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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iStock
7 Weird Graveyard Inventions
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iStock

If necessity is the mother of invention, death is its eccentric aunt. For centuries, humankind has been preoccupied with what happens to our bodies after we die. The result has been a grim procession of inventions intended to make our graves safer, sturdier, and in some cases, easier to flee. Some of these grave innovations are practical, but others border on the bizarre and downright creepy. Here are seven of the strangest.

1. THE SAFETY COFFIN

Leave it to the Victorians to fear being buried alive more than death itself. In the late 19th century, books and newspapers were full of stories of terrifying premature internments, although it's not clear how many actually occurred. The solution to the possibly-made-up problem was the safety coffin, or coffin alarm. These devices—of which there were several—most often employed a bell or other noise-making apparatus that could be manipulated by a person trapped inside a buried coffin to alert those aboveground. Many also included a hatch that would let fresh air into the coffin, allowing the prematurely buried victim to breathe until rescue came. One of the more famous of these devices was created by the Russian Count Michel de Karnice-Karnicki, and included a spring-loaded compartment atop the grave that would pop open like a jack-in-the box if there were any bodily movement below.

2. THE ESCAPE COFFIN

A more elaborate cousin of the safety coffin, escape coffins were built for those prematurely declared dead who didn’t have the patience to wait for someone else to come to the rescue. One such coffin, patented in 1843 and intended for use in vaults, had a spring-loaded lid that could be opened with the merest movement of a head or hand. Another more extreme example was the burial vault retired firefighter Thomas Pursell designed for himself and his family at a cemetery in Westport, Pennsylvania. The ventilated vault could be opened from the inside by a patented wheel lock. Pursell was indeed buried there in 1937, but so far he has not emerged.

3. THE WAITING MORTUARY

The waiting mortuary, a slightly more practical approach to avoiding premature burial, was most popular in Germany in the 19th century. Corpses were laid out inside these stately halls and monitored day and night for signs of revival or, more often than not, decomposition. Sometimes, strings attached to bells would be tied around fingers and toes—a precursor to the coffin alarm. When Mark Twain visited one in Munich in 1880, he wrote:

"There were 36 corpses of adults in sight, stretched on their backs on slightly slanted boards, in three long rows—all of them with wax-white, rigid faces, and all of them wrapped in white shrouds. Along the sides of the room were deep alcoves, like bay windows, and in each of these lay several marble-visaged babes, utterly hidden and buried under banks of fresh flowers ... Around a finger of each of these fifty still forms, both great and small, was a ring, and from the ring a wire led to the ceiling, and thence to a bell in a watch-room yonder, where, day and night, a watchman always sits alert and ready to spring to the aid of any of that pallid company who, waked out of death, shall make a movement."

4. CAST-IRON COFFINS

Inventor Almond D. Fisk was less concerned with premature burial than he was with delayed burial, such as when someone died overseas and transporting the body home would take weeks. In 1848, he patented his cast-iron coffin, which could preserve bodies for extended periods of time. Similar in shape to an Egyptian sarcophagus, these ornate coffins also included hinged faceplates, which could be opened to reveal the face of the deceased through a pane of glass.

5. REUSABLE COFFINS

Around 1784, Austria’s Emperor Joseph II grew so concerned about Vienna’s extravagant funerals (not to mention dwindling wood supplies and cemetery space) that he instituted the use of a reusable coffin. The wooden coffin contained a trap door in the bottom through which corpses, wrapped in sacks, would be discreetly dropped into their graves. The coffin could then be reused for other funerals, which would save wood and hasten decomposition of Vienna’s dead. The Viennese, however, were outraged at such an invention, and the drop-bottom coffin order was rescinded, meaning that reusable coffins never actually became part of Viennese funeral customs.

6. MORTSAFES

A mortsafe on a mossy grave at St Mary's Churchard, Holystone, England
A mortsafe at St Mary's Churchard, Holystone, England

In the 19th century, grave robbers known as "resurrection men" prowled UK and American cemeteries looking for fresh corpses to sell to medical schools. The problem was especially grave, pun intended, in Scotland. Thus came the mortsafe, a heavy wrought-iron cage or stone placed over gravesites to prevent the theft of corpses. It would be placed over the grave for a few weeks until the robbers lost interest, and then sometimes moved to a new grave. Although the practice of grave robbing diminished in the UK after the Anatomy Act of 1832, which gave medical schools a legal way to obtain cadavers for study, mortsafes would survive a few more decades. They can sometimes still be seen on older burials, and are occasionally misinterpreted as cages meant to keep vampires from rising from their graves.

7. COFFIN TORPEDOS

When incidents of corpse stealing increased after the U.S. Civil War, trigger-happy Americans had a more explosive way of theft-proofing their graves—the coffin torpedo. Contrary to what its name implies, a coffin torpedo was either a greatly modified firearm that shot lead balls when triggered by the opening of the coffin lid or a landmine-like device that sat atop the coffin and would detonate if the grave was disturbed.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

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An Ancient Sarcophagus Was Found in Egypt—And It's Never Been Opened
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iStock

In what could be the plot of the next summer blockbuster, a sealed sarcophagus has been found 16 feet underground in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, Science Alert reports. It’s still unknown who or what might be lying inside the nondescript black granite casket, but what’s clear is that it hasn’t been opened since it was closed more than 2000 years ago.

Ayman Ashmawy, head of the government’s Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector, observed “a layer of mortar between the lid and the body of the sarcophagus,” indicating it hadn't been opened, according to a Ministry of Antiquities Facebook post. Considering that many ancient tombs in Egypt have been looted over the years, an untouched sarcophagus is quite a rare find.

The sarcophagus was discovered when a site in the Sidi Gaber district, dating back to the Ptolemaic Dynasty (305-30 BCE), was inspected before construction of a building began. The casket is 104.3 inches long and 65 inches wide, making it the largest of its kind ever discovered in Alexandria. In addition, an alabaster statue of a man’s head was found in the same tomb, and some have speculated that it might depict whoever is sealed inside the sarcophagus. Live Science suggested that archaeologists may opt to inspect its contents using X-rays or computed tomography scans to prevent damage to the artifact.

Although it remains a mystery for now, Twitter has a few theories about who might be lying inside:

[h/t Science Alert]

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