Errors written in stone: I would turn in my grave

RACHEL STEWART
Last updated 07:53 18/06/2012
headstone stand
Errors on headstones are increasingly common these days, with both the stone mason and the families at fault.

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OPINION: This week I ask some pertinent questions about a grave situation.

I tend to walk in cemeteries. Always have. I see them as peaceful, quiet and pleasantly devoid of the living. What's not to like?

I find the 19th and early 20th century headstones intriguing and often catch myself musing on the lives of the long-dead and the times they lived in.

Headstones throughout the generations tell stories. For instance, early garishly ornate graves were ostensibly erected to display the financial circumstances of the deceased's family. Angel wings and cherubs, replica tiger moths and other brash symbols physically tower over and dominate several of the concrete rows.

Back then the wives of the deceased certainly dominated the epitaph space much more than the poor dead hubby.

Sure, they were no doubt grieving, but it looks suspiciously like it was really all about her. He gets his name and the year of his birth and death at the top. The widow then dominates the concrete with "dearly loved husband of", followed by her name and how much she liked him - true or not.

If it stopped there it would be quite seemly, but no.

The old ball and chain inevitably bites the big one too, is buried with him, and gets her name engraved once again, but this time in full. This is often followed by what a doting mother she was, and their children's names etched underneath.

Men tended to die much earlier than women back then, so a headstone trend emerged reflecting that fact. It also squarely reflected the widow's desire for everyone, and their dog, to acknowledge her loss as the sad survivor.

Lately, I've started paying attention to the more contemporary headstones.

I wish I hadn't because I've discovered a disturbing pattern. The more I look the more I see and it's doing my head in to the point of sleep disturbance - such is my pedantry when it comes to the English language. Someone has to care, right? Well, that someone is me. Blatant, terrible, unbelievably dumb spelling mistakes engraved in stone. Forever!

If it wasn't so sad it would be funny. Here's just a smattering of my recent findings.

By all accounts one guy once possessed a voice that was "unpresidented". He was also "unforgetable". The missing "t" wasn't, apparently.

Just a few graves further along I discovered a couple jointly laid to rest who were forever together, "just the to of us". There was a photo of the "to" of them heartily embracing each other and looking distinctly to me like a pair, a couple, a duo, a twosome.

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Another poor sod had once attended "The Royal Collage of Sculpture, London". I suspect, however, that he actually attended a "College" - likely a place the person responsible for the blunder has never seen the inside of.

You do have to wonder how these errors occur. Of course, family members instruct them as to what to engrave and surely must have to write those instructions out. It raises the question that if the family has it right does the stonemason then get it wrong? Or is it a case of them ignoring any mistakes made by the family - because all of these examples are rather obvious - and carrying on regardless?

My understanding is the bereaved sign a contract waiving their rights regarding any errors not picked up by them before installation of the headstone.

It is nothing new, of course. Last year a report found that as many as 64,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC were found to contain mistakes.

These included wrong names entirely, incorrect birth or death dates, as well as military rank and service branches. As these soldiers died in service to their country insults don't come writ any larger than that - or as permanently.

Taking into account the increasing lack of space for graves worldwide, and the fact concrete ultimately decays, why anyone wants to be buried any more I cannot fathom.

Let's face it, these concrete tributes to finality are ultimately for the living, not the dead. The dead don't actually care.

Given the number of errors I observe on a regular basis, there is clearly a generational shift among staff in the industry around grammar and spelling.

Surely a stonemason must try hard to maintain the standards that were set in the past - when errors were actually comparatively rare.

I do know that for me, a nit- picking word lover, the idea of carking it and lying for eternity under a headstone containing even one misplaced apostrophe is my idea of hell.

Rather than allowing any possibility whatsoever of that happening, I have made arrangements to fuel the furnace and reside in an urn.

Anything to avoid becoming part of a grave error.

zUsual fortnightly columnist Dion Tuuta is overseas and will return to the Opinion page next Monday

- Taranaki Daily News

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