Symbols on Grave Markers

Next time you walk into an historic cemetery, take a look at some of the symbols on grave markers.  Many of them are typical symbols of mourning, death, faith and the after life.  We are going to explore some of the more common funerary symbols, as well as some unique markers that you can find in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.

There are several websites that can help you decipher the symbols on graves markers, including the Cemetery Club and  But the most useful can be found at Grave Addiction because they provide photographs of each symbol.

Common Symbols on Grave Markers

Walrod-draperyDrapery is one of the more common symbols of mourning. has a good explanation why drapery is such a common symbol on grave markers:

“In the days when the body lay in state in the parlor, it was the custom to cover everything in black.  Draperies, with their fancy frills and tassels, are more elaborate than a simple shroud.  They allow the expression of mourning to linger long after the body has been taken out the front door and the accoutrements have been stowed for the next death in the family.”

 This marker at the left is dedicated to Frank C. Walrod, who died in 1895, and his wife Kate, who died in 1903.


Williams-lambLambs convey innocence and purity.  They are a Christian symbol (lamb of God), but apparently lambs have been used as funerary symbols since pre-Christian times.  Lambs are almost always used on the graves of children.  This grave at the right is dedicated to David Ralston Williams, who died in 1909 at thirteen months of age.


Margaret-scrollScrolls, especially scrolls that are rolled on both ends, symbolize the time span of a life, with the past and the future hidden.  An alternative interpretation is that scrolls symbolize the scriptures.  This grave marker at left dates to 1925.