Posts Tagged ‘clasped hands’



The handshake symbol on tombstones often survives beyond the words because the carving is so deep. A symbol of either earthly farewell or heavenly greeting, it is an image that isn’t seen much on tombstones beyond the early 20th century.


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Sometimes a tombstone calls to me, and I just have to go and take a photograph of it. That was how I felt when I was leaving East Cleveland Township Cemetery on my last visit and my eyes fell on this stone for two children.


Maybe it was the relatively intact porcelain portrait of young Michael Moyer, or the tragedy of the damage to little Eva Moyer’s portrait. Maybe it was the German inscription on the top, reassuring that “Jesus loves the children,” or the heavenly handshake inscribed above their names. I just knew that I had to go look at it, photograph it, and share this tombstone with others, so that little Eva and Michael would be remembered a little longer.



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Louise Behnke tombstone

We’ll start today with Louise Behnke’s broken tombstone in Adams Street Cemetery in Berea, Ohio, and its carved handshake. According to Douglas Keister’s Stories in Stone and numerous cemetery symbolism guides on the internet, carved hands that appear to be clasped or in the midst of a handshake indicate one of three things: earthly goodbye, heavenly greeting, or matrimony.

This monument for the Towns is in the Old Hudson Township Burying Ground.


Looking closely at the monument for Elizabeth Brown on the right in Historic Hopewell Cemetery, the words “Farewell mother” above the carving indicate that these clasped hands are clutched in farewell.

George and Elizabeth Brown

J. Monahan’s marker in Erie Street Cemetery features clasped hands.
J. Monahan

It’s not really possible to distinguish whether the sculpture was thinking of goodbyes or hellos, but the third option (matrimony) is usually reflected by two different sets of cuffs on the wrists of the disembodied hands. One cuff will look more feminine and the other more masculine. It’s hard to tell if the Wolfs’ monument in Lakeside Cemetery includes a difference in the cuffs because of the wear on the marker.

Alfred M. and Carolina Wolf

The monument for the Casinos who died in the Cleveland Clinic disaster has very clearly differentiated feminine and masculine cuffs, implying that the clasped hands are there to let you know that the two buried here were married.

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