Banner Photograph of BRAD CEMETERY - Highway 180 West of Palo Pinto. Taken by Judith Richards Shubert 2009.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tradition of Scraping the Earth / Rocks Placed on Graves


The traditions found in the burial customs in rural Southern cemeteries are varied. There is a crossover of ethnic and religious backgrounds found often in the same cemetery. Customs such as “scraping” the earth is still found in many Texas cemeteries, but many that I have visited have only two or three sections or graves that are treated in this manner, or none at all. Since I have become a member of the Graveyard Rabbit Association and have begun to earnestly research the practices and traditions of this area, I realize that there are many things I have overlooked in my visits to graveyards of my childhood. I had not even noticed, except perhaps in my sub-conscience, that there were a lot of graves that were cared for differently than the others.

The tradition of removing all grass from the cemetery and leaving only the bare earth is falling by the wayside in many Texas cemeteries. The tradition speaks to the respect family members have for the deceased. But whether it is the fact that now there is oftentimes one person paid to take care of the cemetery or it simply takes too much of the family’s time to keep the grass off of the grave, our cemeteries are changing.

Another custom that seems to go along with the “scraping” of graveyards is the one of adding rocks, pebbles, ornaments, glass shards, and other items to a loved one’s grave.

In the little cemetery beside my childhood home in Lingleville, Texas I found only five or six graves that were covered with rock and none that were racked or scraped. But the rocks were placed there to keep out the encroaching grass, I’m sure.

In the picture above you can see two family plots that have white rock and gravel covering the graves. A close-up is in the next picture. Notice the angel statues that are lovingly placed there.


I will now be more observant and record with my camera the graves that are cared for in this manner.

In “Texas Graveyards, A Cultural Legacy,” Terry G. Jordan states that “rarely does one encounter scraping outside the Gulf states and South Atlantic coastal plains” and that it is unknown or very rare that you find it in North Carolina and Middle Tennessee.

According to Mr. Jordan the origins of most of our traditions in Southern Folk cemeteries are too ancient to even be in our memory. But he believes archival evidence points to the West African slave coast. There were bare-earth cemeteries found there that were nearly the same as those you find here in the South. He also states that the "barren" graveyard could have spread to Texas through Moorish Spain and Mexico as the majority of traditional Mexican cemeteries are without grass.

All photographs taken by Judy Richards Shubert
at West End Cemetery, Lingleville, Erath Co., Texas Copyright 2008

Sources: Texas Graveyards, Terry G. Jordan, 1982 by the University of Texas Press
Accessed from North Richland Hills Public Library, December 2008

2 comments:

  1. I had never heard of scraping. I wonder where the custom originated. Very interesting piece!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Apple!
    According to Terry Jordan in his book, "Texas Graveyards," the origins of most of our traditions in Southern Folk cemeteries are too ancient to even be in our memory. But he believes archival evidence points to the West African slave coast. There were bare-earth cemeteries found there.

    Thanks for following my blog, Apple!

    ReplyDelete

Blog Widget by LinkWithin