Autumn 2006

Written in stone

Karl Baden
Common knowledge / US tombstones

The verb ‘die’, whatever its tense, sends a strong message in the English language: to cease to exist. Forever. And the appearance of this verb carved in rock or cast in metal emphasises the permanence of its finality.

I began this epigraphic collection with the observation of words rendered in materials that embody their definition; a sort of visual onomatopoeia. Versions of the solitary verb are gathered here, excised, isolated, in a few of what must be thousands of permutations of font, lettering, stone and metal found on gravestones located around Boston, Massachusetts and Long Island, New York.

In pre-industrial, less succinct times, before there were machines to carve or sandblast, text was hand-lettered by artisans from families that had done such work for generations. The lettering was often elaborate and idiosyncratic; if the spelling were wrong or the spacing awkward, corrections were either scratched in after the fact, or not made at all.

The older the tombstone, the more likely one is to find ‘died’ (and its mirror-twin ‘born’) accompanying birth and death dates. For the majority of modern markers, the dates alone suffice. Current global conflicts notwithstanding, contemporary western culture prefers Death be kept behind closed doors.

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