Unmarked grave

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An unmarked grave is literally one that lacks a marker, headstone, or nameplate indicating that a body is buried there.[1][2] However, in cultures that mark burial sites, the phrase unmarked grave has taken on a metaphorical meaning.[citation needed]

Metaphorical meaning[edit]

As a figure of speech, a common meaning of the term "unmarked grave" is consignment to oblivion, i.e., an ignominious end. A grave monument (or headstone) is a sign of respect or fondness, erected with the intention of commemorating and remembering a person.[citation needed]

Criminals[edit]

Conversely, a deliberately unmarked grave may signify disdain and contempt. The underlying intention of some unmarked graves may be that the person buried is not worthy of commemoration, and should therefore be completely ignored and forgotten, e.g., Seung-Hui Cho, Dylan Klebold, Adam Lanza.[3]

Unmarked graves have long been used to bury executed criminals as an added degree of disgrace. Similarly, many 18th and 19th century prisons and mental asylums historically used numbered (but otherwise featureless) markers in their inmate cemeteries, which allowed for record-keeping and visitations while also minimizing the shame associated with having one's family name on permanent display in such a disreputable context. Plot E at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery (consisting entirely of soldiers executed for rape and/or murder) is a rare example of this policy persisting into the 20th century. More recently, the practice has been to cremate and secretly scatter the ashes of notorious criminals in some anonymous place. This was the fate of Nazi war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann, Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler, Fritz Sauckel, and Julius Streicher. The remains of British serial killers Myra Hindley, Dr Harold Shipman, and Fred West were treated in the same way. Cremation and secret scattering of the ashes has the additional effect of removing all possibility of there being a grave to visit in the future.

Judaism[edit]

Within Judaism, in which religion contact with a corpse confers uncleanness (see Numbers 19:11-22 and Tractate Oholoth in the Mishna), an unmarked grave opens up the possibility that a pious Jew could become defiled without being aware that it happened. The Jews of early times, therefore, sought to avoid unmarked graves by two means: clearly designating cemeteries beyond the limits of their villages and cities, and making graves and tombs obvious by whitewashing them. This is the background for Jesus' comparison of the Pharisees of his time to white-washed tombs (see Matthew 23:27-28) and to "unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it" (Luke 11:44). Jesus warned that the Pharisees were defiling others by their hypocrisy, misplaced priorities, and selfish ambition.[citation needed]

Other reasons for unmarked graves[edit]

However, disdain and contempt are not the only reasons why graves remain unmarked.

As Alicia Hoyt reports: "Historically, financial limitations and social status were factors in whether a person (even a famous one) was awarded a big fancy marker. Mass, unmarked graves were also common in times of widespread disease or war; plus older markers simply deteriorated over time or were stolen. Another reason might be: other gravesites reflect the wishes of the deceased or family members who simply don't want a marker, can't decide on wording, or plan to add one down the line when a loved one passes away and joins them in the plot. [sources: Texas Historical Commission,[4] Washington Post[5]]"[6]

Additionally, "modern celebrity concerns" may related to a desire for privacy or to avoid vandalism.[7] For example, Apple, Inc. founder Steve Jobs (whose grave site lacks a headstone), and comedian John Belushi and writer H.P. Lovecraft (discussed below) are notable people whose burial sites provide recent examples of an instances when graves may be left unmarked (or marked deceptively) for reasons that are not financial.[8]

In cases when a person's remains are lost, a cenotaph may be erected. This is what happened to comedian John Belushi. The gravestone at his grave in a Martha's Vineyard cemetery was removed and relocated, after operators of the cemetery found many signs of vandalism and rowdiness, where his body lies. In response, a cenotaph gravestone was erected at a nearby empty grave, to deter disrespectful visitors, leaving his actual final resting place without a marker. Another John Belushi cenotaph gravestone was erected by his family in a Chicago area cemetery, at the Belushi family plot, where his parents are now buried.[citation needed] Similarly, when H.P. Lovecraft's headstone in Providence, Rhode Island was stolen, a replacement marker was erected in a different location.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

Numerous works, such as moving pictures,[9] photographs,[10] and written works,[11] have been titled some variation of "Unmarked Grave".

See also[edit]

References[edit]