Gravestone Symbolism in Riverdale, Porterdale and East Porterdale Cemeteries,
Columbus, Georgia


Note: Most of the information about these symbols is from “Some Common Symbols/ Emblems Found in 19th Century Cemeteries,” The Association for Gravestone Studies., 18 November 2011, and “Cemetery Symbols Found in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, N.Y.,” Buffalo Architecture and History., 19 November 2011.
The flame symbolizes life and breath, while the ivy is a symbol of friendship, love, constancy, immortality and remembrance.
The torch represents life. A down-turned torch symbolizes the extinguishing of life.
The candle symbolizes the spirit or the soul.
The handshake is a symbol of parting, farewell, friendship, brotherhood.
A hand holding a broken chain symbolizes the death of a family member. In an historically Black cemetery, it could also be a reference to slavery.
Praying hands represent devotion.
The draped urn is the traditional symbol of sorrow and mourning.
Since ancient times, urns have been used to hold the ashes of the dead. Therefore, an urn symbolizes death. At the base of this monument are scrolled leaves of the acanthus, a plant that symbolizes everlasting life.
A cherub is usually used to mark the grave of a child.
An angel praying – possibly for the soul of the deceased.
This angel is reading to a cherub – perhaps from the book of life. Angels are guardians of the dead, symbolizing spirituality.
Religious Symbols

IHS is a monogram of the name of Jesus, derived from the first three letters of the Greek version of his name: Iota, Eta and Sigma. Sometimes the three letters are superimposed on each other. It is also an acronym of the Latin: Iesus Hominum Salvator which translates as Jesus, Saviour of Man.
The Star of David is the Jewish symbol of divine protection.
The Celtic cross represents the unity of heaven and earth. It is often called the Presbyterian cross.
The cross is a Christian symbol representing religious faith and resurrection.
Symbols of Fraternal Organizations
This configuration of the crescent, saber and star is a symbol that indicates the deceased was a Shriner.
The square and compass on a tombstone are a symbol for Freemasonry, indicating the deceased was a member of a Masonic Lodge. The G in the center may stand for God.
The three-link chain is a symbol of the Odd Fellows organization. The abbreviation beneath the chain stands for the International Order of Odd Fellows. The organization began in the United States in 1819.
The Odd Fellows chain symbol sometimes contains the letters F, L, T, which stand for Friendship, Love and Truth.
The main symbol on this gravestone is a crescent surrounding five stars. This a symbol for an organization called the Daughters of Rebekah, the female auxiliary of the International Order of Odd Fellows. The dove on top of the stone represents peace.
This symbol represents the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Note the B. P. O. E. beneath the elk head. The organization, also known as the Elks, was founded in 1868.
This is the seal of the Woodmen of the World, an organization founded in 1890 to provide financial security for its members. The Latin motto “Dum Tacet Clamat" translates as "Though silent, he speaks."
Woodmen of the World tombstones typically incorporate logs or tree trunks into the design.
One of the benefits of belonging to Woodmen of the World was that members got free cemetery monuments. This practice ended in the 1920s, when it was decided that this benefit was too costly. Subsequently members had to pay for their own tombstones.
Plants and Flowers


Flowers symbolize the brevity of earthly existence; the urn symbolizes death.
The lily, the virgin’s flower, is a symbol of purity, innocence and love. One of these lilies appears to be a calla lily.
An upright lily stalk in relief.
A lily stalk in relief gracing the base of a gravestone.
This stone features a column of stylized lotus blossoms. The lotus symbolizes purity, resurrection, evolution, potential. The crosses in the column represent Christianity. The stylized key symbol across the top has its basis in the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur in the labyrinth.
The acanthus leaf is a symbol of everlasting life.
The bird of paradise plant is an international symbol of natural Hawaiian beauty – despite the fact that the plant originated in Africa. The family buried in this grave has Hawaiian connections. Also on the tombstone is the word “Aloha.”
Ivy symbolizes immortality, friendship and faithfulness.
This stylized rose is a symbol for completion, achievement, and perfection.
Miscellaneous Symbols
The entwined wedding rings represent a relationship of never-ending love and devotion.
These gates represent the Gates of Heaven. They are open – welcoming the soul of the departed.
The lamb symbolizes the innocence of a child; it is traditionally used on the graves of children.
The obelisk, which had its origins in ancient Egypt, became a popular cemetery monument beginning in the 1840s. It is a symbol of eternal life.
Placing pebbles on the grave of a loved one is an old Jewish custom. The origin of this tradition is unclear. However, the pebbles are a sign to others who visit the grave that the deceased is loved by others.

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