Secrets of Columbia’s Elmwood Cemetery revealed with night time tours
Do you like a little fright?
Columbia residents and some out-of-towners drove to Elmwood Cemetery Thursday night for Historic Columbia’s Moonlight Cemetery and Secrets from the Grave Tour.
The event was led by Interpretive Guide Walt Hall, who took the crowd down paths of the cemetery and explained the history behind many symbols found on the tombs. According to a cemetery employee, the land for the Elmwood Cemetery was first bought in 1854 for $10,000. It spans over 250 acres, with 20 still remaining unused.
Hall first drew attention to a tall, thin, dramatic obelisk, explaining that some family members had these structures built for their loved ones to represent a ray of sunlight. The obelisk Hall referred to, he said, was the tallest one in the cemetery and marked the grave of prominent lawyer Benjamin Abney. Abney represented railroad owners in the late 19th century amongst other prominent clients.
Some plots in the cemetery were purchased by familes to hold graves for generations of their family. There are also a few mausoleums in Elmwood cemetery, which Hall said was another way families are buried together. As the tour continued to make its way through, Hall referenced what appeared to look like empty in-ground tombs, with a concrete border but nothing inside. He said those are called cradles, that once held a wooden casket.
There were different images on many of the tombs that Hall said had symbolic meanings behind them. “Any time you see a lamb like on this tombstone, it’s almost always a child buried there,” he said. There were multiple symbols drawn to the crowd’s attention that represented sadness. One family plot with a wrought iron fence had a weeping willow on the fence’s opening. “A weeping willow is a Christian symbol, one of the oldest symbols representing sorrow,” said Hall. He also referenced tombs with concrete shrouds that looked as though they were draped over the top, which is another representation of sadness.
The crowd listened anxiously to Hall’s insights about the graves. Listener Toni Barker said she had been in Elmwood Cemetery before, but this was the first time she’d taken the tour. “I liked learning about the symbols, some of them I didn’t know about,” she said. “I just always enjoy the big beautiful trees, the sunset… it’s beautiful, and it’s seen a lot of things.” Barker attended the tour with two of her friends, and the group said sometimes they try to speculate the story behind the graves. “Sometimes we try to figure out the history of the people, and especially the older graves,” they said.
Historic Columbia offers Elmwood Cemetery tours once a month through October, on Thursday evenings beginning at 7:30. The upcoming dates include July 12, August 9, September 13, and October 11. The 7:30 tour focuses on symbols in the markers and headstones of the graves. The 8:00 and 8:30 tours are about the lives, burials, and cemetery plots of families and prominent citizens from Columbia’s 19th and 20th centuries.
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