Etched In Stone
You can't take it with you, but gravestones let you leave a message behind.
Thursday, April 9, 1998
They loom eerily over the smoothly manicured grass of the cemetery, yet grave headstones are the final loving markers of a person''s life.
Gravestones encapsulate the vital information and perhaps favorite words of the deceased. They are generally a simple plaque on a grave, but who decides their design? And how is it accomplished?
"Most cemeteries have restrictions on what you can do," says Gary Wallace, of Wallace Memorial in Salinas, the only gravestone manufacturer in the Monterey area. "Most gravestones are flat, two-foot by one-foot markers."
You can, of course, commemorate your beloved aunt with a pink marble marker or engrave your grandpa''s dying speech on his headstone, but you should also remember that these things are carved in stone, literally. Keep in mind also that once you purchase granite larger than the simple standard-size plaque, you are buried in costs. Wallace says the simplest marker costs $550.
At least two local mortuaries order gravestones from Wallace, or they must go outside the area, as far away as Southern California. Wallace gets his rock from a granite quarry in the Sierra Mountains. He says that granite is the most common material for the last tribute to your loved one, followed by bronze. Despite the fact that it''s beautiful, "marble doesn''t hold up well in our climate," he says.
Wallace estimates he makes 20 gravestones per week. His granite comes in already sized and polished, and a design is laid out on the computer, according to the family''s wishes. A rubber stamp is made and inked onto the stone, then finally the design is hand-carved around the stamp. "Oh, it probably takes about two or three hours to make each," says Wallace.
Most families just put the basics on the gravestones: name, dates of birth and death and perhaps a line of ID, such as "Loving father of..." There are no requirements for most cemeteries. "Many Hispanic families will put something religious, maybe the Virgin of Guadalupe. Others will sometimes put florals." says Wallace.
The four main cemeteries on the Peninsula, San Carlos Catholic Cemetery, El Carmelo, Monterey City Cemetery, and Mission Memorial Park all suggest Wallace Memorial in Salinas to families who are looking for gravestones. "The family contacts the engraver," says John Farrelly at Monterey City Cemetery, "We''ll build a cement border but they bring in the stones." He also says that most cemeteries now have size restrictions on gravestones due to space. "The cemetery is two-thirds full now. Single stones can be 12 by 24 inches and doubles can be 14 by 28 inches. We just don''t have room for big stones anymore. The ones you see are generally from old family plots now."