A fascinating book decodes hundreds of symbols found on tombstones

Douglas Keister does for cemetery exploration what Audubon did for birding with Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Keister, a writer and photographer who pens a column for American Cemetery magazine, decodes hundreds of symbols, explaining how a broken rosebud symbolizes a young life cut short, a seashell represents a journey, and an upside-down flaming torch means that the soul’s life still burns in the next realm. “There’s never been anything remotely ghoulish about cemeteries for me,” says Keister. “It’s about a memorial, about honoring the past.”

To search out these symbols, he recommends these Western sites.

Boothill Graveyard. Just west of Tombstone, AZ, on State 80; 520/457-9344.

Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, one of 17 cemeteries in Colma, CA. 1370 El Camino Real, Colma; 650/755-0580. Other cemeteries: Colma Historical Assoc., 1500 Hillside Blvd.; 650/757-1676.

Fairmount Cemetery. 430 S. Quebec St., Denver; 303/399-0692.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery. 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA; 877/844-3837 or 323/469-1181.

Lake View Cemetery. 1554 15th Ave. E., Seattle; 206/322-1582. 

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