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  #1  
Old 03-12-2012, 01:35 PM
singular1 singular1 is offline
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Rocks on a headstone.

So I'm watching Barney's Version with Paul Giamotti and Dustin Hoffman, where the latter is the former's father. They are visiting the grave of the wife/ mother, and they both place a large rock on top of the headstone. As you look down the row of headstones, you can see similar rocks on headstones. Is this a real thing? What does it mean?
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  #2  
Old 03-12-2012, 01:37 PM
madmonk28 madmonk28 is offline
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It's certainly a real thing, there is a graveyard near my house with some famous people in it and people regularly place rocks on their headstones. I take it as a sign of respect. Someone will come along with a better answer, but I always thought it came from the Jewish tradition. If you ever saw Schindler's List, the actors at the end of the movie place rocks on Schindler's grave.
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  #3  
Old 03-12-2012, 01:40 PM
Bohomite Bohomite is offline
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it's a Jewish custom, as far as I'm aware. It serves as a reminder of the family's presence.
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Old 03-12-2012, 02:23 PM
Hello Again Hello Again is online now
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2nd vote for "it's a Jewish thing."

As a child I was told never to leave anything by a grave that can die (ie, flowers) since that's like saying your remembrance will someday die. A rock stays put, or at most gets knocked off by the wind.

However in looking into it quickly, it seems there's not much consensus for the origin of the custom.
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Old 03-12-2012, 03:00 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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Some people leave lemons on Stonewall Jackson's tomb. The man loved lemons.
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  #6  
Old 03-12-2012, 03:34 PM
Peanuthead Peanuthead is offline
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Yes, it's a Jewish thing. I first became aware of it through Harold Robbins' book A Stone For Danny Fisher.
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  #7  
Old 03-12-2012, 03:35 PM
madmonk28 madmonk28 is offline
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People leave Rolling Rock bottle caps on Tim Russert's headstone, but his family has asked people to stop.
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Old 03-12-2012, 04:21 PM
postcards postcards is offline
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People leave coins on Harry Chapin's grave.

("Harry, keep the change.")
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  #9  
Old 03-12-2012, 05:37 PM
Alessan Alessan is online now
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The way I heard it, stones on a grave are an ancient nomadic custom. Desert nomads don't keep cemeteries, obviously, nor do they carve elaborate headstones. Instead, they simply bury their dead under cairns by the side of the path. The stones represent the rocks the dead nomad's clan would place on the cairn whenever they passed by, to repair damage caused by time and the elements.
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  #10  
Old 03-12-2012, 05:52 PM
singular1 singular1 is offline
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Thanks, everybody, for a glimpse at a tradition i have never heard of.
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  #11  
Old 03-12-2012, 05:56 PM
twickster twickster is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by postcards View Post
People leave coins on Harry Chapin's grave.

("Harry, keep the change.")
It's traditional to leave a penny on Ben Franklin's grave.
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  #12  
Old 03-12-2012, 06:13 PM
Nawth Chucka Nawth Chucka is offline
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I always understood it as a Jewish tradition, like washing your hands after going to the graveyard before going into a home.
I visited James Dean's grave; there were lipstick kisses on it and unsmoked cigarettes all around.
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  #13  
Old 03-12-2012, 09:08 PM
Baker Baker is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by madmonk28 View Post
It's certainly a real thing, there is a graveyard near my house with some famous people in it and people regularly place rocks on their headstones. I take it as a sign of respect. Someone will come along with a better answer, but I always thought it came from the Jewish tradition. If you ever saw Schindler's List, the actors at the end of the movie place rocks on Schindler's grave.
That wasn't the actors, they were the real people depicted in the film, and their families.
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Old 03-12-2012, 09:21 PM
postcards postcards is offline
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Originally Posted by Nawth Chucka View Post
I visited James Dean's grave; there were lipstick kisses on it...
Oscar Wilde's, too. But not anymore.
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  #15  
Old 03-12-2012, 09:56 PM
Quimby Quimby is offline
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I can confirm (as a Jewish person who visits both parents regularly), it is indeed a Jewish custom because flowers are not permitted in a Jewish cemetery (although people with good intentions who are unaware leave them all the time and I have never seen them removed). The rock is intended to indicate you have visited the way that other cultures leave flowers.

BTW the hand washing is only after a funeral, not every time you go to the cemetery.
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  #16  
Old 03-12-2012, 10:10 PM
Nawth Chucka Nawth Chucka is offline
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Originally Posted by Quimby View Post
I can confirm (as a Jewish person who visits both parents regularly), it is indeed a Jewish custom because flowers are not permitted in a Jewish cemetery (although people with good intentions who are unaware leave them all the time and I have never seen them removed). The rock is intended to indicate you have visited the way that other cultures leave flowers.

BTW the hand washing is only after a funeral, not every time you go to the cemetery.
I have only a small pool of experience to rely on for the hand washing, both women in their late 70's in the first few years after their husbands passed.

Last edited by Nawth Chucka; 03-12-2012 at 10:12 PM..
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  #17  
Old 03-13-2012, 12:30 AM
Spoons Spoons is offline
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Originally Posted by Baker View Post
That wasn't the actors, they were the real people depicted in the film, and their families.
As I recall, it was the actors, together with the people they portrayed (where possible). It's been some years since I saw the film, but that's how I remember it. Regardless, I think it's a nice tradition, and it does explain (to me, who is not Jewish), the scene at the end of the movie.
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  #18  
Old 03-13-2012, 04:01 AM
Sampiro Sampiro is offline
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I always leave rocks or pennies when I visit a grave. Sometimes I take smooth pretty rocks particularly for this purpose. At some (usually the perpetual care cemeteries) they'll be moved or disappeared when I go back, I suppose due to groundskeepers or strong winds, but on a couple there's a nice little mini cairn started.
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Old 03-14-2012, 11:27 AM
handsomeharry handsomeharry is offline
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In the 70s, I heard that it was to throw rocks at the Devil when he came.
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  #20  
Old 03-14-2012, 11:38 AM
kayaker kayaker is offline
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When we are in New Orleans we usually pay our respects at Marie Laveau's crypt. People leave all sorts of things. Also writing in chalk (xxx) on the wall of the crypt is supposed to make your wishes come true or something.
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  #21  
Old 03-14-2012, 02:19 PM
Hal Briston Hal Briston is offline
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I can tell you exactly when I first heard of it -- August 30, 2009 at the memorial service for our own danceswithcats. I had never heard of it before that day, but I've done it at every grave visit ever since.
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  #22  
Old 03-14-2012, 03:24 PM
TruCelt TruCelt is offline
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the closest I ever saw my GrandFather (Irish Catholic) come to throwing a punch, was when we went to visit his Father's grave, and the stones had been removed from his headstone. We're talking full-on rage here. The goundskeeper had removed them, he said, becuas ethey might fall off and dull the trimmers as they went round trimming the grass. My GrandFather felt rather strongly that they were being paid enough to pick up a stone and return it to the headstone when necessary.

I don't know if this is across Ireland, or just our family, because we have a tradition of stone masonry. In fact some of the ones on my GGrandFather's headstone had been specially carved ones made by the men on the teams he led over the years. But usually we would just pick one up in the days before the visit, and carry it around until the day. One from the person's own yard or hometown would be especially appreciated. I still have three from my last home visit which haven't made it up to NH to their destinations yet.

A naked stone would be a shame to the family in our home cemetary, a sign that the younger generation had no sense of obligation.
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  #23  
Old 03-14-2012, 03:41 PM
BrotherCadfael BrotherCadfael is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quimby View Post
flowers are not permitted in a Jewish cemetery
Out of curiosity, why not?

Last edited by BrotherCadfael; 03-14-2012 at 03:41 PM..
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  #24  
Old 03-14-2012, 03:46 PM
Kimballkid Kimballkid is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hello Again View Post
As a child I was told never to leave anything by a grave that can die (ie, flowers) since that's like saying your remembrance will someday die. A rock stays put, or at most gets knocked off by the wind.
What about plastic flowers?
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Old 03-14-2012, 05:47 PM
Sampiro Sampiro is offline
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Originally Posted by handsomeharry View Post
In the 70s, I heard that it was to throw rocks at the Devil when he came.
If you do you'll never get a second date with him.
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  #26  
Old 03-14-2012, 07:01 PM
FinsToTheLeft FinsToTheLeft is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael View Post
Out of curiosity, why not?
It's certainly not the case in any of the Jewish cemeteries I have been to in Toronto. I know my mother pays for my grandparents graves to be kept up with flowers planted every spring.
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  #27  
Old 03-14-2012, 10:46 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Quimby View Post
. . . flowers are not permitted in a Jewish cemetery . . .
My parents are buried in a Jewish cemetery, and each grave has a little urn to place flowers in. Every time I go, there are lots of flowers all over the place. And rocks (well, actually pebbles).

Sorry to hear about Oscar Wilde's grave. When I was there it was totally covered with lipstick kisses. They didn't look like they were caused by actual kisses from people's lips; they were way too uniform for that. But they definitely added a whole new dimension to the grave . . . beyond the carved sphinxes.
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  #28  
Old 03-14-2012, 10:47 PM
Quimby Quimby is offline
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Originally Posted by BrotherCadfael View Post
Out of curiosity, why not?
Honestly while I am sure my parents explained it to me at some point, I don't remember. I seem to recall that it had something to do with the fact that flowers are temporary but I could be misremembering that.

You aren't supposed to have flowers during the funeral either.

ETA: There are definitely a lot of flowers left at my parents cemetery too. It's a tradition that not everyone follows.

Last edited by Quimby; 03-14-2012 at 10:48 PM..
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  #29  
Old 03-15-2012, 06:33 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Originally Posted by Alessan View Post
The way I heard it, stones on a grave are an ancient nomadic custom. Desert nomads don't keep cemeteries, obviously, nor do they carve elaborate headstones. Instead, they simply bury their dead under cairns by the side of the path. The stones represent the rocks the dead nomad's clan would place on the cairn whenever they passed by, to repair damage caused by time and the elements.
Cairns used to be common as grave/deathspot markers in Spain, you still see new ones occasionally when someone died in a hard-to-reach place. The old ones are most likely to be found in unpopulated areas travelled by roaming herds. No putting stones on carved tombs, tho.

While it's possible the practice got copied from other groups, I figure most people here would prefer to adscribe it to parallel evolution in different nomadic groups. Stones are a lot easier to come by than carved slabs of rock, after all.

Last edited by Nava; 03-15-2012 at 06:37 AM..
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  #30  
Old 03-15-2012, 11:04 AM
DMark DMark is offline
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As long as we are mentioning other countries' traditions - in Germany people will plant flowers in spring/summer, put evergreen "blankets" on graves in the winter and bring other flowers year-round. You can even pay people to come and do this for you if you live far away. However, some cemeteries also only "rent" grave-sites for a specific period of time - after 20 years or so, they figure few people are alive to continue to take care of the grave, so someone else might be buried there. If people are still alive to take care of the gravel, they simply buy a new "lease" of sorts for an extended period of time.

Last edited by DMark; 03-15-2012 at 11:06 AM..
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  #31  
Old 03-15-2012, 11:28 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Originally Posted by DMark View Post
However, some cemeteries also only "rent" grave-sites for a specific period of time - after 20 years or so, they figure few people are alive to continue to take care of the grave, so someone else might be buried there. If people are still alive to take care of the gravel, they simply buy a new "lease" of sorts for an extended period of time.
Pamplona's "new" cementery turned 100 years old in the last decade. The major thought they could just treat all those family plots that were originally sold as having been long-term rentals; anybody who was still using the old grave could pay again. After all, the niches are all 10y rentals...

The outraged yells got the notion derailed before it had even been put to the vote. Turned out that even in cases in which the original bloodline had become extinct, the tomb had been turned over to some collateral cousin or another, or been given to a beloved friend, or... pretty much not a single one was "abandoned".

The then-major is from out of the area and is now our regional President; if that's her worst misstep ever she will have had a great political career, but it's often mentioned as the kind of mistake only an import could make.

Last edited by Nava; 03-15-2012 at 11:30 AM..
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  #32  
Old 03-15-2012, 12:55 PM
Nawth Chucka Nawth Chucka is offline
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Originally Posted by DMark View Post
As long as we are mentioning other countries' traditions - in Germany people will plant flowers in spring/summer, put evergreen "blankets" on graves in the winter and bring other flowers year-round. /snip/
I saw grave blankets growing up in Michigan and Pennsylvania as well; Mom told me it was so you could find the grave to visit it in winter when it's snowed over.
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