He surely was not the first to formulate the question. Anyone who spends a good deal of time around burial grounds will have noticed that the most extravagant things are said about those who have ceased to breathe. Many of these great and glowing words might indeed be justified. In other cases, we might wish to wait until the definitive biography comes out before we judge.
As a frequenter of cemeteries, and as one who for many years gave tours of Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery for Bellarmine classes, I thought I would share some of the more striking encomia I have noted over the years. And though I have found tranquility and worthy remembrance in many of the noble cemeteries in the Louisville area, the items I bring before you, come from rambles in other climes, captured as I stood pen in hand before both lowly tombstones and lofty monuments.
From North Carolina (date of death, 1790):
A Friend, steady and obliging.
A Companion most social and desirable.
Nature having blessed him
with a most benevolent heart
and an uncommon vein of humor.
His company was earnestly solicited
by all his acquaintances.
Integrity and kindness did all
his actions grace.
A friend he was to liberty and the human
From Lexington, Kentucky (1818):
Purity and innocence
require no epitaph
or letter of credit
in the land of spirits.
From South Carolina (1879):
Let the stranger who may in future times
read this inscription
recognize that these were men
whom power could not corrupt
whom death could not terrify
whom defeat could not dishonor
and let their virtues plead for just judgment.
From South Carolina (1937):
Grace was in all her steps.
Heaven in her eye.
In every gesture, dignity and love.
And from the tomb of Illinois Gov. John Altgeld (1902) in Chicago comes this message for strained political times:
I am not discouraged. Things will right themselves. The pendulum swings, one way and then another, but the steady pull of gravity is toward the center of the earth. Any structure must be plumb if it is to endure. Wrong may triumph. Right may seem to be defeated. But the gravitation of Eternal Justice is toward the Throne of God. Any political institution which is to endure must be plumb to that line of justice.
Fr. Clyde F. Crews | firstname.lastname@example.org