Unlike the gravestones at St. John’s Episcopal Church, which are mostly traditional three-lobed headstones with minimal iconography, the gravestones at Hollywood Cemetery are far more extravagant in both their shape and their iconography. The gravestones face multiple different directions, rather than just east, and there are many that stand out for their individuality and uniqueness. One of the more interesting and distinguishable gravestones I saw was that of John Branch Gormon, who died at only two years of age.
The grave is one of the smaller in the cemetery, roughly three feet tall, typically suggestive of a child’s grave. It is covered with three-dimensional iconography, mainly flora and natural symbols, denoting the beauty and brevity of life, also typical of gravestones marking young death. Ferns decorate the bottom left of the headstone, which Keister proposes to mean humility, frankness, and sincerity in his field guide. A five-lobed plant grows along the left side of the headstone, and what seems to be a calla lily appears on the right-hand side, typically used to symbolize majestic beauty and marriage. The center of the tombstone features a setting sun, signifying that the sun has set on this child’s life. Additionally, the words “Our Darlings” are inscribed above the setting sun and “Children of J.N.S.D. Gorman” is engraved on a log that lies diagonally across the stone. Lastly, a bonnet sits on the bottom right of the grave, which was likely similar to one worn by the child who passed.
Upon first discovering the grave, I felt as though it could have come straight out of a story book or nursery rhyme. The art is large and dramatic for such a small headstone, yet simple at the same time, as if it were meant to be easily accessed and understood. The natural symbolism and child-like iconography also conveys the innocence and purity of the grave, such as the lily and the bonnet. Finally, the decision to inscribe “Our Darlings” makes me think of precious, dainty children as opposed to teenagers or young adults.
I was surprised at the drastic shift of creative liberties taken in this rural cemetery as opposed to an older cemetery such as the one at St. John’s. However, the documentary “Death and the Civil War” shed light on the number of casualties and the lack of urgency to bury the dead soldiers and/or hold memorial services. As a result, the community worked to give each soldier the remembrance he deserved as a result of his service to his country. Like John Gormon, many of those buried in Hollywood Cemetery died after the Civil War, when Americans were still mourning the great loss of confederate and union soldiers. Perhaps the individuality and uniqueness of the graves at Hollywood Cemetery are an attempt to make up for the lack of personalization given to the soldiers who died during the Civil War.