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Headstones that defied expectations

  • Published in Mysteries
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Consider this your burial marker mood board

A GRAVE marker is how people will remember you long after everyone you know has passed, so you’d better make it good. 

When done well, it can provide a sense of one’s style in life. The epitaph should be pithy, the shape and style memorable. You could go for the classic granite slab, or, like these deceased, opt for something a little more memorable.

To bury oneself under a headstone in the shape of a shark, say, or a palace-sized tomb carved out of a giant boulder, you’d have to be a little extraordinary. Often the stories that accompany these tombstones are larger than life. And death too, for that matter.

1. John Paul Jones’ Crypt

John Paul Jones was the father of the American Navy, best known for shouting, “I have not yet begun to fight!” in response to a request for his surrender during a Revolutionary War battle. Less well known is the fact that for over a century after his death, the location of Jones’ body remained a mystery. Today, Jones rests in a extravagant sarcophagus below the chapel of the United States Naval Academy.

2. Davis Memorial

The Davises were a simple but highly successful Kansas farming family. When Sarah Davis passed way in 1930, her burial site was marked with a simple headstone that reflected the quiet life she and her husband had led, despite the vast wealth they had accrued. But soon after Sarah had been placed in the ground, John had her stone removed and replaced with a marble statue, which was just the beginning. Over the next decade, John installed 11 total marble or granite statues, many of which depicted Sarah as a young woman, an old woman, and even as an angel. Many believed that John was simply trying to squander his fortune so that Sarah’s family, who had always hated the man, could not touch it. Still others believed that he was simply an eccentric with a permanently broken heart.

3. Jules Verne’s Tomb 


It’s fitting that Jules Verne, father of science fiction, would have a dark, otherworldly gravestone. Two years after his death, a sculpture entitled “Vers l’Immortalité et l’Eternelle Jeunesse” (“Towards Immortality and Eternal Youth”) was erected atop his marker. Designed by sculptor Albert Roze, and using the actual death mask of the writer, the statue depicts the shrouded figure of Jules Verne breaking his own tombstone and emerging from the grave.

4. Jesus in Cowboy Boots 

Willet Babcock was a furniture and casket maker by trade, and ended up in Paris, Texas where his factory and downtown store put him squarely in the center of respected Parisians. Before he died, in 1881, he ordered himself an impressive memorial from a master-stonecutter, a German immigrant named Gustave Klein, who carved some of the more ornate markers at Evergreen. Along with some typical memorial elements -- carved wreaths, a cross, an angelic figure in robes -- Babcock gave his final presentation to the world a little Texas twang. Jesus is sporting cowboy boots.

5. Lycian Rock Tombs

The Ancient Lycians believed that their dead were carried to the afterlife by angels from the heavens. To facilitate this ascent, they placed their honored dead in geographically high places, like this cliffside. The rooms are otherwise empty from hundreds of years of looting. 
6. The Snow Tomb of Captain Robert Falcon Scott ANTARCTICA
In November 1912, the remaining members of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition were searching for their leader. Scott and his party had vanished into the snows the previous year, never returning from their quest for the South Pole. One of the group saw “a small object projecting above the surface” of the snow. It was part of a tent. They had discovered the final resting place of Scott and two of his men, Henry “Birdie” Bowers and Edward Wilson. Scott lay between them, his diary recording their final days: “It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more,” the last entry ran, “For God’s sake look after our people.”

7. The Tomb of Enrique Torres Belón LAMPA, PERU
Lampa is a small colonial town with all the provincial charms of a 16th century Peruvian town, but what stands out the most is its enormous church, the Iglesia Santiago Apóstol. Connected to the church is Enrique Torres Belón’s freaky mausoleum, a silo of bones capped by an aluminum replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà.

8. Mrs. Chippy Monument

The Shackleton expedition was made just a bit brighter by the presence of the ship’s cat, Mrs. Chippy. Harry McNeish was a carpenter on Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to Antarctica, as well as a member of the long journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. He was also the primary caretaker of Mrs. Chippy, the cat that accompanied the men until the Endurance became trapped in pack ice. Unfortunately, Mrs. Chippy was shot along with the sled dogs once the team became trapped in the ice. 

9. Circus Train Wreck Victims Memorial COLUMBUS, GEORGIA
The Con T. Kennedy Carnival Show had just wrapped up an unusually successful Harvest Festival week in the center of Atlanta. On the early morning of November 22, 1915, the 28-car Kennedy show train pulled out of the station with the entire company on board. Just a few hours later, the show train collided with a steel passenger train. The crash was so powerful that the two engines fused together. While no one was killed on the sturdier passenger train, the Kennedy performers were not so lucky. “I saw those poor fellows pinned in their sleeping wagons and they could not get out,” one eyewitness recalled.

10. The Grave of Tom Thumb

Nestled in the quaint Lincolnshire countryside is the village of Tattershall where, according to legend, the remains of a miniature folk hero can still be found. Visitors who step inside the town’s 16th century church will find a tiny grave marker, adorned with flowers and bearing the name Tom Thumb. He was reputedly just over 18 inches tall and lived to the ripe old age of 101 when he passed away in 1620.

11. William G. Bruce’s Grave

William G. Bruce’s family had deep roots in the Town of Mont Vernon. He was an avid hunter and suffered a grave wound while hunting alone in 1883. He died the same day of his accident, but not before his wife Augusta Whittemore Bruce was rushed to his deathbed. William Bruce was industrious and frugal in life and left his wife a substantial sum of money. Augusta Bruce used some of this inherited wealth to commission noted monument maker Peter Brennan to craft a fitting memorial for her departed husband.

12. The Grave of Miss Baker

Miss Baker, a monkey purchased by NASA from a Miami pet shop, was the first primate to return alive from space. Miss Baker died of kidney failure in 1984 at the age of 27, earning her the secondary honor of being the longest lived squirrel monkey on record.

13. The Tomb of Jane Griffith

Jane Griffith’s grave depicts a commonplace domestic scene with a tragically sorrowful ending. Charles Griffith says goodbye to his wife Jane on the footsteps of their brownstone on 109 West 13th Street. Simply titled to “Jane my Wife,” the monument captures poignantly the morning Charles said farewell to his wife without knowing that it was for the last time.

14. Hi Jolly Monument

During the mid-1800s when much of the southwest of America was still uninhabited desert, the government decided they would deal with the terrain like the desert dwellers of the Middle East and hire camel drivers, such as Hi Jolly, to carry their goods across the arid terrain. He was born Philip Tedro in Syria, converted to Islam and changed his name to Hadji Ali, which the Americans of the US Calvary pronounced as “Hi Jolly.”

15. Grave of Joseph Palmer

Joseph Palmer began wearing a beard in the 1820s, in spite of the fact that beards had been out of fashion for nearly a century. Palmer was considered by most all in his small town to be slovenly and ungodly. In May of 1830, Palmer was attacked by four men outside of a hotel in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Armed with razors and scissors, the men attempted to forcibly shave Palmer’s face, but the bewhiskered man stabbed two of his attackers with a pocketknife, and was subsequently arrested for assault.

16. Merchant Ball MARION, OHIO
The Merchant family were prominent industrialists in Ohio, and when they erected this massive sphere in 1896 to mark the grave of Charles Merchant, it matched the style and fortitude of the clan.

17. Nicolas Cage’s Pyramid Tomb

There are plenty of pyramid tombs, but most date to the 19th century and earlier. This one is not only modern, but empty. Actor Nicolas Cage purchased a plot in the famous St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and erected a stark, nine-foot-tall stone pyramid for himself. There is no name on the pyramid yet, but it is emblazoned with the Latin maxim, “Omni Ab Uno,” which translates to “Everything From One.”

18. Grave of Harry L. Collins