The mystery of the Coondog Cemetery headstone coins

By  | September 3, 2013 | Filed under: News

IMG_1904TUSCUMBIA- The Mystery of The Coondog Cemetery coins on the headstones started when coins started appearing on top of the headstones at the Coondog Cemetery southwest of Tuscumbia about six months before the 75th anniversary in 2012.   In addition to various coins, replicas of service medals were also left.


The tradition in the USA dates back to Benjamin Franklin, but goes back further in ancient culture long before the practice of leaving flowers.  The ancient Greeks would leave money on graves to be used by the deceased to pay the ferryman Charon for passage across the river Styx.  The belief was those without money would wander the banks for all eternity, not able to cross.


IMG_1982Roman culture believed that dropping a coin and making a wish would ask the deceased person’s help.  Romans usually IMG_1887buried their dead with coins inside the mouths because they believe the deceased had to pay a Dead Oarman to cross Deads River under the earth.


In other cultures, coins were left on grave markers as a sign that the deceased was well-loved and respected and to let others know that the grave had been visited.   Others believed that a coin left on a headstone was a way of acting a favor of the deceased or help in solving a problem or acquiring goods.

In this country, the tradition of leaving pennies on the grave dates back to Benjamin Franklin’s funeral.  His grave was covered in pennies left by an estimated twenty thousand who came from around the country to pay their respect.  Even today visitors will toss a coin through a protective fence over to his grave.

Some believe that leaving pennies on a grave is a symbol of the words on the coin: “In God We Trust.”

IMG_1842In the military, the tradition of leaving coins dating back to the Roman Empire became popular during the Vietnam War.  With the political climate in the sixties and seventies, those who served  in the war were called baby killers.  It was used as a means to let family and friends of the fallen that someone had been there to pay respects without direct contact.   Each denomination of coin held a different message to let the family know who the visitor was.  A penny indicated that a friend or an acquaintance visited.    A nickel was someone who had gone through boot camp, or trained with the fallen soldier.    Someone that served in another platoon in the same company would leave a dime.  A quarter meant that the visitor would be someone that served in the same outfit, or was with the soldier when they died.  Some veterans would leave a coin to buy their fallen comrades a beer or to play a hand of cards when they are reunited.


Lastly there is the legend of the Donnelly’s, better known as the Black Donnelly’s, an Irish-Canadian family known for the brutal massacre of a rival family.  The legend statesIMG_1847 that the family will grant the wish of anyone who leaves a coin on their tombstone.   An alternate superstition posted on the Donnelly home page  is that anyone who owes money to a person who died will be haunted by that person’s ghost unless money is place on the deceased’s tombstone before midnight.  I would guess that would be the day of burial.


IMG_2302All in all, those who leave coins on the headstones at the Coondog cemetery do so to pay their respects to those buried and to let others that they had visited.


Another mystery to solve now is the meaning of a rock on top of the headstone. butterfly


Still another is what would posses a sixty year old woman who has already had back surgery and a knee replacement to chase a butterfly around downhill in the rain and mud, in a poncho that made her look like a pregnant pumpkin?


coodog cemetery signCoondogIMG_1829IMG_1911IMG_1984IMG_1987


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