Memorial Portraits Add "Life" to Tombstones
Photo-ceramic memorial--also called gravestone or tombstone--portraits ( first popular in the late 1800s/ early 1900s) have been making a comeback in the past few years. While visiting several local cemeteries recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few newer tombstones sporting these lovely treasures. As a matter of fact, in most of the cemeteries I have visited so far, I have actually found more new ceramic photos than old ones.
As of late, owing to a decision to add a portrait to my parents' tombstone, I have been diligently researching photo-ceramic memorial portraits. There are many decisions to be made: what style and size to get, where to get it, and whether to get it in black and white or color. Much of my research has involved exploring cemeteries with tombstone portraits. I've been checking out all the different sizes and styles, as well as observing the placement of the portraits on the tombstones to aid me in my decision. While I've been looking at them, my husband, who enjoys photography, has been taking pictures of them.
Update 7-30-2012: On July 8, I ordered my portrait; I received it July 27. What kind of ceramic portrait did I finally choose? Scroll down towards the bottom of this lens for all the details.
While exploring tombstone portraits, I came up with so much interesting information that I decided to create an article about them. Here I will talk about their history, how they are made, and where to get them. Also included is a gallery of photo-ceramic memorial portraits, taken from multiple cemeteries in my area. On the newer gravestones, the last name has been masked to respect the families' privacy.
All photos were taken by my husband, and may not be used without express permission of the artist.
Tombstone Portraits Provide an Invaluable Photographic Record of Our Ancestors
Do you enjoy exploring cemeteries? Have you ever noticed that some of the tombstones have photos on them? If you're like me, the photos really grab your attention so that you move in to get a closer look. I enjoy all tombstones, but I'm especially drawn to the ones with photos on them. Many of the photos are simple black and white pictures, but some are in color--mostly the newer ones.
Some tombstone photos contain multiple subjects, memorializing the deceased with their beloved children or grandchildren, or even a favorite pet. Often times, the photo depicts a married couple, even though only one party may be deceased at the time. While viewing photo-porcelain memorial photos on Flickr, I was struck by something quite unusual: in some of the photos of married couples, an old wife would be paired with a very young man, who appeared to be her son. In reading the descriptions, I discovered that a picture of the husband, who may have died twenty years or more before his wife, had been combined with his elderly wife's picture to produce the porcelain portrait for the tombstone, a strange sight, indeed. To achieve this effect, separate photos of the couple are combined, forming a photo collage.
Some of the photos depict the deceased in a favorite activity, such as playing the guitar or fishing, and may also reveal the occupation of the deceased, most commonly as a soldier in the U.S. Army or Navy. Photo portraits on tombstones enable the deceased to tell us their stories, sometimes one hundred years or more after the fact.
What are Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portraits?
According to Horne, author of the book, Forgotten Faces: a Window into our Immigrant Past, photographic tombstones, although originating in France in 1854, were popularized and perfected by the Italians. The art form was widely embraced by Southern Europeans, Latin Americans, and Jews from Eastern Europe.
The portraits, which are made of solid porcelain or porcelain over metal, come in various shapes: oval, round, square, rectangle, dome, or heart-shape, and may even be seen as a scroll, cross, or book-design. While visiting old cemeteries, the most common shape you will encounter is the oval, usually in vertical format, but sometimes horizontal if more than one subject is present.
For added finesse, the portrait may be rimmed by a gold border or enclosed in a fancy metal frame. Some of the frames have hinged metal covers to protect the portrait from the elements, and can be opened and closed as desired.
Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portraits in Hinged Frames
An example of photo-ceramic portraits in hinged frames. In the back, you can see how the frames look closed, as opposed to the open ones in the front. After taking pictures of the photos, my husband always respectfully closes the lids back to protect them.
Close-Up of Two Brothers
Brother Mark, on the right, passed on at the age of 21. Sadly, his younger brother, Joseph, a sweet-looking child with a Buster Brown haircut, passed on less than two years later at the age of 6.
Close-Up of Mother and Daughter
These portraits were taken from the gravestone with closed frames in the back. The deceased appear to be mother and daughter, and of Hispanic descent. The girl died at age 4 in 1970, and the mother died five years later at age 27 in 1975.
How Are Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portraits Made?
A porcelain (or ceramic) portrait is produced by firing an image onto a porcelain plaque at very high temperatures in a kiln for several hours, creating a permanent bond. The result is a vivid portrait that resists fading and the elements for 100 years or more.
Today's artisans who create these memorial portraits have the advantage of computer programs such as Photoshop to aid them in adding or removing backgrounds, adding or removing subjects, repairing damaged photos, touching up subjects (eliminating scratches, wrinkles, blemishes, etc.), and even converting black and white photographs to color or sepia, or vice versa.
How Were Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portraits Made in the Early 20th Century?
According to the book, Forgotten Faces: A Window into Our Immigrant Past, by Ron Horne, the creation of ceramic memorial photos was a multi-step process in the early 20th century. This complicated process enabled the portrait to survive for hundreds of years outdoors. The process of creating ceramic portraits varied from manufacturer to manufacturer, who each had their own carefully-guarded formulas.
Here is the basic procedure:
- The original portrait was rephotographed onto a large negative, then retouched to present the subject at his/her best. The corrected photo was then photographed again and reproduced onto a glass plate.
- The photo was put through a multi-step process of alternately washing and applying chemicals: silver nitrate, potassium cyanide, and other chemicals were applied. Various chlorides and nitrates were used (gold, silver, platinum, iridium, and palladium) to make the portrait resistant from chemicals, sunlight, and heat.
- The image was then placed on ceramic and fired at very high temperatures in a kiln to bond the image to the ceramic. The ceramic portrait was subsequently fired five or six additional times, turning it into an impenetrable hard shell.
- The image was sealed with a coat of transparent resin.
How Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portraits Are Made
Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portraits Created Using an Ink Jet Ceramic Printer
Were Photographs Used on Tombstones Before Ceramic Portraits Came into Being?
Before ceramic photos became popular for use on gravestones, other means of portraiture was used to remember the dead. The daguerreotype, which was popular from 1839--1864 was used as well as the ambrotype (1854--1865), and the tintype, which was popular from 1856 to the early 1900s.
It's Important that Ceramic Tombstone Portraits be Preserved and Recorded for Future Generations
According to the book, Forgotten Faces: A Window into Our Immigrant Past, by Ron Horne, photo-ceramic memorial portraits are quickly disappearing through "vandalism and decay." The book also states that many authorities estimate that half are already missing or destroyed in their areas.
My husband and I have begun walking our local cemeteries and recording these invaluable gems by photographing them, as well as the tombstones to which they are attached. Actually, my husband, who enjoys taking pictures, has been photographing them, and I have the important job of "nagging" him to take the pictures (just kidding!) as well as writing about them.
Some of the faces on the tombstones we found are of our own relatives, which makes it especially important to us that we retain a record for ourselves, as well as future generations.
Our Vanishing Portraits - Vanishing Woman
Sadly, many of our porcelain portraits are disappearing very quickly, and often end up damaged due to lawnmowers or other equipment, the elements, or vandalism. Some of these portraits have an eerie, ghostly appearance. All that remains of this poor woman's face are mostly the eyes, and a detached triangular chest area, lending the portrait a ghostly aura.
Man with Glasses
Damage to this man's portrait resulted in a strange bowtie-shaped chip at the chin.
Sepia Portrait of Couple
Here is an example of a sepia-colored ceramic portrait. Companies that manufacture ceramic portraits have the ability to convert portraits to sepia if so requested. In portraits such as this, which are already sepia-toned, that won't be necessary.
Although this couple passed away in the 1920s and '30s, the picture that this ceramic portrait was created from appears to have been made around the turn of the century. Although the man was nearly 15 years older than his wife, he ended up surviving her by 7 years. It's a pity that this treasure sustained such irreversible damage.
"Forgotten Faces: A Window into Our Immigrant Past" by Ronald William Horne
I just purchased Forgotten Faces: A Window into Our Immigrant Past, from Amazon.com, and I LOVE It!
This spellbinding read is the first book on the market to explore memorial portraiture as a distinct art form, revealing a window into our immigrant past through a collection of over 350 photo-ceramic memorial portraits. Included are examples from Colma, California's historic Holy Cross and Italian cemeteries, as well as other U.S. and European locations.
The purpose of the book is to raise awareness of this disappearing art form and its need for preservation. This book is the first in the series, with more books to follow, which will document photo-ceramic memorial portraits in cemeteries in Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and Boston. I, for one, plan on collecting the entire set.
There are interesting stories behind many of the portraits, such as the doughboy who miraculously survived heavy fighting in France during World War I, only to end up fatally shot in a cafe brawl upon his return home. The portraits are fascinating, and I have enjoyed learning about the history of the cemeteries and their residents.
The book is chock full of information, including the history of ceramic portraits, and who embraced them. The methods used to create porcelain portraits in the early 20th century are described, and today's producers of quality memorial portraits are listed for your consideration. For today's memorial portrait enthusiasts, there are also tips on how to clean and photograph them. As one who has always been fascinated by ceramic portraits, this book has further fueled the fire of my interest.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT "FORGOTTEN FACES: A WINDOW INTO OUR IMMIGRANT PAST":
Ancestors and Relatives - One of my Husband's Many Relatives
My husband, who has a lot of relatives, claims this guy as a relative, but he's not exactly sure how they're related. Since both of his parents are deceased, he has no way of finding out exactly who this man is. Notice how his photo is embedded in the top of the monument rather than on the front?
Cousin Cricket, Killed Serving His Country During WWII
My mom's cousin, who had the nickname "Cricket," was killed in France during WWII at the age of 19. I always enjoyed hearing my mom's story of how he saved her from drowning when she was a little girl. A hero to the end.
I never met my great-grandmother--she died a couple weeks before my older sister was born. When my dad went to Korea in 1964, my mom, brother, sister, and I lived with my grandmother and great-grandfather. Great-grandfather loved to walk, and did it every day. When he died, he was six days shy of 91. I think he resembles Jimmy Stewart in this photo. The picture didn't turn out very clear, so I will have to "nag" my better half to take another one.
Poll: Relatives with Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portraits
Teens and Children - Teen Waits for Her Loved Ones on the Other Side
Jennifer tragically died in a car accident, just five days before her 17th birthday. Her gravestone is beautifully etched with a heart and rose on the left side, and an ethereal angel on the right. She is kept company by an assortment of "companions," including a little girl sleeping in a giant hand. Solar lights illuminate her way on the other side.
Little Miss Sunshine
Lauren was the victim of a boating accident. In 1993, when Lauren was only four, the boat she was on with her family was struck by another boat. The rest of Lauren's family survived. Lauren was just four weeks away from her fifth birthday. In her ceramic photo, With her shining golden locks topped with a hair bow in the shape of a crown, she resembles a beautiful little princess.
Lauren's picture is mounted fittingly on a dainty pink heart-shape tombstone. Upon the heart is a tranquil scene of a girl frolicking with her lamb while birds flutter overhead. In the background, little children fly kites in front of a glorious sunrise.
Lauren was born June 21, 1988 and died May 23, 1993, according to the marker at the foot of her grave. Her epitaph reads: "Our little miss sunshine."
Impish Redhead with a Gap-Toothed Smile
This cute little tyke passed on at the age of 7. I love her toothless smile and her Shirley Temple curls topped with sassy bows. Thank goodness her portrait is in color, so we can see her beautiful red hair. It's quite unusual to see a ceramic photo from the 1940s in color.
Young Teen, "Gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds"
This young man, who died a few weeks short of his 14th birthday, must have been a hunter: he has a deer motif on his tombstone. The epitaph reads: "Gone to the happy hunting grounds."
Teen with Great Hair in a Western-Design Shirt
This teen boy, who died at the age of 17, had a really great head of hair. Of course as with all untimely deaths, we can't help but wonder what caused his demise at such a young age.
Judging from the picture on her tombstone, that of a cheerleader in a split with three pom-poms laid out in front of her, I would say Lesia, who passed on at 16, must have been a cheerleader.
Unusual Triple Portrait Tombstone
Taylor was an unfortunate victim of the choking game, dying 10 days away from his 11th birthday. His tombstone combines three portraits of him at different stages in his life: as a baby, graduating from first grade, and (center) as he looked before his death.
People and Guitars - Nick Lee: Police Explorer, Eagle Scout, Chaplain, Guitar Player
Nick Lee, who was a police explorer (a youth development program that centers on a law enforcement career), lived life to the fullest. He was killed at the age of 17 in an off-duty vehicle accident. He was also an Eagle Scout, a Venture Scout, and a chaplain. Note the guitar pick lovingly placed above a portrait of him strumming his guitar. Nick's epitaph reads: "Beloved son, brother, and grandson. Eagle Scout and friend to all."
Benjamin--All Decked out for the Prom with an Orange Guitar
Benjamin, a talented singer and musician, died in a single vehicle accident. His tombstone, a stunning glossy black rectangle with musical notes and orange guitar to the left and right of the portrait (he appears to be dressed in his prom tux) is a wonderful tribute to an obviously very much loved young man.
Striking Teen Beauty Gone in the Blink of an Eye
What started out as a day of fun and frolic on the river turned into tragedy when nineteen-year-old Allysa, along with her friends, capsized while on an inner tube expedition.
While her friends managed to save themselves, swimming to the banks of the river, Allysa wasn't so lucky--she came up missing. Two days later, her body was located by a State Trooper helicopter search team 1 1/2 miles downstream in the forks of the river.
She was a student at the University of Alabama and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.
Her breathtaking rectangular ceramic portrait, affixed to a tall, gleaming white tombstone, is a remarkable and touching memorial to a striking young woman. If I didn't know better, I would think that her headstone was from the 1800s to early 1900s due to its lovely vintage Art Nouveau design.
Football Fans - Teen Alabama Football Fan
Miranda died at the age of 17 in a car accident, on her way to her work study job. Her loved ones chose to include a portrait of her wearing a football jersey representing her favorite football team, Alabama Crimson Tide. Her large (around 7" tall), vividly colored photo sits on a glossy black teardrop shape tombstone accented with bright red flowers.
Unusual Double Portrait--Alabama Football Fan, Former Serviceman, and Fisherman
This round ceramic portrait combines two photos of the deceased man at different stages in his life. Looking over his shoulder is a portrait of him as a young man in the service. This man was a big Alabama football fan: his tombstone is shaped like a football and emblazoned with the big "A" and "Roll Tide." He must have also been a fisherman: on the built-in vase is a massive large mouth bass.
Tuxedoed Biker Rides off into Heaven
Isn't this a great ceramic portrait? No doubt this portrait, depicting a man on his beloved motorcycle, captures the true essence of the man. How interesting that he's dressed in a tuxedo for his photo! I wonder if this could have been his wedding day?
I researched Carroll Dean in an effort to find out what happened to him. The only thing I was able to find out is he died, at the age of 55, at his residence and is survived by his wife, Carolyn. Of course, it's obvious, by the big elephant barging through the red "A" graphic, that he was a true Alabama fan!
Young Mothers - Young Mother Leaves Two Small Children Behind
This lovely young woman turned up missing on August 14, 1998, at the age of 24. Rewards have been offered for any information leading to her whereabouts, but the case has gone cold. Her tombstone is embellished with an engraving of a small boy and girl (representative of the two children she left behind) looking over a fence while butterflies, symbolic of resurrection and the soul leaving the body, hover overhead. Her memorial site is watched over by angels: one hovers over her name on the tombstone; several more are in statue form, placed there by loved ones.
Poll: Do You Believe in Angels?
A Doting Young Mom and Her Daughter Pass on to the Next Life Together
This is a very young mom with her cute little girl. Tragically, both died on the same day--October 25, 1953. The mom passed away at 18, and the little girl at 2. Their photo is very touching; it's evident that the two loved one another very much.
The Forgotten Grave
This photo shows the entire tombstone with a vase that has fallen into ruin. As you can see, Betty's husband isn't buried beside her, which leads to the questions: Did he remarry? Is he still alive? And if he isn't, where is he buried?
Update 6-29-2014: After joining Ancestry.com I was able to search records, articles, and family trees to find out more info about Betty and Henry. I believe that Betty and daughter Sonja were probably killed in a car accident, since they both died on the same day and in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, away from their home. Henry remarried a little over a year later, in 1954, to a woman named Kitty. Henry died in 1972, at the age of 48, after a short illness and was laid to rest in the same cemetery as Betty, but in a different plot.
Couples - Early 1920s Couple
This porcelain portrait, which has sustained some cracking, appears to have been created from a photograph taken from the early 1920s or slightly earlier (judging from Audie's dress and hairstyle). Joe died at the age of 28; his wife, Audie, who has no death date, appears to have remarried. The portrait is set into a recess in the stone, a popular practice at the time. The designs as well as the letters on the gravestone are raised.
The Ebullient Couple
This couple looks radiant; it appears to be their wedding day. Tragically, the man passed away after only four years of marriage. Their photo is enclosed in a silver decorative metal frame.
Dual Ceramic Portraits on a Split Tombstone
Dual portraits compliment the split design of this low-profile tombstone. The photos, which still look new, are accented by the floral and vine design etched above them. Notice how the inscriptions are raised, while the epitaphs are etched into the stone. A purple flower arrangement brings out the beauty of the stone.
Man Loves His Dogs--Unusual Ceramic Portrait With Man & Dog on Two-Sided Tombstone - Front of Tombstone
Back of Tombstone
This is a very unusual tombstone: On the front of the tombstone is a photo of a couple on their wedding day, along with the usual inscriptions. On the back is a photo of the man and his dog, mounted on the built-in vase. Inscriptions on each side honor a daughter and a son. It appears that the "daughter" and "son" are not people, but dogs, which were apparently named Lil and Jake. I wonder if they're buried here?
The Dog Left Behind?
I decided to add this picture today. Although I could find no close-ups of the ceramic photos (apparently the hubby forgot to take them), I think the unusual appearance of this grave merits posting in this article.
As you can see, two headstones contain etched photos, while two contain ceramic photos. The horizontal ceramic photo, mounted on the section with the vase, is rather large and includes several family members.
From the looks of Danny's grave, he was a dog lover. The cement statue (a black lab?) has been lovingly placed between his and his parents' double tombstone. Danny, who died at the age of 34 (a little more than a month before his 35th birthday), must have had a dog like this, that was either left behind or preceded Danny in death. At any rate, this tombstone display makes a very striking picture, one that I had to nag the hubby to take for this article. Hopefully, sometime in the future, I can get hubby to take a close-up of the ceramic photos. At the moment, it's much, much too hot to do any cemetery visiting, much less get out of the car! Yes, it's Summertime in the South!
1940s Couple with a Square Ceramic Portrait
This 40s couple tied the knot when WWII was just getting underway. He was born three years before his bride and survived her by three years. As a young couple during the war, they were to see many tough times ahead. They were married 57 years.
'50s Couple Straight out of "Happy Days"
This '50s couple is straight out of "Happy Days." He's a "greaser" (a la Fonzie) with his greased pompadour and leather jacket, and she's wearing the typical tweed swagger coat and short curly hairstyle of the day. This photo must have been taken either while the couple were dating, or shortly after they were married. Bobby and Billie are both still living, and apparently wanted to have everything in order for their passing.
'60s Couple with Colored Background
This couple's ceramic portrait, consisting of black and white photos against a blue background, appears to have been combined from two photos. They're a handsome couple, Opal in her cat's eye glasses, and Danny in his suit and tie. Danny, who was younger than Opal by eight months, outlived her by 13 years.
Couple on the Beach
This tombstone has a wonderful casual photo of a couple wearing shorts, who appear to be sitting on the beach. Notice how the large photo is mounted on the flower vase rather than the tombstone? All the children's names are touchingly inscribed at the bottom.
Couple Die Together in Natural Disaster - Killed by a Tornado While Protecting Their Three Children
This loving young couple died shielding their three children from a tornado that hit their home on April 8, 1998; all three children survived. The headstone epitaph reads: "Lived to love. . . . Died protecting."
Nonagenarians - Dora Almost Makes it to 92!
A nonagenarian is someone 90 to 99 years old, according to Wikipedia. Dora lived July 26, 1892--May 30, 1984, making her a couple months short of being 92 when she died. George, who was a reverend, lived from May 26, 1889--July 15, 1971, making him 82 when he died.
Old-Timey Couple--Man Lives to Be 91!
This old-timey couple are the typical grandparents of days gone by. They look like no-nonsense people who have worked hard all their lives, enduring many hardships. Their photo is mounted on a simple tombstone with a floral design in the corners. Andrew's birthdate appears to have been changed from March 12 to March 11, or vice versa. Sarah lived to be 81, while Andrew died at the age of 91, a day shy of the 11th anniversary of Sarah's death.
Centenarians - Man Lives to Be 103!
Isn't this a great rectangle portrait? It's unusual in that it's a full-length portrait of a couple sitting down.
I found this tombstone while exploring a cemetery I have visited many times over the years. The funny thing is, I missed it each and every time--that is, until the last time, when I just happened to look down. The tombstone is actually a granite plaque mounted flat on the ground. It's a miracle that the portrait is still in such great shape, even though it has been subjected to ultra violet rays directly penetrating it, as well as rain and hail.
The woman lived from 1862 to 1913, making her 41 when she died. Her husband, who lived from 1860 to 1963, went on to live 50 more years after her death. Since there are no months given, only years, I'm assuming that the man was 103, or close to it when he died.
Newborn..............................Birth to 1 month
Infant..............................0 to 1
Toddler..............................1 to 2
Preschooler..............................3 to 4
Child/Kid..............................5 to 9
Pre-Teenager..............................10 to 12
Teenager..............................13 to 19
Vicenarian..............................20 to 29
Tricenarian..............................30 to 39
Quadragenarian..............................40 to 49
Quinquagenarian..............................50 to 59
Sexagenarian..............................60 to 69
Septuagenarian..............................70 to 79
Octogenarian..............................80 to 89
Nonagenarian..............................90 to 99
Centenarian..............................100 to 109
Supercentenarian..............................110 and older
Toddlers & Babies--First One Buried in Cemetery
While walking in an Alabama cemetery about a year or so ago, I came across this adorable little one. Today, while searching through photos, I happened to find the photo of her tombstone my husband took and wanted to add it to this article. I can't make out her name, but at the bottom of her tombstone is etched: "First one buried in this cemetery." I wish I knew the date--looks like 1920s to me. How very tragic that the first one buried in this cemetery would be someone's sweet little girl.
Grinning Toddler With Toy
This cute little toddler, who passed on at the age of 3, appears to have a toy in his hand, but I can't make out what it is. He is dressed in a cute little sailor style short set. His tombstone is topped with a lamb, a symbol of innocence.
Darling Little Girl in a Bonnet
This adorable bonneted toddler passed on at the age of 3. A praying angel, etched on her gravestone, watches over her.
Sweet Little Angel in a White Gown
This baby's picture is enclosed in a hinged frame with a lid that opens and closes. The top of the tombstone, which appears to be a statue of an angel, has broken off at the legs. The stone is engraved with a touching epitaph: "Step softly, an angel lies here."
Newborn Twins, Post-Mortem Photo
This is a very unusual ceramic photo showing only the feet of infant twins, covered by a crocheted cover. The grave epitaph is lovely.
Sweet Baby--Possible Post-Mortem Photo
The photo of this sweet baby appears to be post-mortem (taken after death). Watching over him are two praying children (on the backside), a seal, a dolphin, and a walrus.
What is Post-Mortem Photography?
Post-mortem photography is the art of taking photos after death. It came into being with the advent of photography, in the early nineteenth century. Before that, paintings were commissioned of the dead, starting in the sixteenth century. Early post-mortem paintings were usually of nuns or clergymen, who were painted either sitting up or lying in bed.
Most post-mortem photos are of children, due to the high mortality rates prevalent during the 1880s to early 1900s. Post-mortem photos were also mounted on gravestones in the form of ceramic portraits, typically seen on gravestones from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Photo (in the public domain) depicts a couple with their deceased daughter, propped up to appear alive.
Post-Mortem Photography Links
- Post-Mortem Photography on Wikipedia
The history of post-mortem photography.
- Post-Mortem Photography--A Lost Art?
Post-mortem photography: why it has become a lost art.
- Creepy Post-Mortem Photographs from the Victorian Age
Not for the faint of heart. Strange and creepy photos of the dead.
- "The Last Look" Post-Mortem Photography in Europe
Why post-mortem photography is widely misunderstood today.
- Victorian Death and Mourning
Post-mortem photography set by jack_mord.
Post-Mortem Photos on YouTube - Warning! Graphic Photos!
Solo Graves - Woman from the Roaring Twenties
Ida Belle was a married lady who died in 1926 at the age of 19. When I saw how young she was, my first thought was that she might have died in childbirth, but there was no baby grave nearby, so I have no way of knowing. Ida sports the fashionable bobbed hairstyle of the day.
Distinguished Mustachioed Man
This gentleman's tombstone has a design consisting of a flying dove with an underlying banner, framed by a picket fence. The dove symbolizes peace, and is believed to be a messenger of God. The grave is interred in a sandy family plot which is partially enclosed by a white picket fence. He lived from 1867--1938.
Forties Woman with Red Lipstick
This twenty-one-year-old woman, who passed away on the cusp of young adulthood, is sporting the fashionable updo of her day. Her bright red lipstick tells us that her portrait is created from a tinted photo.
Young Forties Beauty Killed Before Her Wedding Day
The beautiful Ophelia was killed in a car wreck at the age of 19 before her wedding day. Her cryptic epitaph reads: "Stop Dear Friends As You Pass By. As You Are Now So Once Was I. As I Am Now You Soon Shall Be. Live Prepared To Follow Me."
Young Man Tragically Cut Down in the Prime of Life
On August 25, 1984, Mike was shot to death by a robber at his family-owned service station at the age of 21. Three other people were murdered, including a service station employee and a married couple, who unknowingly stopped in to get cigarettes and soft drinks in the midst of the robbery. In March of 1985, a local resident found the gun used in the murder in a creek; the gun was traced to the killer, who was found guilty of murder that same year. After sitting on death row for over 17 years, the killer was executed by lethal injection in 2003.
Family Portraits - The Fireman and the Nurse
This oval ceramic portrait includes the entire family in the picture: mom, dad, son, and daughter, and is set horizontally in a leaf design frame. Looking at the tombstone, we can see that the dad (still living) is a fireman, and the mom, who died at the age of 46, was a nurse. There are footprints representing each family member, as well as a seashell (the family must have spent many happy summers at the beach).
People Dressed in Uniforms Representing Their Professions - The Nurse
This young woman's life was cut short at the age of 35. She is dressed in the style of nurse uniform worn in her day. Her husband lived 18 more years after her death. The dates on the tombstone are very faint. Mack lived from January 13, 1922 to August 23, 1989. Doris lived from November 4, 1935 to January 30, 1971. They were married July 13, 1957. Notice how the double heart graphic represents the end of their marriage through broken chains. The dagger through the heart motif possibly symbolizes protection and sacrifice.
"Casey" The Locomotive Engineer
While organizing my better half's pictures on his cell phone yesterday, I happened upon this picture, apparently taken a few years ago. Although I couldn't find a photo of the complete headstone--only foot markers, I think this ceramic photo is special enough to add to this article.
Apparently this gentleman had an occupation as a railroad engineer and it's obvious he was quite proud of it. Wearing his locomotive engineer hat with a wonderful image of a train billowing smoke behind him, Joseph definitely looks the part.
His marker bears the nickname "Casey," a reference to the famous "Casey Jones," the American locomotive engineer immortalized in a famous ballad. At the bottom there is a train engine with S. A. L. R R incised below it. After looking it up on the internet, I've reached the conclusion that "Casey" must have been an engineer for the Seaboard Airline Railroad, which existed from 1900--1967 before it merged with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
In another 10 days, Ruby would have celebrated her 70th birthday. Joseph "Casey" Burkett lived to the ripe old age of 89, outliving his wife, Ruby, by almost 17 years.
American Soldiers - The Doughboy
This soldier, who was born April 28, 1893, enlisted in the Army in 1917 to serve his country in WWI. He was killed in action October 16, 1918. His portrait is mounted on a great looking tree trunk design tombstone, representative of "Woodmen of the World," an insurance company and fraternal organization.
Proud Soldier with American Flag
This distinguished soldier proudly stands in front of the american flag. His onyx black gravestone is engraved with attractive grapevines. Grapes are a symbol of the blood of Christ.
Soldier Killed in Vietnam in 1969
A casualty of the Vietnam War, this young U.S. soldier is remembered with a special tombstone that is a monument to his service, valor, and bravery. The design is made up of three military symbols: the Purple Heart (awarded to a soldier who has been wounded or killed in battle), the Silver Star (the third highest military award designated solely for heroism in combat), and the armed services emblem.
Poll: Do You Believe in Heaven?
Where Do You Purchase Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portraits?
Memorial portraits for tombstones are still being produced today. Where do you get them? You can purchase them from monument companies, but you might want to comparison shop to get the best price. There are several websites that sell them as well, and you can also purchase them from sellers on eBay.
If buying from a website, investigate the company's credentials. The best way to do this is by searching for them in the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Check to see if they are BBB accredited. Look for an "A" or "A+" rating. See if there are any buyer complaints.
If purchasing from a seller on eBay, check out their feedback rating--strive for 100% feedback with at least 25 ratings. Click on the feedback number (in parentheses beside the seller name) and look at the detailed seller ratings. These ratings reflect feedback from buyers. Categories are: Item as Described, Communication, Shipping Time, and Shipping and Handling Charges. If the seller has a rating of 5.0 for all categories, then you have an outstanding seller. Few sellers have 5 stars across the board; if you find one, then you can be rest assured that this seller will bend over backwards to please you. Most detailed seller ratings of reputable eBay sellers are comprised of a mixture of "4.9s" and "5.0s", which is acceptable. Also, it's a good idea to read buyer feedback to determine whether or not the buyer had a pleasant buying experience. I highly recommend eBay seller, obedobo, who has a perfect eBay rating with 100% feedback.
How to Attach a Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portrait to a Tombstone
You can easily install your photo-ceramic memorial portrait yourself. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, you can have the monument company or cemetery install it for you for a nominal charge.
Never install picture unless the temperature is above 60 degrees F.
Only install picture on a dry tombstone; also ensure there will be no rain in the forcast for the next several days.
- With a mixture of 50% alcohol and 50% water (preferably distilled), clean the place on the monument where the picture will be mounted. Place a piece of duct or electrical tape in the center of where the picture will sit.
- Measure the picture to get height and width dimensions, then place the inside edges of pieces of tape the same distance from the center as the outer edges of picture. Mark sides, top, and bottom. This is where your picture will go. Ensure that tape is far enough out so that it won't be under the picture.
- Step back and look to see that tape has been placed correctly. Hold up the picture up in the center of the tape to ensure that everything is marked accurately. Once you determine that everything is correct, remove the center piece of tape, then wipe the area clean with alcohol solution. Allow area to dry.
- To attach the picture, use indoor/ outdoor mounting tape such as 3M or Scotch, or 3M Super Glue. Both methods create a permanent bond. Firmly press picture to tombstone, and remove tape markers. Remove tape residue with alcohol solution. Allow to dry.
- Go all around the edges of picture with clear silicone caulk to seal it, pulling away from the bead slightly as you squeeze, rather than pressing into it. Use less than you think you will need. Gently Smooth edges with your finger, cleaning up excess with a damp rag. Once silicone dries, clean up any excess with a razor blade.
Selecting a Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portrait for My Parents' Gravestone
After researching ceramic portraits and shopping around to find the best value, I finally made a decision on where to buy the ceramic portrait for my parents' tombstone. I chose a 5" x 4" oval portrait and ordered it from eBay seller, obedobo. Why did I choose obedobo? This seller has a current rating of 68 sales (at the time of my purchase) with 100% feedback, and a detailed seller rating of 5 out of 5 stars across the board. I knew with a perfect track record like that, I would be guaranteed great service. I paid $34.00 for the portrait, plus $16.00 shipping. I decided that I also wanted the portrait in color, which was extra ($14.00), since the portrait had to be converted from black and white to color.
I received the portrait through the mail only nineteen days later; that includes production time and shipping from Poland. I am very pleased with the quality of the portrait; the seller did a great job on the colors.
Photo That the Ceramic Portrait Was Made from--My Parents on Their Wedding Day--February 14, 1953
Installing the Photo-Ceramic Portrait on My Parents' Tombstone
Update August 13, 2012--My husband, Eddie, and I unfortunately, had to wait a couple of weeks later to install the portrait, due to rain and thunderstorms in our area. It was really hard to have to wait since I was so eager to get the portrait added to the tombstone.
On August 12, we arrived at the cemetery early so it wouldn't be so hot. We first cleaned the area where we wanted to mount the portrait with a mixture of 50% rubbing alcohol and water. Using a ruler, we marked the center with a white charcoal pencil. Using a pattern (made from tracing around the portrait on paper), we marked where we wanted the portrait to go with a white charcoal pencil. We then attached indoor/outdoor mounting tape to the back of the portrait. It wasn't as easy as it appears in the diagrams we looked at. Since the mounting tape wouldn't lay flat in an oval shape, we had to attach it in strips, rather than one solid piece.
Once we got the tape attached, the portrait was pressed into the tombstone within the lines we had marked. The markings were then easily erased and caulking was applied all around the edges to seal the portrait. We wiped up excess caulk with a damp paper towel. As you can see from the photo, there is still some excess caulk around the top of the portrait, so I will have to "nag" hubby to remove it with a razor blade later. Are you listening, hubby? ;-)
Before and After Photos
Well, here it is! We finally got the portrait in place. Don't you agree that the portrait adds tons of personality to my parents' tombstone? I sure think so! This photo was added later; my sister, Melanie, changed out and arranged the flowers so beautifully that I decided to take another picture!
Close-Up of the Ceramic Portrait
Poll: Do You Want to Purchase a Photo-Ceramic Memorial Portrait?
Interesting Links About Cemeteries and Graves
- Concordia Cemetery
Concordia Cemetery is Texas State Historic site located in El Paso Texas. Founded in the mid 1800's by Hugh Stephenson and his wife Juana Ascarate Stephenson. There are over 60,000 people buried with in the walls of this 52 acre cemetery. Concordia H
- Are Cemetery Walks Making a Comeback?
Cemetery Walks are growing in popularity along the East Coast and Midwest. Find out where they're having them and why.
- Cemetery and Headstone Photography: The Stone Pics Method
A detailed description of the methods used to photograph the cemeteries and headstones in Newfoundland for the StonePics project.
- Weirdest Grave in the West
More than 60 years after it was completed, it still attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year.
- Find a Grave
Find the graves of famous people and ancestors.
- Cleaning a Gravestone
Info, including a video, on how to safely clean a gravestone.
- A Grave Interest--Take a Tour of Historic Oak Hill Cemetery in Indiana
Over 8,000 graves interred with famous famous and fascinating townsfolk in this historical cemetery.
- The Official Website of Arlington National Cemetery
Includes visitor info, history, photos, funeral schedule, and more.
- Edgar Allen Poe's Memorial Grave
Did you know that Poe was buried in an unmarked grave? This site relates the story in interesting detail. See Poe's memorial grave in Baltimore, Maryland.
Did You Enjoy Your Visit?
Blonde Blythe (author) from U.S.A. on April 11, 2017:
Yes, often the family had no portrait of the deceased, other than the post-mortem photo, so it was common practice to paint "eyes" on the closed eyelids of the deceased to make them look alive.
mcvallone on January 19, 2017:
Were photos embedded on tombstones in the 1920s ever taken post-mortem, then altered to look "alive"?
There is an oval ceramic portrait on my great-grandmother's tombstone. It's somewhat deteriorated, but I digitally restored it (I'm a portrait artist). Even before restoration, the photo always looked strange to me. It almost looks painted over. The cheeks look somewhat sunken, the mouth looks unnatural, and the dress is obviously painted. I'm wondering if her eyes were closed and then painted "open."
There is definitely one post-mortem of her--I have one of her displayed in her casket. Maybe they took another one and retouched it? Have you ever seen anything like this?
Dawn on January 04, 2017:
Hello, Can you please tell me if you had to wait until the size you wanted to purchase for your parents ceramic photo was available...Did you have to wait until it was bidding on Obedobos site, if not, how did you purchase it? The reason I ask is that I do not see the size that I would like to buy, the one that is bidding is a 3.2x4.4 & I would like a 4x4. Thank you!
Blonde Blythe (author) from U.S.A. on May 19, 2015:
You would have to talk with the seller. They have various sizes and charge a little extra to colorize a black and white photo. I got mine from obedobo on eBay and they did an excellent job. They use Italian porcelain, which is the best. Click on the auction link on this page for more info.
SANDRASLONE on March 15, 2015:
what dose it cost to get a 5x7 and a 3x4
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on November 05, 2012:
I've visited quite a few graveyards recently while working on my genealogy. Can't say I noticed portraits like these. Maybe it is more popular in the south.
You've done an excellent job documenting these.
KimGiancaterino on August 27, 2012:
Your parents photo turned out very nice. Thank you for explaining the process so clearly. I'll have to see if it's possible to do this for my grandparents who are buried together. Cemeteries are very interesting places, and I enjoyed reading about the tombstones you found in your local area. So many sad stories of people dying young ... I do know of the boy who died because of the choking game.
Blonde Blythe (author) from U.S.A. on August 06, 2012:
@Sylvestermouse: Thank you so much! When I was a little girl, I, too, remember seeing pictures of relatives on tombstones. From that day on, I was hooked! :)
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on August 06, 2012:
The photo of your parents is beautiful! I had not realized that tombstone portraits were still available. I remember when I was a little girl, I used to go to the cemetery with my grandmother. The only image I ever had of some of my ancestors were the ones on their tombstones. Those photos give me a connection to them that I would not have had otherwise.
artdecoco on July 23, 2012:
artdecoco on July 23, 2012:
very much so