According to a monument company owner that I interviewed, the signatures have always been controversial with some people refusing to have them carved into their stone. Sometimes the signatures are very large and could be objectionable. In my search for signed cemetery stones in California, I have only found “signatures” on the old marble stones so far. There are very few signatures on today’s monuments, although there is a granite stone in the Davis Cemetery in Davis, Yolo County, California, that bears a small, discrete metal plate with the name of the company etched into it.
One thing to remember about the age of the old cemetery stones that contains the information for multiple people is that the stone may not have been created at the time of the earliest date of death carved on the stone. Many times the stone would be created at a later date and then several earlier family deaths would be entered on the stone.
Sometimes stone carvers made errors on the stones. The customer may have had the carver correct the error by plastering over it; but remember that years later that material may have fallen off of the stone leaving an incorrect spelling or date.
My friend Leeanna Rossi, who wrote the booklet, Headstones of the Gold Rush Era: Sculpting Masterpieces in Marble, used to give stone carver tours at the old City Cemetery in Sacramento. On her tour she indicated that the stone carver or monument company would place the footstone to indicate where the cemetery stone would be placed once it was carved and the main stone would placed at a later date after the cemetery plot has settled and the stone completed. (Leeanna Rossi’s booklet is available through the Old Sacramento City Cemetery in Sacramento if you are interested.)
Below is a photograph of Leanna Rossi and her husband giving one of their stone carver tours in costume in the late 1990’s at the Old Sacramento City Cemetery. Unfortunately, they no longer live in Sacramento, so there are no longer stone carver tours, although many other interesting tours are presented at the cemetery. The cemetery is a wonderful place to visit as their beautifully grounds landscaped are beautifully landscaped and maintained.
On Leeanna Rossi’s Stone Carver tour, one of the parts that I enjoyed was when she said that “There is no ‘oops’ in stone carving!” (Although every now and then you will see errors in the carving on some of the old stones.)
Below are some interesting facts from Leeanna Rossi’s book Headstones of the Gold Rush Era:
“A skilled stone laborer in Sacramento stone works made $3.00 per day in 1880. Unskilled laborers usually received about $2.00 per day; their workdays lasting 10 hours. By 1882 wages for stone cutters were about $3.00 to $4.00 per day (or $21 per week), while carpenters received about $2.00 to $3.0 per day (or $18 per week).”
“Burial lots in San Francisco…were charged at $ .50 per foot in 1860. Single burial plots were $15.00 and $6.00 was charged for the opening and filling of lots. This means a 20 x 20 family lot (in 1860) cost at least $200.00. In Sacramento, as of 1871, a 20 x 20 family lot went for $50.00. It leaped to $75.00 in 1873, and $120.00 in 1881….None of these figures includes the cost of the headstone.”
Mary-ellen Jones of Contra Costa County is another woman who has researched California’s stone carvers and monumental companies for many years. You can read a summary of one of her presentations to the Contra Costa County Historical Society at: “Tombstones and the Men Who Created Them,” by Mary-ellen Jones, article from Diablo Descendants Newsletter, November 1996.
Another interesting interview to read is the interview of John Silva, of Silva’s Memorials in Antioch, Contra Costa County, California at: “Interview of John Silva of Silva’s Memorials in Antioch, California April 30, 1997.”