by Dr. Todd E.A. Larson
ep·i·taph (n.) [ep-i-taf, -tahf] 1. a commemorative inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument about the person buried at that site. 2. a brief poem or other writing in praise of a deceased person.
I love cemeteries. This doesn't make me weird (I have plenty of other reasons to be considered weird well beyond my fondness for cemeteries), and to prove my point just google the words "Cemetery Tours." You'll find nearly 3,000,000 results.
One of my all-time favorite cemeteries, by the way, is Cincinnati's famed Spring Grove Cemetery, the final resting place for such notables as General Joseph Hooker (and 33 other Civil War generals), eight Congressional Medal-of-Honor winners, baseball hall-of-famers Waite Hoyte and Miller Huggins and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Salmon P. Chase, among others. It is the largest non-profit private cemetery in America.
I thought I'd dig around and see if I could find some fishing-related graves, and along with it, try to discover a few angling epitaphs. I found a lot more than I ever thought I would!
As an admirer of cemeteries, I'm always interested in both fishing-related gravestones and of fishing themed epitaphs. Some are famous, and some are just ordinary folk who wanted the world to know their love for fishing.
Fittingly, we begin with the apostle of the sport of fishing, Isaac Walton, who is interred at Westminster Abbey. Here is a shot of his grave stone (more on his epitaph later):
One didn't have to be famous to have a classic angling grave stone. Here's one for John Murray, the Gamekeeper for the Kenmore family, located in Kells Churchyare, Ireland. What a classic scene!
Perhaps no American has a more fitting grave stone than pioneer bamboo rodmaker Hiram Leonard. His grave stone is capped by an awesome carving of a classic Maine canoe. A fitting memorial to a man who was so accustomed to the Maine woods that it was a second home for him.
Here is a bit more subdued gravestone commemorating another angling titan, James A. Payne, posted by the canefather Sante Giuliani.
Famous anglers such as Zane Grey have popular gave site destinations. Here's a pic of Grey's grave stone near Lackawaxen, PA, near the Delaware River.
With new processes involving lasers and acid etching, you can really make a phenomenal tombstone today, as evidenced by this example:
I'm sure there are many, many more but this will have to suffice for now.
Ah, the epitaph--that last chance to be pithy with the world. There are many neat epitaphs and some of them are fishing-related.
But we must begin again with our previously mentioned apostle, Isaac Walton. In Westminster Abby his tomb reads:
Mr. ISAAC WALTON
Who dyed the 15th day of December
Alas he's gone before
Gone to return no more!
Our panting Breasts aspire
After their aged Sire,
Whose well spent life did last,
Full ninety years and past
But now he hath begun
That which will ne're be done
Crown'd with eternall blysse:
We wish our souls with his.
Votis modestis sic flerunt liberi
We love the British, for here is a classic angling epitaph, this one for John Murray of Kenmure, who died 03 Jan. 1777. His epitaph was written by the Rev. Alexander M'Gowan of Dalry:
Thy fishing and thy shooting days are past;
Bagpipes and hautboys thou canst sound no more,
Thy nods, grimaces, winks, and pranks, are o'er;
Thy harmless, queerish, incoherent talk,
Thy wild vivacity and trudging walk
Will soon be quite forgot; thy joys on earth,
Thy snuff and glass, riddles, and noisy mirth
Are vanished all—yet blessed I hope thou art,
For in thy station thou hast played thy part.
Fishing epitaphs have a more ancient origin, and the most famous is the one from Leonidas of Tarentum, who lived in the 3rd Century B.C. It's called, fittingly, "Epitaph for an Angler":
Who troll'd for fish the margin of the sea,
Chief of his craft, whose keen, perceptive search,
The kichle', scarus, bait-devouring perch,
And such as love the hollow clefts, and those
That in the caverns of the deep repose,
Could not escape—is dead.
Parmis had lured
A julis from its rocky haunts, secured
Between his teeth the slippery pert, when, lo!
It jerk'd into the gullet of its foe,
Who fell beside his lines and hooks and rod,
And the choked fisher sought his last abode.
His dust lies here. Stranger, this humble grave
An angler to a brother angler gave."
Of course many of the early epitaphs deal with the profession of angling as opposed to the sport. Another great fishing epitaph is for William Easton, who is buried in Hessle-road Cemetery, Hull.
Who was lost at sea,
In the fishing smack Martha,
In the gale of January, 1865.
Aged 30 years.
When through the torn sail the wild tempest is streaming;
When o'er the dark wave the red lightning is gleaming,
No hope lends a ray the poor fisher to cherish.
Oh hear, kind Jesus ; save, Lord, or we perish!
Of course, like all written forms the epitaph gives opportunity to the witty, like the Block Island sea captain who had been engaged in the fishing business, and who wrote the terse epitaph engraved on his tombstone :
And gone to meet his God.
Not all fishing epitaphs are about commercial anglers. Take, for example, the following for Brian Tunstall, eighteenth century angler:
He was a most expert angler
until Death envious of his art,
threw out his line hooked him
And landed him here the 21st day
Or the aptly-named Mr. Fish:
But here's a sudden change,
Fish is bait for worms-
Is not that passing strange?
And Mr. Arthur Sutton:
5.6.1946 - 31.1.1996
Beloved Husband Of Barbara
'Gone fishing', the sign said
that hung upon the door.
An Angel had put it there,
God was waiting on the shore.
And finally, one more close to home, a member of the famed Cincinnati political Taft family buried in Spring Grove cemetery. Charles P. Taft, former Cincinnati City Councilman, has the following words on his grave stone:
It's as concise and as fitting an epitaph as one can possible hope for an angler, in life and in death.
-- Dr. Todd (who hopes not to have an epitaph for a good, long time).