The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 27, 2013

Frankie Meyer: Stones at grave sites found all over the world

By Frankie Meyer
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Ancient graves throughout the world are similar in that they are covered with a cairn of stones to protect them.

Some are covered with large stones, while others are covered with thousands of small stones. The number of stones grew through the years as loved-ones visited and added more stones.

An extreme example of this tradition of stone-placing is seen in the pyramids of Egypt, Central America and South America. Another extreme example is the hills that were created to cover the tombs of Chinese emperors.

Aspects of this tradition continue among many cultures. Families of some Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups still leave small pebbles or sea shells on grave sites as a sign of respect and to show that loved-ones have come to visit.

An example of the tradition is seen at the end of the movie ÒShindler's List,Ó when the actors leave small pebbles on the grave of Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of more than 1,000 people during World War II.

Instead of stones, the most common practice around the world is to leave natural or silk flowers on grave sites. A variation of this practice in recent years is to create roadside shrines in memory of loved-ones who have died in automobile accidents.

Coins, especially pennies, are often left on graves as a sign of remembrance. The headstones of Dred Scott, Patsy Cline, President Chester A. Arthur, Frank Sinatra, James Whitcomb Riley and Christa McAuliffe are but a few examples of graves where coins are sometimes left. Periodically, cemetery caretakers collect the coins and donate them to a local charity.

Some families add military markers to grave sites. The markers list the veteran's military service and his birth and death dates. Other examples of items placed on graves are stuffed animals, plastic windmills, statues, toys, lamps and benches, even solar lights. Each item has personal significance for the person who left it.

Any disturbance of those items is seen as a sign of disrespect. We've all heard of disheartened families who have placed meaningful items on graves and then discovered that the items were later stolen. When researching some of the notorious people who are buried in or near the Ozarks, I learned that some people collect pieces of grave stones from notorious people such as Jesse James and Pretty Boy Floyd. They use a hammer to chip off the pieces.

As cemetery maintenance expenses rise, many cemetery boards have enacted rules about what can be left and for how long.

Suggestions or queries? Contact Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168 or email frankiemeyer@