Don’t call them tombstones: More to monuments than meets the eye

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 13, 2003

Billie Stone appreciates as much as anyone the irony of someone with her last name working for a company that deals in cemetery memorials.

Stone is office manager for Selma Marble and Granite Co., one of the city’s oldest continuously operating business. The company was founded in 1856 and has been in business ever since.

Today it is a division of Clark Memorials, the largest memorial dealer in the state and something of an Alabama institution. It was Clark Memorials that provided the stone for Paul &uot;Bear&uot; Bryant’s grave.

Email newsletter signup

By whatever name they go these days, memorials, or monuments, are an unavoidable fact of life.

Memorials are most commonly made out of granite, with marble being the stone of second choice. Contrary to what many people think, granite comes in an almost infinite variety of shades. There is black granite, Indian red, the familiar blue-gray, cameo rose, and on and on.

Blue-gray granite is by far the most popular, in part because it is the most common. But also, no doubt, because it’s less expensive than are some of the more exotic colors.

The most desirable material for memorials is Georgia marble, prized for both its beauty and durability. It’s also one of the more expensive marbles on the market.

Alabama marble, on the other hand, is considered too soft to be used for a memorial. It is used instead for things like face powder and body powder and as paving material for roads. &uot;That’s a shame,&uot; Stone sighs, &uot;because Alabama marble really is beautiful.&uot;

Not surprisingly, memorials come in a wide range of prices. In Selma, where people tend to be more sensible about these things, customers spend an average of between $500 and $2,500 for a memorial, according to Stone. Not so in the more prosperous parts of the state.

Looked at from a philosophical point of view, memorials serve a much higher purpose than merely marking a person’s final resting place or providing one last chance for those with wealth to flaunt it.

In days past it used to be that memorials carried little more than a person’s name, his date of birth and the date he died. Today if the deceased was an avid hunter, for example, it is possible to carve or etch a suitable hunting scene onto his memorial.

Still, most are content to settle for name and birth and death dates, with perhaps a short verse indicative of the dearly departed’s appreciation for the finer things in life. For those who find themselves at a loss for words to express their love of the deceased, the company keeps a book of appropriate verses on hand from which to choose.

There is an undeniable element of pathos about many of the messages, etched as they are in stone. They range from the poetic (&uot;Beyond The Sunset&uot;) to the humorous (&uot;Big Daddy&uot;) to the religious (&uot;Gone To Be With The Angels&uot;).

Some conceal stories of unspeakable pain in the coded language of the grave: &uot;Our Beloved Son, Born May 25, 1906; Died May 25, 1906.&uot;

Others bespeak lives lived to the fullest: &uot;Beloved Daughter Wife And Mother, Gone But Not Forgotten.&uot;

Stone says the company isn’t too concerned about vandalism at its office on Franklin Street, where it keeps a number of sample memorials for customers to examine. &uot;This stuff is too heavy for anybody to haul off,&uot; she says.

Graveyard vandalism, however, is a growing problem.

Sherrer says that the company used to do all of its own cutting here in Selma. Now the work is done at a site in Birmingham.