All posts by Hunter / Alexander

Tombstone Displacement

Upon entering Richmond National Cemetery, the uniformity and symmetry is plainly clear. Each tombstone is made of the same material, with the lettering written in the same font and size. The stones are laid out in a very particular and precise grid: Look down any line–horizontal, vertical, diagonal–and the tombstones extend in a perfectly linear fashion. The layout and appearance of the cemetery is rather appealing because it is clear that ample planning and time was put into the aesthetic and the care of the cemetery.

Knowing the goal of the structure of the cemetery immediately upon entering, my interest was piqued when I noticed a couple tombstones that did not follow the pattern–the two in the back of the following picture:

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These two stones were not in line with the others; they were not even sticking up out of the ground as every other stone in the cemetery was but instead were lying flat down on the ground. My first thought was that perhaps they had been pulled out of the ground at some point, so the caretakers of the cemetery had laid them down temporarily. As I looked more closely, however, it was obvious that these stones were stuck into the ground in an obviously permanent way. My next thought was that they were early stones for the soldiers buried in that space, and when they made the cemetery so precise they put upright stones directly in front of the originals in order to preserve the uniformity that was wanted. However that thought also proved to be incorrect, as I finally realized where these stones belonged upon more time spent with them. Looking closely at the stones, it is clear that they were intentionally placed in those spots and were never expected to be moved. Whereas every other stone in the cemetery had their number marking their location on its backside, these stones had their numbers written on the bottom of their front.

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The numbers lined up with not the row directly in front of these stones, but with the row behind them. It become clear that the reason for the stones’ location was because of the tree that disrupted the flow of the row where they belonged, as you can see in the first picture.

Some questions remain about this tombstone displacement, especially after noticing the same thing with other tombstones related to trees in the cemetery. Were the trees there before the land became a cemetery? I would assume so, but that begs the question: why did they feel the need to continue the graves through the tree rather than letting there be a natural break in the line? There are numerous places among the tombstones in the cemetery where there seems to be a bit of a random break, so why not allow the tree to create a natural one? I also noticed that every displaced tombstone was marked as an “Unkown Solider.” There are other tomstones throughout that mark multiple soldiers in one grave, so why were these soldiers not added to others to preserve the looks of the cemetery? My final question was as follows: If these men buried here, with their tombstones displaced, were known and had a name, would they have been pushed off as such?