www.seacoastonline.com Dover Community News - Dover, New Hampshire Gravestone Girls dying for people to learn from cemeteries By Kristin Sawyer Brenda Sullivan of The Gravestone Girls presented the first lecture of the Dover Historical Society's fall lineup on Friday, Sept. 10, at the Dover Public Library, educating people on how informative and interesting a trip through one's local cemetery can be. Sullivan and her business partner and best friend, Maggie White, have always been fascinated by the art, symbols, and history of cemeteries and their inhabitants. What started as a hobby for the girls evolved into a craft that produces decorative folk art pieces and that provides historical education rooted in the rich chronicles of New England cemeteries. The Gravestone Girls make rubbings and cast molds of tombstone art and imagery. Having been specially trained, Sullivan made it clear that she and White abide by all rules and regulations and do not harm the environment in any manner. According to Sullivan, if there is any indication that using a site may cause the least bit of damage, that site will not be used. "We do everything with a sense of preservation, and the only thing we teach is rubbing techniques," said Sullivan. "Cemeteries can provide a wonderful snapshot of a community," she continued. "They are living classrooms." At the end of Sullivan's chock-full lecture on the evolution of gravestone symbols and history, she urged members of the lecture audience to "go to the cemetery and learn something; it'll tell you a lot about history and your community. After all, it's right in your back yard." The Gravestone Girls will be on hand at the upcoming Grave Yarns: The Cemetery Revealed tours to talk about preservation techniques, gravestone art, and why the Girls do what they do. For information or to preview some of their work, visit www.gravestonegirls.com The following commonly seen cemetery symbols and their meanings are provided with permission from and with courtesy of The Gravestone Girls. Anchor: Early Christians devised clever signs to guide one another to the secret places where they worshipped. The anchor is a disguised cross when you see it in a Christian setting. The further meaning of Christ as that which prevents us from drifting off and becoming lost comes. One rarely sees anchors on inland gravestones, so the presence of the symbol on a tomb may carry all of the religious overtones, or it may simply mean that the deceased was a sailor. An anchor with a broken chain stands for the cessation of life. Angels: Creatures made of air or fire, according to early Christians, angels mean spirituality, and their job is to guard the tomb, guide the soul, pray for the soul in purgatory, and direct the living visitor to think heavenward. Two angels who are saints of the Catholic Church are Michael, who bears the sword, and Gabriel, who blows a horn. Angels shown without one or the other of these images belong to the nameless legions of personal guardian angels. Broken Column: This image represents the eventual ruin or decomposition of us all. A once strong and proud column was the pillar of a great building, it eventually decays, and its useful purpose ends. Chains: Medieval thinkers sometimes held that a golden chain bound the soul to the body. Broken links on a headstone can mean the severance and subsequent release of the spirit from the body. Curtains/Draperies: Curtains represent the stage of life. Generally, on a gravestone, curtains are shown being lowered or closing - a signal of the end of life's show. Hands: Cemetery hands are shown doing one of four things: clasping, praying, pointing, or blessing. All these signs show that the deceased's relationships involved human beings, for example, clasping hands often symbolize a marriage or other close bond. The right hand may represent the hand of God reaching down from above. The hand also directs us to spiritual matters and can point to the sky where the deceased has gone to live with God. Heart: Stands for affection of the living for the dead. Two joined hearts on a stone mark a marriage or other close relationship. Hour Glass: The classic symbol for time, and that time is not renewable - the sands of an hour glass run out eventually. Hour glasses sometimes take flight on wings, signifying the resurrection of the dead or even sometimes the realization of the adage that "time flies." Scroll/Books: Scrolls or books on grave markers show that the headstone is a document of the deceased, saving and exhibiting a small piece of that individual for a period beyond the physical life. If the book is open, it may signify that the stone is a type of biography. A closed book recognizes the fact that the story of the dead is over. Skull and Bones: The fear that this ancient symbol of death inspires led pirates to adopt it as an emblem on their black flags and inspired chemists to use it to denote poisons. The combination on tombstones frequently bears winged skulls. The relief usually means simply that one is dead. The bones that form the cross come from the thighs. Star: To Christians, stars are "the Light that darkness could not overpower." Stars stand for the spirit, piercing the darkness as an expression of their triumph against the overwhelming odds of oblivion. Five-pointed stars have been used to represent the spirit rising to heaven, and, when inverted, its treason as an instrument of evil. The six-pointed star, now called The Star of David, was a minor motif until its adoption by the Zionist movement in the 19th century. Multiple-pointed stars are called "witch stars" or "hex stars," not to curse the dead, but to protect them from evil spells and hexes. Sun: A setting sun symbolizes the border between life and death. A symbol of light and warmth, it stands for life itself. Is it the end or is it the beginning? Urn: The urn has long been used as a vessel to hold ashes of the dead. A draped urn atop of a stone monument attests to the soul having fled the shrouded body. Winged Skull: A once common motif on New England tombstones, it represented death and the soul taking flight. Over a century, the skull grew skin and became a cherub or angel.