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Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography [Hardcover]

by Douglas Keister
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 5, 2004 1567317766 978-1586853211

Certain symbols abound in modern Western culture that are instantly recognizable: the cross signifies Christianity, the six-pointed Star of David is revered by Jews, the golden arches frequently means it's time for lunch. Other symbols, however, require a bit of decoding-particularly those found in cemeteries.

Cemeteries are virtual encyclopedias of symbolism. Engravings on tombstones, mausoleums and memorials tell us just about everything there is to know about a person- date of birth and death as well as religion, ethnicity, occupation, community interests, and much more. In the fascinating new book Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by noted author Douglas Keister, the secrets of cemetery symbolism are finally revealed. For instance, did you know that it is quite rare to see a sunflower on a tombstone? Did you know that the human foot symbolizes humility and service since it consistently touches the earth? Or the humble sheaf of wheat-while it is often used to denote someone who has lived a long and fruitful life, do you know other meanings it might carry?

Stories in Stone provides history along with images of a wide variety of common and not-so-common cemetery symbols, and offers an in-depth examination of stone relics and the personal and intimate details they display-flora and fauna, religious icons, society symbols, and final impressions of how the deceased wished to be remembered. Douglas Keister has created a practical field guide that is compact and portable, perfect for those interested in family histories and genealogical research, and is the only book of its kind that unlocks the language of symbols in a comprehensive and easy-to-understand manner.

Douglas Keister has photographed fourteen award-winning, critically acclaimed books (including Red Tile Style: America's Spanish Revival Architecture, The Bungalow: America's Arts & Crafts Home, and Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes of the Twenties) earning him the title "America's most noted photographer of historic architecture." He also writes and illustrates magazine articles and contributes photographs and essays to other books, calendars, posters, and greeting cards. Doug lives in Chico, California, and travels frequently to photograph and lecture on historic architecture and photography.


Frequently Bought Together

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography + The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds + Stories Told In Stone: Cemetery Iconology
Price for all three: $55.16

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

Stories in Stone

The Complete Illustrated Guide to Cemetery Symbolism

The language of symbols is one that has been with us from the beginning of recorded history. Our everyday life is full of symbols. We see many of them when we are driving: arrows point us in the right direction, upside-down pyramids tell us of slow-moving vehicles, and octagons caution us to stop. There are multitudes of business symbols we encounter everyday: a stylized pair of golden arches indicates there's a McDonald's restaurant located nearby; a checkmark called a "swoosh" subtly informs that its owner is wearing a Nike product; a polychrome apple with a bite taken out of it whimsically announces that its product is an Apple computer; a storefront displaying a symbol of three balls shows that its business is a pawn shop.

The meaning of most symbols has remained fairly consistent through the centuries: crosses for Christians, six-pointed stars for Jews, the yin-yang symbol for Buddhists-and hearts speak of love, lambs of innocence, and circles of completeness and immortality. But, nowhere is the language of symbols more apparent than in cemeteries. Dead men may tell no tales, but their tombstones do. Besides informing us of people's names and dates of birth and death, tombstones often tell us what religion they affilated with, what ethnicity they descended from, what clubs and organizations they belonged to, what occupations they worked in, and what thoughts they held on the afterlife.

Journey with us now into the little-known world of cemeteries. The author provides fascinating information and stunning full-color and black-and-white images of funerary architecture designed for eternal life, from mausoleums, chapels, and offices, to tombs, sculptures, and memorials. He then draws us into the very personal area of stone relics designed especially for the deceased, from likenesses of plants, animals, mankind, and mortality, to icons of religion, societies, clubs, and final impressions of how the occupant wanted to be remembered.

About the Author

Chico, California-based photographer Douglas Keister has photographed twenty-two award-winning, critically acclaimed books. His seventeen books on architecture include four books on Victorian homes (Daughter's of Painted Ladies, Painted Ladies Revisited, America's Painted Ladies and Victorian Glory); three books on bungalow homes (The Bungalow, Inside the Bungalow and Outside the Bungalow), a book on 1920s whimsical homes (Storybook Style) a book about cemetery art and architecture (Going Out in Style), a book on Spanish architecture, (Red Tile Style), six books on bungalow details and Classic Cottages, that will be published by Gibbs Smith Publisher in the Spring of 2004. Keister photographed and wrote an award winning children's book (Fernando's Gift), has two monographs of his personal work (Black Rock and Driftwood Whimsy), a book on classic travel trailers, (Ready to Roll) and a book on cemetery symbolism, Stories in Stone: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Cemetery Symbolism, that will be published by Gibbs Smith Publisher in the Spring of 2004. His wealth of books on architecture has earned him the title, "America's most noted photographer of historic architecture."


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Gibbs Smith (April 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1567317766
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586853211
  • ASIN: 158685321X
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 4.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Photographer-writer Douglas Keister, has authored and co-authored forty-two critically acclaimed books. He also writes and illustrates magazine articles and contributes photographs and essays to dozens of magazines, newspapers, books, calendars, posters and greeting cards worldwide.

His twenty-five books on architecture include five books on Victorian homes (Daughter's of Painted Ladies, Painted Ladies Revisited, America's Painted Ladies, Victorian Glory and 500 Victorians); twelve books on bungalow homes (The Bungalow, Inside the Bungalow, Outside the Bungalow, 500 Bungalows and eight small format books on bungalow details), a book on 1920's whimsical homes (Storybook Style) a book about cemetery art and architecture (Going Out in Style), a book on Spanish architecture, (Red Tile Style), four books on cottage (Classic Cottages, Inside Classic Cottages, Cottages and 500 Cottages a book on cemetery architecture (Going Out in Style) and a book on Courtyards. Keister photographed and wrote an award winning children's book (Fernando's Gift), has two monographs of his personal work (Black Rock and Driftwood Whimsy), and four books on classic recreational vehicles, Ready to Roll, Silver Palaces, Mobile Mansions and Teardrops and Tiny Trailers. His wealth of books on architecture has earned him the title, "America's most noted photographer of historic architecture". His book on cemetery symbolism, Stories in the Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, has garnered a number of glowing reviews.

He photographed and wrote a bilingual children's books in China, To Grandmother's House: A Visit to Old-Town Beijing (January 2008). He had three books come out in fall 2008, Forever Dixie (a book on southern cemeteries), Teardrops and Tiny Trailers and a book featuring his collection of glass negatives. Lincoln in Black and White 1910-1925.

His thirty-eighth book, Forever LA which features cemeteries in the Los Angeles Area was published in May 2010. His thirty-ninth book, Stories in Stone New York: A Field Guide to New York City Cemeteries and Their Residents was released in October 2011 by Gibbs Smith Publisher.

In the mid 2000s, Doug began writing novels, including Desiree, Autumn in Summer, Molly in the Afternoon (writing as Suzanne Hartley) and a memoir about growing up in Nebraska titled Heart-Land:Growing up in the Middle of Everything. His most recent novel, Bullets, Baubles and Bones came out in May 2014.

Doug frequently gives presentations in conjunction with his books and speaks at related events. In the past few years he has lectured in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Spokane, Kansas City, Boston, Houston, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Vermont, Winnemucca and Carson City, Nevada, Lincoln, Nebraska, Fort Wayne, Indiana, The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and the Tenement Museum and the Cooper-Union in New York. In October 2010 his cemetery books and photography were featured in a segment of CBS Sunday Morning. Correspondent Rita Braver called him "America's Chief Tombstone Tourist". SUNSET magazine said, "Keister has done for cemetery exploration what Audubon did for birding."

He lives in Chico, California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Photos July 18, 2004
Format:Hardcover
It is beautifully illustrated. You really can confidently buy this for the photos alone.
I like the book a lot. It is pretty comprehensive and the types of symbols are broken down into like flora and fauna which makes it easy to reference, there is a nice listing of orginizations in the back. Nice bits of historical changes in the basic meaning of symbols.
No book of listings of symbols is ever complete, I can think of a few things that could have been added, but buy it anyway. Great photos and you won't be disappointed.
And remember, just because someone had ivy carved on their gravestone does not mean that it symbolizes eternity, they really may have just thought it looked pretty.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Guide to Demystifying Cemetery Symbolism August 19, 2004
Format:Hardcover
It's been said that a person has one chance to make a first impression. Conversely, one only has one chance to make a last impression, and where better to make that impression than the cemetery, where your statement has the best chance for longevity? ~ Douglas Keister

Since I was very young, graveyards have always fascinated me. I love the look of graveyards at night, although I've yet to venture into them in the middle of the night. I live vicariously through the Buffy show as I watch the DVDs. While watching the Buffy show I became rather interested in the symbolism of various statues and objects.

Now, with all the seriousness of death in our society, you would not expect to find humor in a book about gravestones and iconography, but it is definitely present in the most witty fashion. I have rarely found a book that made me laugh out loud as many times and at such surprising times. Douglas Keister has a wicked sense of wit and in the midst of decoding a certain symbol or discussing history he will bring in an ironic twist that is shockingly amusing. He also explains the real meaning of "skeleton in the closet" and explained the uses of exploding torpedo coffins. Who knew. He has taken high-quality photographs which not only set the mood for this book, they help to emphasize the details being discussed.

On a more serious note, Stories in Stone is essential for gravestone scholars and cemetery sleuths. Suddenly you will view graveyards with a new appreciation.

Douglas Keister discusses Classic, Egyptian, Islamic, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Italian Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. Through pictures and in depth research, he explains the oldest burial monuments and why a tumulus is mostly found in Western Europe.
Read more ›
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars tells the story October 31, 2006
Format:Hardcover
Received my copy today and went to the cemetery and immediately begin to understand the symbols and meaning behind them. If you are interested in the meaning of cemetery iconography, this is the book to get.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Companion on Visits to Cemeteries November 24, 2005
Format:Hardcover
I photograph in cemeteries and upon learning of this book through Amazon, picked up a copy. I must say, it is indeed a pleasure, a really information-packed book with a great deal of lovely descriptive photos. The book touches on some of the symbols one might find in specialized books on secret, hidden symbols.

I held back from giving it a full five star rating only because it seemed to skim only the surface on a few topics. But for anyone interested in this topic, someone who goes out on field trips to explore old cemeteries, this is a wonderful book to have.

It's fun reading over a cup of coffee, too.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly, highly recommend! May 28, 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I work at a large, 141 yr. old cemetery in the midwest and I can't say enough about this book. The photos are amazing and the information is extensive. I appreciate that the author included information on the architectural styles and the history of memorials -all of the way back to antiquity. He also covered the symbols of various religions, and fraternal organizations.
I think this book would be facinating to anyone.
If you even have the slightest interest in cemeteries, monuments, or just history, then you must get this book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't leave home without it September 9, 2005
Format:Hardcover
If you enjoy tramping through cemeteries large and small this is a book you will not want to be without. I keep it in the car all the time for those chance drive-bys of cemeteries I have not checked out. The author does a very good job of presenting each of the symbol topics is an educating as well as entertaining manner. My nine year old niece Sarah enjoyed looking at the book and is now more enthused when "strange Uncle Richard" wants to stop at a cemetery on a whim.

I am lucky enough to live close to one of the highlighted locations, Spring Grove in Cincinnati, Ohio.

From avid cemetery aficionado to the amateur CSI (Cemetery Scene Investigator) this book is "must have."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful! July 25, 2006
By Jana
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A great book for lovers of cemeteries, symbolism, art and history. There are many photos and the text is interesting and well written. It's a very attractively designed book too and the size is rather different...it's smallish, yet tallish and meant to carry with you on your cemetery explorations. I do wish there was a coffee table style version of this book, larger with room for even more pictures! Buy this one, it'll make a lovely addition to your morbid book collection!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and Curious! December 30, 2006
Format:Hardcover
Even aside from cemeteries and graveyards, the information alone on symbols, emblems and icons is immensely resourceful. These combination visuals appear elsewhere too, not just in stone- not just for the dead! Many symbols for older societies and secret organizations in our world are touched upon, and their origins explained. Just a wonderful book. -Best, I love the format- easy handling! -For every designers' bookshelf.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great reading
Very well organized by section
Fun to read
Easy to carry as a guide on field trips
Excellent for beginner cemetery fans like me
Published 1 month ago by Ana Fantini
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than the Field Guide
This was also bought for a Historical Society and has the information I expected.
Some interesting pictures and explanations of stone symbolism.
Published 2 months ago by Martha Keys
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book and interesting
Lots and lots of pictures. Interesting text. I don't intend to take it and use it as a reference while I'm in a cemetery, I was just interested in the subject. Enjoyed reading it.
Published 3 months ago by L. Burnette
3.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Needed
It's a lovely book, but what I'm really looking for is something that explains the meaning behind various symbols inscribed on tombstones, especially old ones. This book isn't it.
Published 3 months ago by Sandy
5.0 out of 5 stars Things you'd never know
Very interesting book. We have a Historic Cemetery in our city and have been there on several walk abouts. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Karen Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Great layout!
I purchased this as a gift, but I was thumbing through it and I just fell in love with this book. I want to order one for myself. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jenny
4.0 out of 5 stars Great reference for writers and people interested in cemetery...
This is very different from the other books I've read about tombstone history. Not the same stuff you usually see in most books. Read more
Published 5 months ago by VJayne
2.0 out of 5 stars Good photos unorganized difficult to read book
The only positive thing I can say about this book is that the photography was done well but everything else seems to be lacking. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ruth M.
4.0 out of 5 stars My son has not been able to put it down. It will also be a feat...
My son has not been able to put it down. It will also be a feat reference in the future.
Published 6 months ago by Sue
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved the book
I'm a genealogist that loves to visit and photograph cemeteries. This book has a wealth of great photos and defines the symbols too.
Published 7 months ago by Daniel L Williamson
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