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29 Unforgettable Epitaphs

In a way, the epitaphs on gravestones are your last words to the world—and they’re literally written in stone. From political to humorous (and sometimes both), here are 29 people who had more to say than “RIP” or “Beloved wife.”

1. Leonard Matlovich

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1975, Leonard Matlovich, a Purple Heart-decorated member of the Air Force, became the first gay member of the U.S. military to publicly out himself. His fight to keep his military job made the cover of Time magazine in 1975. When he found out he had AIDS in 1986, Matlovich wrote his own epitaph and arranged to be buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Both became a reality when he died two years later.

2. Gabriel Williams

Find a Grave // Dustin Oliver

Presumably, Gabe Williams' family decided to combine his two biggest passions on his tombstone: Gymnastics and rock music.

3. Kay

Family Tree Magazine // Dan Convery

A reddit user tested the recipe and was unimpressed. Your mileage may vary.

4. Andrew J. Olszak

FindAGrave // Michael Cannon

There's no more permanent way to stick it to your family after you're gone than to engrave your disappointment on your tombstone.

5. Rodney Dangerfield

Stacy Conradt

Apparently comedian Rodney Dangerfield wanted to leave 'em laughing.

6. Billy Wilder

Stacy Conradt

And writer/filmmaker/producer/artist Billy Wilder had the same idea.

7. George Spencer Millet

FindAGrave.com // Susan Kane

While it was once commonplace to put cause of death on gravestones, this particular demise was anything but run-of-the-mill.

8. Nathaniel Grigsby

ActiveRain.com

According to Snopes, there's quite the story behind Grigsby's final words. As Abraham Lincoln's friend and extended family member (his brother married Lincoln's sister), Grigsby blamed the Democratic party for his death and, indeed, the entire Civil War. Twenty years after Lincoln was assassinated, Grigsby dictated his own epitaph as he lay on his deathbed and asked one of his sons to make sure the inscription was carried out.

9. Robert Clay Allison

Plazak,WikimediaCommons // CC BY-SA 3.0

As one of the most accomplished gunslingers in the Old West, Allison killed his fair share of people. According to his friends, though, Allison was a gentleman—he never killed a man who didn't have it coming.

10. Russell Larsen

FindAGrave // Candice xo

The saying on Larsen's grave is apparently well-known to many cowboys—but not many cowboys have immortalized it on their tombstones.

11. Bill Kugle

FindAGrave // Doug Zabel

Bill Kugle was a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Can you guess which party he belonged to?

12. Mary Dolencie

FindAGrave // eobfindagrave

Word to the wise: Don't anger cat ladies. When Mary Dolencie died in 1985, she wanted the world to know how angry she was at Whaling Port, her housing association. She believed her neighbors had it in for her, complaining about the number of cats she had and how she attracted pigeons to the area by feeding them. To get revenge, she had a curse engraved on her tombstone—but the people of Whaling Port say that so far, even decades later, things seem to be just fine.

13. Shakespeare

David Jones, Wikimedia Commons //CC BY 2.0

Shakespeare's epitaph was thought to have been written by the Bard himself to prevent his corpse from being dug up for research purposes, which was commonplace at the time. So far, his warning seems to have worked.

14. Cecil O’Dell Eads

FindAGrave // magjo

15. Herman Harband

FindAGrave says that this stone is actually a cenotaph—a memorial of sorts— not an actual gravestone. After exacting revenge on his wife, Harband arranged to be buried elsewhere. Upon his death, his wife sold the empty plot and had the cenotaph removed. It's supposedly still in storage at Beth David Memorial Gardens in Hollywood, Florida.

16. Fran Thatcher

FindAGrave // Number1

17. Leslie Nielsen

'

FindAGrave// Traci Barbour

The famous funnyman had his epitaph planned for close to 15 years. He died in 2010, but said in a 1996 interview that he intended to put "Let 'er rip" on his gravestone. There's also a bench dedicated to Nielsen nearby; it's inscribed with "Sit down whenever you can."

18. Bette Davis

FindAGrave // Jim Tipton

As the story goes, after Bette Davis worked with director Joseph Mankiewicz on All About Eve, he mentioned that "She did it the hard way" would someday make an appropriate epitaph for her. When Davis died in 1989, she took him up on the suggestion.

19. Jerry Bibb Balisok

FindAGrave // Graveaddiction

Jerry Bibb Balisok's epitaph is the story of a heartbroken mother. Balisok disappeared in 1977, two weeks before he was to stand trial for writing bad checks. After not hearing from her son for two years, Marjorie Balisok, his mother, became convinced that she had spotted her son's body in a picture of aftermath of the Jonestown massacre. The State Department and the FBI investigated Jerry Balisok and concluded that he never left the United States, but Marjorie was positive her son was dead, and furious that she was unable to cash in on his insurance money since there was no body.

Unfortunately, Marjorie died in 1983—seven years before her son would resurface under an assumed name. He was convicted of attempted murder and given a 20-year prison sentence in 1993.

20. Anonymous Democrat

Reddit // wiskerbiscuts

A cemetery worker stumbled across this political gem last year and posted it on Reddit. Users were quick to point out that the stone should say "principles."

21. Edith Tina Barlow

FindAGrave // gr8hobby

Short, though not terribly sweet.

22. Michael Leroy Luther

FindAGrave // Papaduck34

"Game Over" is a pretty fitting last phrase for an arcade game addict—and Michael Luther was so into this particular diversion that his sister had this distinctive stone designed when he died in 2007.

23. Dorothy Parker

You'd expect nothing less than a tongue-in-cheek epitaph from the acid pen of Dorothy Parker. She once suggested "Excuse my dust" as her final goodbye, and also "This is on me." 

24. Merv Griffin

Stacy Conradt

Legendary talk show host Merv Griffin wrote his own epitaph before his death, choosing this one over "I told you I was sick," a favorite amongst epitaph jokesters. People magazine reports that he chose "Stay tuned," but "I will not be right back..." must have won out before engraving was finalized.

25. Sir Jeffery Hudson

FindAGrave // ChristianFernandez

To be clear, Sir Jeffery Hudson didn't die from being baked in a pie. It was apparently just his claim to fame—one that follows him even more than 300 years after his death.

26. Helen Herczberg Gawara

FindAGrave// Neil

You can hear about Gawara's experience in this interview from the United States Holocaust Museum.

27. Dee Dee Ramone

FindAGrave // A.J. Marik

The Ramones rocker's epitaph is both laid-back and practical at the same time.

28. Lawrence L. Cook, Jr.

FindAGrave.com // Lawrence L Cook 3rd

Mr. Cook passed away in 2004 after "a long illness," and his wife died in 1999, so his epitaph is likely meant to make visitors laugh—not provide a recap of his last moments.

29. Jack Lemmon

Stacy Conradt

Before his death, Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon was able to specify that he wanted his tombstone to be his final marquee. His instructions were followed to the letter—not even dates of birth or death accompany the simple statement.

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History
Alexander Hamilton’s Son Also Died in a Duel
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, the scene must have been eerily familiar to the former Secretary of the Treasury. After all, his son died in a similar setting just three years earlier.

On November 20, 1801, 19-year-old Philip Hamilton and his friend Richard Price had a run-in with a young lawyer named George I. Eacker at Manhattan's Park Theatre. A supporter of Thomas Jefferson, Eacker had delivered a Fourth of July speech that harshly criticized the elder Hamilton, and his son was apparently determined to take revenge.

On that fateful day in November, according to biographer Ron Chernow, Price and the younger Hamilton "barged into a box where Eacker was enjoying the show ... [then] began taunting Eacker about his Fourth of July oration."

As onlookers started to stare, Eacker asked the two young men to go into the lobby, where he called the pair "damned rascals." Tempers rose, and although the trio went to a tavern in an attempt to settle their differences, they failed miserably. Later the same night, Eacker had a letter from Price challenging him to duel.

Customs of the time meant that Eacker had little choice but to accept or face social humiliation. He and Price met that Sunday in New Jersey, where the penalties for dueling were less severe than in New York. They exchanged four shots without injury—and considered the matter between them closed.

Philip Hamilton wasn't so lucky. Cooler heads tried to negotiate a truce with Eacker's second, but their efforts were also for naught. Once the duel had been scheduled for November 23 on a sandbar in today's Jersey City, the elder Hamilton advised his son to preserve his honor by wasting his first shot—by waiting until Eacker fired first or firing into the air, a move the French called the delope. The intent was to cut the duel short, and, if the other side fired to kill, plainly show they had blood on their hands.

Philip seemed to follow his father's advice. For about a minute after the duel officially began, neither man made a move. Then, Eacker raised his pistol, and Philip did too. Eacker fired, and Philip shot back, though it may have been an involuntary reaction to having been hit. The bullet tore through Philip's body and settled in his left arm. Despite being rushed to Manhattan, he died early the next morning.

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr also departed to New Jersey, this time Weehawken, to settle their infamous differences. This time, the elder Hamilton fired the first shot—and he aimed to miss. (According to his second, anyway.) Burr, on the other hand, seemed to have every intention of connecting with his target. He shot Hamilton in the stomach, and the bullet lodged in his spine.

Just like Philip, Hamilton died the next day.

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Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
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History
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.

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