions and ancient beliefs. Toys are common offerings for children, which Snider explains may be used a trigger items by paranormal investigators hoping to capture evidence of a restless spirit. But objects left behind for the dearly departed can range from stones and sea shells to coins, food, alcohol, or even the last item the deceased used before their death.
Snider provides a wide variety of examples both terrestrial and otherwise, from the grave of Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew, where visitors leave memorabilia from his role as Han Solo’s wookie companion Chewbacca, to the cemetery in Aurora, Texas where a rock covered in random trinkets supposedly marks the location of a space alien that crashed there in 1897.
Like Snider’s previous book Understanding Cemetery Symbols, Grave Goods pierces the veil to reveal the cultural traditions of items left at a gravesite, and deciphers the often forgotten meanings in their symbolism, with full-color photos from Snider’s own historic cemetery excursions.
Grave Goods is the ideal companion for your next excursion into the sweet hereafter. It is available on Kindle now right here.