This gravestone can be found in the Trinity Churchyard at the Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City. (The site is also home to the remains of Alexander Hamilton.)
Under the bones crossed in an X reads the inscription:
Here lies the remains
of John Bates
who was Born March
ye 30th 1730 & Dep’td this
Life Decem’br 27th 1770
I wondered about the crossbones above the inscription and it seems that they are simply a reminder of death and mortality. People used symbols such as skulls, bones, scythes, as memento mori, or reminders that all living will also die someday.
Friends and parents as you pass by As you are now so once was I As I am now you so must be Prepare for death and follow me
That shocked me when I first read it. Gave me the creeps. I said, “No, I won’t follow you! Not ever! You don’t tell me! I’m not going to die!”
Then I calmed down a little, stopped being mad at someone who’s been dead for 101 years, and thought about why a person would want that on her tombstone.
Had she been sick? Did she know she would die soon and felt bitter about it? Or did she write that into her will, to have that inscribed no matter when she died, or under what circumstances? Why did she want to basically give the finger to anyone who stopped to read her tombstone? Did she want to freak them out, or is this a preachy sort of sentiment? Or did she just have a weird sense of humor?
I found some information about the verse on this blog, which says it was pretty popular at that point in history. The usual verse starts out with “Remember me as you pass by.” So I wondered about the phrasing of this stone. Why “friends and parents?” I assume she didn’t have any kids, otherwise wouldn’t they have been mentioned? Why not simply, “Friends and family as you pass by?”
Was it a deliberate dig to her parents? Did she want to call out to her parents each time they visited her grave to remind them that she was dead? Sometimes when I think about this woman, I imagine her as someone who still has the personality of a rebellious teenager at age 39, wanting to torment her parents one final time.
Or did they have a bad relationship, and she knew they wouldn’t visit anyway. Maybe the whole town knew that she wasn’t on good terms with her parents, and this was her way of publicly saying so.
I’ve thought about this tombstone a lot, and clearly have even invented some family drama in the life of young Mary, who died 101 years ago. Maybe that’s the point of anything written on a tombstone. To be remembered by people; to be thought of by the living.
In the comments section of the blog I linked to, many people said they remembered the first time they had read this verse on a tombstone. It certainly had an emotional effect on me.
I did think about it, Mary, may you rest in peace.
And just for creepy’s sake, here are a couple more images.
I think I’m a little annoyed that all the stores already have all of their Halloween candy and merchandise out already. Halloween is still on October 31, in case you were wondering if it had been moved this year.
Stores, school hasn’t even started yet, could you just continue to push the school supplies a little longer before you shove the next holiday down our throats? Shelves lined with Halloween crap in mid-August? That’s just creepy.
The image is cut in half by a broken tombstone in this Revolutionary War-era cemetery.
It was nice to go back to this place after discovering it in the early spring, before the grass had started growing back. I used it for several posts. Now, the landscape isn’t as stark, obviously, and it’s interesting to see how the plants both obstruct the views of the tombstones and in some cases enhance them. I’ll post more on that soon.