Friday, January 20, 2006

We begin with an epitaph

When I was signing books at the Riverfest celebration in Wetumpka, Ala., in 2005, a visitor asked me whether I had heard the famous epitaph from the cemetery in Auburn. I told her I hadn't, and she recited from memory:

As you are now
So once was I
As I am now
You soon will be
So prepare for death
And follow me.

To this, she went on to say, some wag once added graffiti:

I would be content
If I but knew
Which way you went.

I was delighted by this, of course, but some version of this epitaph (and, inevitably, some version of the graffiti) can be found in more Alabama cemeteries than Auburn's. This is one of the most common epitaphs in the English-speaking world, found in cemeteries far and wide.

A list of common variations can be found here.

One documented occurrence in southeast Alabama, though not in Auburn, is the epitaph of Lonie A. Glover (1869-1962) in the Jellico Community Cemetery in Houston County, across the road from Winslette Chapel Methodist Church.

Judith Fowler records Glover's epitaph here, at the invaluable site, where you can browse thousands of cemetery records from around the world.

I'd like to hear about any sightings of this famous epitaph in Alabama, with the specific cemetery information, in Auburn or elsewhere. Where do the lines originate, I wonder?


Anonymous Andrew K. Rindsberg said...

The old graveyard of the Mount Zion Church in Claiborne, Alabama, includes a short but sweet epitaph:

Gone but not forgotting.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Andy Duncan said...

Interesting. I never heard the word "forgotting" before now, but as a Google search for it turns up more than 9,000 hits, it seems to be a common (if ungrammatical) substitute for "forgotten," especially among non-native English speakers. It even shows up on other tombstones, for example this one in New Jersey.

11:07 PM  

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