At the Intersection of History and Geometry

Our cemeteries offer more than just history. There’s geometry in them thar tombstones! (All photos from Oakwood Cemetery unless otherwise noted.)

cemetery corner stone oakwoodProbably the most common geometric shape in older cemeteries is the simple box—a flattened and elongated cube. The folks in the protractor-and-compass crowd call this geometric shape a “cuboid” or a “rectangular parallelepiped.” (As I understand it, non-math majors can correctly pronounce “parallelepiped” only while dancing in a conga line.)

cemetery geo oakwood rectangleAnother par-al-lel-e-PI-ped.

cemetery geo oakwood cube 2Plain old cube.

cemetery geo oakwood globeBall (known in some circles as a “sphere”).

cemetery geo oakwood cylinderCylinder.

cemetery geo oakwood cylindersFour in-line cylinders. Downright automotive.

columns oakwood 3On the monument of murdered merchant Burwell Christmas Evans, these columns are just cylinders wearing fancy Corinthian hats.

cemetery geo moAt Mount Olivet an elliptical cylinder.

cemetery fence birdville conesAt Birdville Cemetery the tops of these finials on the pickets of an iron fence are cones.

cemetery pyramidsJPGAtop the Jennings, Loyd, and Van Zandt obelisks, a square pyramid.

cemetery bird tandy PRAtop the tombstone of Roger Tandy at Pioneers Rest Cemetery, a square pyramid.

cemetery woodmenThis Woodmen of the World tombstone is a veritable geometry final exam. The tree trunk is a cylinder. The head of the splitting maul is a cuboid. The splitting wedge and the ax head are wedges. A wedge, as you might recall, is not only a geometric shape but also one of the six classical simple machines, meaning it has no “CHECK ENGINE” light.

You just never know where you’re going to run into math. Or, in the case of cemeteries, aftermath.

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4 Responses to At the Intersection of History and Geometry

  1. George Studdard says:

    Thanks, once again for an enlightening piece on the geometry of the cemeteries. As a student at Paschal High School in the Stone Age, and upon the advice of my father to take all the math I could, I ventured into the land of solid geometry. I understood most of the jargon and even learned to pronounce “parallepiped” correctly. However, my teacher/dragonlady required us to build models of geometrical shapes: tetrahedron, cube,hexahedron, octohedron, dodecahedron & icosahedron. I knew I was doomed when I failed to construct a proper cube. No model builder was I. Thanks for a great article.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, George. Math baffles me, but I remind myself that some folks are baffled by grammar and punctuation.

  2. Ramiro says:

    Mike, you have focused my dim memory of 10th grade geometry. Wished I had paid more attention. I would quit trying to put square peg into a round hole.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Ramiro. I, too, don’t have a head for spatial relationships. You oughta watch me try to fold the four flaps of a packing box so they interlock.

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