Larger Sample, Better Seriation

During our exploration of the Calvary Cemetery a few weeks ago, we examined whether and how gravestone shape changed through time. But despite each group’s careful recording of shape data from across the cemetery, we quickly found that constructing a meaningful seriation was more or less impossible given the small (n=30) sample of gravestones. By combining class data on gravestone shape, I hoped we could turn individual failure into collective insight. Below I present the ARCHY 469 gravestone shape data in its (near) entirety. With a substantially increased (n=97) sample, distinct “battleship-shaped” curves are evident. (A higher resolution image of the graph can be seen here.)

A few words on methodology. I combined a few gravestone shape categories (e.g. horizontal slab and block) that appeared to be used differently between groups. I also omitted data from family plots. These were not only difficult to log (which gravestone goes with which person?), but also because families, I reasoned, may elect to use a single – and perhaps outmoded – gravestone type in order to preserve plot continuity through time. As such, this seriation presents only single gravemarkers, which should give us an in-depth look at the ways in which Seattleites memorialized deceased individuals over five-year periods between 1861-1865 (phase 1) and 2011-2015 (phase 31).

A number of obvious and interesting trends quickly stand out. The increasing and possibility decreasing popularity of horizontal slabs / blocks, the most frequent gravestone shape, is apparent. In fact, we may be witnessing the emergence of monuments or more unique (“other”) shapes as the preferred grave marker in lieu of relatively unadorned slabs / blocks.

Confirming my and other peoples’ observations, the use of particular gravestone shapes (obelisks, columns, pulpits) is confined to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Save one late 1980s outlier, the brief rise and fall in obelisk popularity is clearly depicted by this seriation.

I’m interested to hear what patterns others see in this seriation. Why do certain gravestone shapes, such as tablets and monuments, remain consistently popular through time? Would more data would alter this seriation? How so?

Gender Specific Referencing at Calvary Cemetery

Nestled deep in the Calvary Cemetery in North Seattle is the gravestone of Helena Kelly.  Smile, we are told, to her memory and to the memory of the infant son who lies by her side.  Dedicated in 1889 the Calvary Cemetery reflects over a century’s worth of Seattle’s inhabitants.  But what do these graves tell about the people who lived here?  Can the inscriptions preserved within the boundaries reveal anything about gender roles?  The answer, as in the case of Helena Kelly, is clearly yes.  A clear pattern of acknowledging professional roles among men and domestic roles among women is evident in many of the graves we looked at. In fact, approximately a third of the graves display gender specific referencing; about 31% of the male graves indicated profession, and about 36% of the female graves indicated domestic status.

Specifically, of the 16 men listed in our survey, 5 referenced profession, and only one mentioned domestic status.  These graves acknowledged activities outside of the home that contributed to that individual’s experience.  They also reflect the mindset of those who are memorializing their loved one, and it speaks to how gender concepts inform decisions like epitaphs.  Clearly, professional status is considered an important enough factor to feature prominently on male gravestones.

Female graves, on the other hand, often describe their owner’s as “wife” or “mother”.  These domestic labels reflect a focus on familial roles, and say very little as to the other activities that these women inevitably engaged in.  Of the 11 women listed in our survey, there were no references to profession, and a total of 4 references to domestic status.  This starkly contrasts to what we saw reflected on male gravestones.  The way that these women are memorialized indicates something about their value in life; they were honored and revered as wives or mothers before they were acknowledged as anything outside of that narrative.

Gender bias, even in death

During our observation of the Calvary Cemetery, my team mainly noticed differences in gender between gravestones. As other people have mentioned, our sample size (N=33) was quite small to be making general conclusions, but from what we observed, men’s gravestones tended to be larger than the women’s. In the family plots we found, the male head of the house was given a larger gravestone than the women and his siblings or children. In cases of memorial stones over family plots, it was often the case that the patriarch’s name would be on the large memorial stone, while his family member’s names would be on footstones in the surrounding area. This reflects our society’s habit of valuing men over women. Gender inequality is also shown in the decoration and detail of gravestones at the cemetery. Often, the men’s graves were monuments or columns, more richly decorated than the women’s. It seems pretty cliché that the only conclusion I can try to make is one of gender inequality shown at a Catholic cemetery, but there you have it.

As my colleague noted, we discovered some interesting facts when we talked to cemetery staff; I learned about the Seattle flu epidemic that occurred in 1918-1919. Not being from Seattle, I don’t know anything about its history, so learning that prompted me to do a little side research into that time of history.

Another interesting thing we discovered was that there were ‘forgotten’ burials in a section of the cemetery, people who could not afford footstones or any other gravestones. These people were essentially forgotten by family and staff. One of the staff members recently recovered information on these people’s names and birth/death dates, and has had a memorial erected for all those people.

Memorial to the "forgotten" burials of the cemetery

Memorial to the “forgotten” burials of the cemetery

Calvary Cemetery Recordings

I had never considered the amount of information that we can glean from a casual walk around the cemetery.

Our group decided to record our data using a custom webform through the free app, NestForms. It was super handy. I took about 20 minutes to set up the webform to match our paper forms, and I was really happy with the results. It was much easier to fill out a pre-designed form on a phone than worry about wind and rain destroying the papers. It even recorded our GPS coordinates. When we got home, printing out a database was literally 3 clicks. All of the data is saved in the cloud. Go technology!

We also decided to stop in and talk with the cemetery staff when we got to the site. Some interesting tidbits that we got from speaking with them:

  • The Denny Regrade project of the early 20th century involved moving a cemetery. The catholics that were previously barried there, are now at the Calvary Cemetery.
  • There was a flu epedemic in Seattle in the 1920s which accounts for a large portion of the cemeteries inhabitants. Particularly the graves of many young people.
  • There was an entire section of burials that had been left unmarked. These were people who were unable to purchase large family plots due to unmarked graves. The Calvary Cemetery director recently created a monument for these people.
  • Many of Seattle’s famous families have burials in the cemetery, including the Nordstroms.

As others have mentioned, our sample size was so small that it is probably wrong to draw any conclusions from our findings. Alas, I will do it anyway.

Our findings suggest that males may be more highly valued, as their graves were nearly three times as large as the women’s, 5.6 to 2.2 ft tall. This seems to be especially skewed in the family plots where a family patriarch has a large monument while his relatives have smaller graves surrounding it. We saw this several times throughout our survey.

We also found that marble is by far the most common material used, comprising almost 50% of the graves. Our findings suggest that the use of marble has diminished in the last three decades however. Whether this is due to market forces or a culturally driven change is unknown.

Screenshot 2014-04-30 16.22.14

grave by material

We need better data–Stat!

So let’s get the problems out of the way first:

– Our counts are not evenly distributed across 1875 to 2014; we have one cluster of dates from the cemetery’s dedication in 1889 to 1920, and one cluster running roughly from 2001 to 2014. Between these clusters, it’s kind of a crapshoot.

– We should have planned ahead to randomize our sampling across the cemetery, but it was not to be (i.e. we didn’t think to).

– The sample size is very small.

– There are so many reburials in this cemetery, but they can be difficult to identify, and we do not have perfect knowledge of the site. Reinterment is likely the biggest external confounding factor for our seriation.

But still! We forge on, like true statistics-doers, eager to see what sort of vague, baseless pattern we can squeeze out from terrible data. To investigate the question of changes in title over time, I made a stacked bar chart as well as a stacked area chart—seeing both of them together makes them somewhat more useful for this rudimentary depiction of seriation (Figs. 1 and 2 – to be inserted later)

By far, most markers of men or women bear no reference to familial titles.  For traditionally men’s names, if there is any identifying information besides the name, extra-familial duty can be emphasized: reverends, cops, individuals who worked in the military can be marked in some way, either by simply listing their title, battalion, etc., or by a logo/insignia inscribed on the marker, but familial roles like “Father”, “Husband”, etc. are far less common and appear in far less variety than they do for traditional women’s names.

For these identified women, familial roles are far more emphasized. If there is any inscription besides the name and the dates of life, then the inscription usually includes “Wife”, “Mother”, or (less common) “Sister”. Other flights of fancy like “Mom” or “Nana” are also seen, especially more recently. We found two examples of markers that bore 4 or more familial titles for one person.

Perhaps this is indicative of a true pattern, but it is doubtful. Sure, the data is in line with our perceptions of how men and women were and are perceived, but the data are so poor it’s difficult to say much of anything.


Interment frequency and generations in Calvary Cemetery, Seattle.

While an undoubtedly morbid thing to study, death and how culture handles death is an exceptionally interesting source of information about any culture. Using our recent Graveyard Lab and a chart of internments, we can see some very interesting information regarding the use of this specific cemetery, its growth and how these match up with events, both local and global.

This chart details the number of internments in five year increments from 1875 to 2010. In our collection we separated into each of the 5 primary areas of the cemetery and chose randomly 30 interments. What can be seen is that the period from 1900-1920 saw the largest spike of internments in the cemetery, followed by another increase in interments between 1936 and 1950. At first, I was tempted to believe that the first spike of internments was a result of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, until I noticed another spike at 2006 to 2010. The last spike, could be considered the Baby Boomer spike, a generationally motivated increase in interment, and upon closer inspection, the vast majority of internments between 1900 and 1920 take place before the pandemic would have occurred, leading me to believe that this increase in deaths is related to a post-Civil War baby boom, similar to the spike being witnessed in the modern era with the Boomer generation.
As for the 1936 to 1950 spike, I do not know of any regional, generational or cultural event that would culminate in this spike, and our data does not indicate that this is a group of soldiers who were interred in this period. It could be a result of the rationing and other life stressors that were occurring at this period due to American involvement in the war, but without further research, this question will remain unanswered.

Material Types and Age (With lots and lots of Biases)

Examining the graveyard through our pleasant walk in the rain we came across various graves that were obviously re-buried over time. However our group noted several biases which I will go into greater detail below. For starters here is a stacked materials graph over a period of years. This graphs shows only the death dates and in the case of multiple burials on the same slab, the earlier date is shown.

Although only speculated in my lab report, Jacob noted that there is more grave interments post-war era and during the Spanish flu era (starting in 1918) However it is difficult to know for sure what the cause of death was during these periods. Jacob speculates in his post in greater detail how the larger sample pre-spanish flu may be due to a “generational” die off post civil war.

As for the material type there certainly fondness for granite and although the chart does not show the material polish there was a common feature  of the younger graves having a polished finish, monument types and family plots were the main example in this case. Throwing together (I admit a very bootlegged) serration graph we saw these results.

Our main assumptions is that there is a popular usage of metal, namely copper only after the World Wars, perhaps this may be due to a style shift or a better abundance of the material for sale. Simple stone monuments are also seen in the older graves until they are put more into granite and polished. There were more than one grave we noted where the material on the outside was simply made of concrete.

However this lab has many problems with its data sets. For example as mentioned before, reburials not matching the material types for the era buried. There is also a matter of small sample size, which in this case should be about 30 or so. Another problem is that the Calvary Graveyard is in majority, a Catholic graveyard.I can only give my own assumptions but in my family graveyard (a protestant one) the majority of the graves are in red stone or in metal temp monuments. This may be due to location of materials for headstones and the religious background playing effect. Seattle is a larger city so it would make sense for a wider array of headstones over time since there would be more manufactures to choose from. This can be seen hopefully by the wide range of materials seen in the graph and at the graveyard itself.

We only have an example from one graveyard. Here is a brief pic of the one I mentioned above.

The Kelly Cemetery (My family’s graveyard) located in central Oregon. URL Link: Note that some of the styles located here are completely absent from the Calvary cemetery.

There may be a preferred style here that is only used by Catholic families. For example the majority of the graves that had decorations had crosses on them and other catholic imagery. There is also a problem that there is a large number of clergy buried at the graveyard which is a large sample size of a similar style (simple stone slabs noting the rank of the clergy member). Cremations are also missing from this data set and therefor there is no data on those dates. There may be a time period when cremations were preferred but the lab did not ask for the data. The mausoleum was also off-limit at the time we were there.

Overall this posting gives a brief glimpse into the material types preferred over time, however in order to make the data better more samples are needed from this site and from many others.




Gender Differences and Gravestones

Based on the information that our team collected from the survey of the gravestones at Calvary cemetery, there is evidence of some differences in terms of gender. For instance, I decided to make a graph that would compare the number of deaths (per gender) every 30 years. Although our sample is relatively small (N=33), the overall trend shows interesting results. Between 1861-1890 and 1921-1950, we collected information from a total of 7 males that died during those periods but what’s interesting is that we didn’t collect any information from females during those periods (i.e. they were completely absent). Women are clearly underrepresented during those periods perhaps due to the fact that female population was smaller or our group failed to collect enough data from those sections. I also want to highlight the fact that between 1891-1920, the number of deaths per gender was very similar. likewise the most recent range of dates between 1981-2011 suggest that the population of male and female burials was more evenly distributed.

I also wanted to compare the different shapes of gravestones and see which types were more popular among males and females. For instance, “tablets” are the most common type of gravestone in our sample. The number of tablets used by males is slightly higher than those used by females (7 vs 5). Another interesting observation is that the number of  “monuments” and “columns” used is significantly higher for males than females. This is important because the majority of columns and monuments are more elaborate (i.e. complex designs and made out of polished granite or marble). These types of gravestones also include more descriptive epitaphs because they tend to be larger in sizes. I think this could reflect some gender inequalities (e.g. more expensive and complex structures for males) however, we need larger samples in order to make such conclusion.

Fig: Gender and Gravestone shape

Gender difference? A survey in Calvary Cemetery

Gravestone research has its importance in historical archaeology research, not only it can provide information of gender differences, self-identity, social status and kinship relations of the past society but also a milestone of historical archaeology that set by James Deetz. This time, let’s take a look and make some tributes to Deetz by doing a little observation in Calvary Cemetery.

A corner of the cemetery. Photo by Jiun

The following is my survey route, I survey from the South west corner to the east side then the north end of the cemetery. The other area is covered by my teammates,  basically we try to observe as many as possible. Here’s our survey route Jiun’s, Roger’s. and Li-Ying’s.

So, here’s the thing. After analyze the data we record, I find that there is indeed a difference between male and female gravestone, the size. According to the plot (1 is male, 2 is female, the side numbers are sizes) I generate, although it is not significant over numbered, the male gravestone in some cases indeed bigger than female’s. However, this seems the only different trait I observed. I also analyze the relation between sex and material, period, shape. Interestingly is, instead of sex difference, the material and shape of gravestone are more related with period. It seems the vogue is also significant.

Speaking to fashion, it seems 1920-1925 was a pivot point of design shift.  Plot shows most of the gravestones are block and monument after this period, the early multiple design was no longer exist. Also the material choosing seems related to period as well, marble disappeared after 1920 and metal only go on table for few decades.

Since this is only a preliminary observation, there might have statistical error (maybe a lot!) but these plot is still interesting and story telling, is it?

A story behind gravestones

From the survey of gravestones in Calvary cemetery, we found that there are some differences between men’s and women’s gravestone . In the early period (1880-1930), men’s gravestone has more diversity of shape than women’s, such as tablet, round column, pulpit, and obelisk. In the middle and late period, the common shapes of gravestone for both female and male are block and monument (see Graph1 and 2). About the materials, marble gravestones are more common in female group in the early period than male.

When we examine the seriation of gravestone shapes (see Graph3), we find that obelisk is an earlier common shape, and then it was replaced by monument and vertical slab. The block is the most common style from 1880 to most recent. On the other hand, from 1880 to 1920, there are many different kinds of gravestone shape. However, after 1920, the diversity of shapes is less than previous period. From 1930 to 2000, the common shapes are block, monument and vertical slab. After 1990, the recent popular shape of gravestone looks like s chair.

Based on this seriation, we know that the diversity of gravestone from 1880 to 1920 represents the men’s gravestone. And in the early period, the common obelisk style is only observed in male group in this case, which might indicate the different treatment to gender. After 1930, there is no big difference between female and male. This could be also observed from the kinship terms on the gravestone. In the early period, “father” is commonly appear in the male gravestone, but the kinship terms in female gravestone is “wife of…” instead of ”mother”. In the latter period, there is no obvious difference about kinship terms. This transformation might reflect the gender equality after 1930.

Graph1: shapes of female gravestone

Graph2: shapes of male gravestone

Graph3: shapes of gravestone in different periods