Located on a slight rise off the highway between Campbell and Commerce, Brigham Cemetery is surrounded by lovely old-growth trees and filled with dappled sunlight. It overlooks an early, early trail into Hunt County.
Entry to the cemetery is through a lichgate, the formal gate with the name of the cemetery and often dates of the first burial. These Western European customs continue at most cemeteries near Greenville.
Graves stones facing east to west are signs of Southern Christian burial grounds. Nineteenth century monuments are extremely symbolic of the personality of the deceased.
For example, small stones featuring doves or rabbits signify deaths of young children. Prior to the end of World War II, infant mortality was much greater than today. I have seen cemeteries where five or six small stone rabbits, lambs, or baby birds are laid around a woman’s grave. Each represents a child lost before the age of 5.
One often finds hands clasped in bas-relief or etched on tombstones. If the hands are those of a man and woman, it usually represents a married couple. If the hands are those of men, two good friends have parted.
A hand with the index finger pointed above indicates that the deceased will meet a loved one in heaven. However, two monuments I have recently found show the arm of a woman holding a wreath of flowers. In those the index finger is pointing downward. Inside the wreath are three links of chain representative of the International Order of Odd Fellows. One of these stones in located near the hill at East Mount while the other is at Brigham. There are probably countless others, but these are the only ones I have seen.
Some tombstones have a gate in the clouds etched on them. These are known as the “Pearly Gates,” a popular choice in the late 19th century.
Weeping willows represent elderly widows who have encountered much sorrow in their lives.
On the other hand, a sheaf of wheat on a tombstone usually signifies a man who was a successful farmer.
Some are quite elaborate. One small stone at Brigham is topped with an elaborate Easter lily, symbolizing innocence. One woman told me two children were buried there. One died of a spider bite and the other from childhood diabetes.
Other graves are decorated with a stone wrapped with a drape sitting on an urn. Needless to say, an important community figure is buried there.
One thing I did not find at Brigham, and have rarely ever found, was a grave in a north to south alignment outside the cemetery fence. Folklore says an outlaw, probably a horse thief, is buried there.
Cemeteries are quiet places for meditation.
They are also examples of some of the best public art available. Be it a magnificent sculpture or a simple handmade stone, all have a story to tell.
Taylor is chairman of the Hunt County Historical Commission. She can be contacted at email@example.com.