Haunted History: Death Heads
Updated: Feb 22
You might be familiar with the imagery of Death Heads from your local historic cemetery, Especially in the New England area. As you’ll see there are many iterations, usually with a skull in the middle and wings or bones sprouting from the center.
Death Heads are non-religious, first used by Puritans who pointedly did not use Christian symbology. They are meant to symbolize physical death and human decay and be a reminder to the living that we are mortal…as the Puritans knew all too well.
This format evolved over time, by the late 1690s New England gravestones featured cherubs as well as skulls. Both were used well into the 18th century. For the most part, the earliest stone carvers were generalists who also acted as black smiths, printers or leather workers.
According to Wikipedia, the oldest full time grave carver was someone named George Griswold from Windsor, Connecticut who worked between the 1640s and 1690s.
As Boston continued to grow in size, more and more full time grave carvers were needed. As of now, there are about 300 full time stone carvers who have been identified from this era, but we don’t know too much about them.
By the mid 1700s, grave carving was a full time profession complete with apprenticeship. These workers began to migrate closer to mass queries, most notably in Portland, Connecticut which was home to one of the largest brownstone quarries in the region.
Brownstone is easier to carve than many other stone types that are used for headstones. Though, they do not age as well as other stone.
See more visuals in my video on the topic below (and subscribe to us on YouTube for more!)