Monday, July 27, 2009

Gravestone Rubbings

Gravestone Rubbing
Originally uploaded by midgefrazel
As I am getting ready to go to Mystic [Stonington] Connecticut for the annual Denison Day, I am going back through photos I have taken in the past and putting them online. This gravestone rubbing caught my eye at the cottage behind the Denison house and although I could not take a photo of it without the glare, I think it is worth looking at.

I did not take this rubbing, in fact because I live in Massachusetts, I have never done a gravestone rubbing. It is considered gravestone desecration and it against the law here.

I don't know if it is against the law in other states. This rubbing was done in Connecticut and probably many years ago. It is a reminder to all how well preserved this gravestone is to be able to do that.

At a recent meeting of one of my genealogist groups, a local history professor came to speak and talked about how he was having his undergraduate students do gravestone rubbings as part of their course.

I raised my hand and politely informed him that this was an illegal practice in Massachusetts and that he should be teaching gravestone photography instead. He replied that it wasn't the SAME and that he would continue to teach them to rub gravestones.

He quickly wrapped up his talk and headed for the door. Many people afterward remarked to me that he obviously knew it was illegal and they were surprised at how someone with so much education could be so disdainful and disrespectful of the dead and the law.

It occurs to me now that gravestone photography would be quicker and easier for his students to accomplish (and more educationally appropriate for 21st century learning and sharing online) and perhaps the time it took to make the gravestone rubbing and then to hang them somewhere in the college's halls (adding to his fame and reputation) was the point to the assignment in his mind.

I keep my eyes open for a newspaper article with photographs of his students doing rubbings so I can keep it to educate younger genealogists about the pitfalls of listening to educated people who do not have all the updated information they need to teach any subject.

Strangstad, Lynette. A Gravestone Preservation Primer. Altamira Press. 1995. Appendix D. Massachusetts Law Pertaining to Gravestone Preservation.

Massachusetts Law


Anonymous said...

Good work. Keep getting the word out. I have had many discussions with people who just don't see what is wrong with it.

Bill West said...

Good work, Midge!

You know, I was considering doing rubbings earlier this Summer but never got around to it. I'm glad I didn't because I didn't know it was against the law in Massachusetts
until I saw an earlier post of yours!

BTW, some bookstores sell grave rubbing kits!

Midge Frazel said...

Yes, they sell those kits because it is not illegal in all of the states. In Massachusetts I imagine you can get permission to do one if you follow the right channels.

I watched an art teacher do one here in Bridgewater with my daughter's girl scout troop years ago and wondered if it hurt the stone.

While in NH, I bought a rubbing "crayon" and have a piece of non fusible pellon in my kit. I hope to try one in CT this month because I can't get a good shot even with the mirror. Oddly, it is a granite stone and is not very old.

Diane Wright said...

This is a subject that can get the ball rolling. I use to do lots of rubbings. They are fun and I like the results but after lots of study, I do not do it anymore.
We all need to get together on this one. Thanks for the exposure, Midge,

Lorin said...

I'm completely confused. I read the law, and no where does it in fact state that it is illegal to do a gravestone rubbing in the state of Massachusetts.
I'm a new resident in Mass, in Plymouth in fact and of course my mind races to all the history. So now, where would I research that a "RUBBING" is considered desecration?

If you have had the chance to go to burial hill in Plymouth Ma, you would be saddened by the sheer amount of stones that are no longer ledgable because of the harsh weather. What better way to preserve items that ultimatly end up being either completely destroyed or replaced with something entirely different then by doing a rubbing? That is, if you in fact do these rubbings in such a way as to not injure the marker.

Surly the great state of Massachusetts has some sort of tax along with a certificate you would have to pay for to be able to do this. Is it not part of our cultural? Our history?
I'm in need of some real education I suppose!

Midge Frazel said...

In response to the comment here, I would like to say that although the law doesn't specify rubbings per se, it does fall under the destruction of property at the town/city and state level. Enforcement of the law is up to the place where the cemetery is located. I suggest a person who wants to make a rubbing find out who owns the land the cemetery is on by checking with the town/city hall or local historical society. You could also check with the local police dept. so they would know you are there. Common sense prevails.

The burial ground at Plymouth has been transcribed and many of the stones are encased in cement. This probably was done not just to preserve the stones but to prevent people from stealing them!

Midge Frazel said...

Book for Burial Hill in Plymouth

Epitaphs from Burial Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1657-1892 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2002. Original data: Kingman, Bradford., Brookline, MA, USA: New England Illustrated Historical Pub. Co., 1892

Lorin said...


I have to say your analysis of the law is a bit distorted. Any law enforcement agent is not going to view me doing anything more then taking a photo, if I am taking a rubbing.

It is of course, your own opinions that you are following and you are allowed to.

I will take your advice and I will check into local laws and I will also contact the historical society, but I am betting that it is not considered illegal. While not always desirable, not illegal.

By your thought process, wouldn't photo's be of the same concept??

Just a little food for thought.

I would hope that anyone reading your blog would please look up the definitions of the words in the law. They do not reflect what a Rubbing is.

Thanks for your blog, it's what makes the internet great.

Midge Frazel said...

Another law about destruction of property including gavestone defacing.

Anonymous said...

In our town, New Salem, Ma - You need permission from the cemetery commission to do any work, photos, rubbings, etc... We can prosecute anyone who does not follow the rules. Therefore, in most historic graveyards in Massachusetts, it is illegal to rub stones. The stones in Marblehead have been loved to death and there is surface damage from all the rubbings.
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