The story of Calvin Beach is a simple one, but his gravestone at Woodbine Cemetery allows people to remember the things he enjoyed in life. Calvin grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia and was baptized at the Grottoes Church of God at an early age. Some of his favorite pastimes were fishing and playing music with his band (Find A Grave). A picture of Calvin fishing is engraved on his headstone, but there are no symbols of music or his band. Instead, there is a portrait of Calvin and his dog. Pictures of fish, deer, and his dog suggest that Calvin enjoyed spending time outdoors with a variety of animals. Calvin did not enjoy good health in his later years and passed away in 2012 (Find A Grave). At Woodbine, his gravestone is unique from most of the other gravestones. The magnificent pictures on his gravestone display his personal lifestyle and how his family will never forget that.
The rural cemetery movement began in the 19th century with the construction of Mount Auburn in 1831. Many cemeteries in large cities became overpopulated, often holding thousands of people in small churchyards. This increased the need for rural cemeteries across the United States dramatically. The rural cemetery movement allowed individuals to rest peacefully and have a respectful afterlife. Woodbine Cemetery is a rural cemetery located in Harrisonburg, Virginia that contains over 11,000 gravestones. There are large gates in the front that separate the everyday world from the peaceful cemetery. Once a person enters these gates, he or she has entered a place of tranquility.
Gravestones are used to mark the site where an individual is buried. Typically gravestones are made of slate, sandstone, marble, granite, limestone, schist, or soapstone. Although the type of masonry on the gravestone of Calvin Beach is unknown, his gravestone is very dark suggesting a black granite stonework. Gravestones include artwork, etchings, engravings, and sculpted elements in the design. Most gravestones include the name of the person buried, their date of birth, and date of death.
There are two distinct types of symbols that are on gravestones. Institutional symbols have direct ties to a formal organization. Some examples of these include crosses, angels, foliage, or scriptures that are directly related to the church (Collier, 12-13). In contrast, sub-institutional symbols are personal or recreational in style. This type of symbolic change emerged in the early 1960’s. Examples of sub-institutional symbols are portraits, animals, and hobbies of the deceased person (Collier, 13). After 1960, data shows a decrease in the amount of gravestones that use only institutional symbols that are related directly to the church.
Abby Collier says, “The most distinguishing trend recorded in the gravestones is the shift away from meaning afforded by identification with social institutions and towards a more individualistic identify based on one’s own personal pastimes” (Collier, 19).
She believes that including less religious symbols affiliated with an institution, and more personalized symbols on gravestones has created an American culture that is more individualistic and focused on the present. As time has progressed people have included less religious symbols affiliated with the church on gravestones, and more exclusive symbols relating to the past life of the deceased person.
All of the symbols found on the gravestone of Calvin Beach are recreational, categorizing them as sub-institutional symbols. Although Calvin identified with the Christian faith, there are no religious symbols on his gravestone. Calvin falls into the data that Abby Collier collected by following an originalist trend on gravestones in American culture. As a result, the family members of Calvin Beach will remember him for his individual traits when they visit his gravestone at Woodbine Cemetery.
By Seth Bauserman, CJ Minteer, and Colby Mocarski
We would like to acknowledge the employee from “Find a Grave” that we met at Woodbine Cemetery during our research process. She suggested that we use findagrave.com to find more information about Calvin Beach and his life.
Collier, Abby. “Tradition, Modernity, and Postmodernity in Symbolism of Death.” Sociological Quarterly 44, no. 4 (Fall 2003): 1-24. Accessed March 15, 2017.
Find a Grave. “Woodbine Cemetery.” Calvin Ray Beach. Last modified June 18, 2013. Accessed April 21, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=106201685
Find a Grave. “Woodbine Cemetery.” Woodbine Cemetery Gates. Last modified May 5, 2006. Accessed April 21, 2017. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=106201685&PIpi=3093364