If You See Coins Placed On Gravestones, Don’t Pick Them Up

Whether it’s a bunch of flowers or a photo, gravestones are adorned with an array of eye-catching tributes at the cemetery. But next time you find yourself walking among the tombstones, you might spot a glinting object. As you get closer, you’ll realize that it’s probably a shiny coin that’s been positioned on a headstone – and it’s there for a truly poignant reason.

So where can you find these coins on the gravestones? Are they easy to see? Well, in most cases, the money is placed on top of the markers, sitting above the engraved text. It might look strange, yet it’s a practice that you’ll probably notice across almost all of the graveyards in the United States. But that’s not all.

If you take a closer look at those tombstones, you might see a variety of coins with different financial value. There could be a mix of dimes or pennies, for instance, resting on the surface. Seems pretty random, right? It’s almost like someone just emptied their pockets.

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But it’s not a random assortment of money, actually. In fact, the different coins harbor very deliberate connotations to those who leave them behind at the cemetery. And yes, they’re pretty poignant. Who knew that pocket change could be so meaningful? You’ll never look at a quarter the same way again.

Mind you, coins aren’t the only things that hold a specific connotation in cemeteries. If you stroll past a number of gravestones there, you’re sure to notice other objects sitting around the grassy plots. At first glance, it might appear to be for decorative purposes, but that’s not always the case.

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So what do they mean? Well, let’s begin with arguably the most traditional memento that gets left next to tombstones. We’re referring to flowers, of course. These beautiful growths can add some much-needed color to the area, brightening up the plot. What kick-started this practice, though? When did it become “a thing”?

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Well, the tradition began to form back in ancient times, incredibly, as the people of Greece looked to honor their dead soldiers. According to the Asianet News website, this practice was known as “zoai.” You see, once the flowers were planted around the plot, the mourners then kept watch over them. Nice touch.

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It was essentially a waiting game from there. If the plants opened up and bloomed on the burial site, it was thought that the person’s spirit had reached some sort of contentment in the afterlife. It’s not quite as simple as leaving a coin on a gravestone, but the Greeks seemed to swear by it!

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Anyway, the Romans adopted the tradition too – albeit the meaning was a little different. Instead of using the flowers as a spiritual signal, the mourners wanted to appease their dead with gifts. Why’s that? Well, they were of the opinion that human souls lingered near their burial plots following their deaths.

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So flowers and other keepsakes were left in the area. Then again, it’s believed that the plants played an additional role as well. Given the terrible smell that emanates from decomposing bodies, the Romans apparently utilized the blooms to help reduce it. Pretty morbid, wouldn’t you say? But there’s evidence that perhaps flower laying goes back even further…

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Because a discovery was made back in 2010 that proved Spain had been using flowers at gravesites since the Upper Palaeolithic age. Wow! Preserved pollen was found inside a crypt within El Mirón cave, which is located in Cantabria. And the botanical remnants were at least 16,000 years old. No, that’s not a typo!

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To explain more, a teacher from UPV/EHU: University of the Basque Country spoke to the college’s website. His name was José Iriarte, and he’d been tasked to examine the ancient pollen. And Iriarte reflected on the flower’s potential meaning back in the Upper Palaeolithic age.

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Iriarte said, “They put whole flowers on the tomb. But it has not been possible to say whether the aim of placing plants was to do with a ritual offering for the dead person, or whether it was for a simpler purpose like, for example, to ward off the bad smells associated with the burial.”

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Iriarte was able to identify the color of the flora too. He informed the website, “With their small, generally white or yellowish flowers, we would not regard them as colorful plants today.” Even if they weren’t the most beautiful-looking growths in the world, the findings were still impressive.

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So it’s fair to say that the custom has been around for a very long time. Yet it didn’t start to take shape in the United States until the Civil War’s conclusion, claims one history expert. Jay Winik was the man in question, claiming that Abraham Lincoln’s death was the catalyst.

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Winik, a historian, explained to the website Neatorama, “Searching for some way to express their grief [for Lincoln], countless Americans gravitated to bouquets of flowers. Lilacs, roses and orange blossoms, anything which was in bloom across the land. Thus was born a new tradition – laying flowers at a funeral.”

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So from that, Decoration Day was born in 1868. That celebration is better known as Memorial Day now. The flowers adorn the gravestones of those who’ve died serving their country. But of course, the practice extends to normal people, as well, when they pass away. Like Winik said, it became tradition.

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Do flowers hold any other significance today, though? You bet! Just like the different coins harbor various connotations, graveside plants are much the same according to Southern Living. So you might want to be a touch more mindful of the bouquets you pick up before heading to the cemetery.

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Camellia flowers, for instance, are supposed to denote feelings of “love and devotion” to the deceased. And while carnations and red roses hold very similar meanings, other flora harbors more symbolic messages. Take the daffodil as an example – that’s meant to convey “rebirth and hope.”

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That’s a lot to take in, right? Yet you won’t just find flowers around gravesites. In fact, there’s a very good chance that you might spot a few pebbles on the headstones too. They’re nice and small like the coins, but is there a deeper reason behind their presence?

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Well, stones were utilized in the distant past to shield dead bodies from any roaming animals. To pull that off, mourners would pile the objects over the gravesite. But they also served as proto-tombstones, signaling where certain people were laid to rest. The arrangements are usually referred to as cairns.

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So why do the stones keep cropping up now? Simply put, some people want to maintain the routine that their ancestors employed to honor the dead. Thus each pebble left on a plot represents a single individual who’s dropped by to say hello, according to the website Milano Monuments. That might explain why certain tombstones are full of them – the dead people concerned are still popular!

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Given that, you’ve probably got a burning question to ask – what eventually happens to all this stuff? Regarding the pebbles, cemetery custodians are known to clear them off the gravestones after a while. Mind you, they don’t actually throw them away. Instead, the stones are dropped close to their plots.

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As for the bouquets of flowers, they obviously start to fade away following a spell on the gravesite. It can’t be helped really. When that happens, the custodians have to get rid of them. At the same time, though, planted flora can be looked after by those who added them to the plot.

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But what about the coins? Are they removed at some point? Well, unless you’ve been told otherwise, take this advice on board for future trips to the cemetery – never touch those items. Because the change is quite symbolic to both the deceased and the person who placed it on the tombstone. Why, I hear you say?

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Because coins are usually put on the gravestones of people who were part of the U.S. military. Whether you’re a relative or a fellow soldier, the practice is seen as a way to commemorate the fallen individual’s life. So what are the different connotations tied to each coin?

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A penny signals that someone outside the military has come to pay their respects to the soldier, says Milano Monuments. It’s just a nice way to inform their loved ones that a passer-by dropped in. As the monetary value goes up, though, the meanings become a lot more personal.

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For instance, if you leave a nickel on the tombstone, that indicates that you went to boot camp with the deceased. The connection becomes even tighter with a dime, as that coin highlights that you were in the same regiment. But quarters harbor the most poignant connotation of them all

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Yes, if you drop that coin off at the cemetery, it means that you were present when the soldier lost their life. We can only imagine how emotional a relative would get upon seeing a quarter at the burial plot. So now that we know why they’re left there, you might be curious as to how it all started.

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In truth, the catalyst has been questioned for a while now, but one theory has continued to stand out above the rest. Apparently the custom began in the United States while the Vietnam War raged on. Over the course of that 11-year conflict, more than 58,000 American troops passed away.

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That war, as we know, provoked some pretty tetchy discussions throughout the 1960s and 1970s thanks to the politics involved. So if you wanted to talk about a fallen troop, there was a chance that things could take an unwanted turn. And that’s where the coins came in, says the Wadena Pioneer Journal.

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The simple gesture eliminated the potential of getting into a fierce debate with a friend’s loved ones. Then again, the newspaper claims the coins didn’t just crop up for that reason. In fact, the change was sometimes called a “down payment” by those who dropped it off at the cemeteries. Why’s that?

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Well, the troops wanted to use the money to purchase a drink for their friends once they passed on, too. In other words, when they were reunited together in the afterlife. How poignant! And here’s hoping God’s bar is worth the wait. Yet there’s something else to keep in mind. The connection between coins and death didn’t just emerge during the Vietnam War – it goes back much further.

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Roman soldiers received a similar honor when they died in ancient times, according to the Wadena Pioneer Journal. Yet some people don’t just look to commemorate members of their military with coins. As a result of stories from Greek Mythology, certain families have wanted to put change on all of the burial sites belonging to their nearest and dearest.

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If you’re not familiar with those tales, we’ll clear things up for you. Charon is the name of Hades’ boatman, and his job was to take the spirits of the dead into the Underworld. To get there, he traveled along the fabled River Styx. But the journey wasn’t free – similar to other modes of public transport!

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Because Charon needed coins from the deceased to grant them passage. Now in ancient times, the money was either put on the eyes of a person or in their mouths. Without the money, the boatman would reject the spirit and leave them stranded on the River Styx for a century. Yikes!

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Given the consequences, some didn’t want to take a chance, so they left coins just in case. Pretty interesting, right? But Greek Mythology isn’t the only catalyst for sparking superstitious reactions to death. The Wadena Pioneer Journal claimed that a family nicknamed the “Black Donnellys” are somewhat responsible too.

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This infamous clan ran roughshod in Ontario, Canada, after leaving Ireland in the 19th century. In the end, five of the Donnellys were murdered in 1880. Once they were buried, it was suggested that you could make a wish by dropping off a coin in their plot. And apparently, the desires were fulfilled.

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Other people thought that the same thing would happen with their own relatives. So of course, they put down coins and hoped for the best! Going back to the U.S. troops, though, there is a particularly busy day when tombstones are inundated with money.

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Yes, Memorial Day continues to encourage soldiers to pay their respects via this tradition, according to Milano Monuments. Eventually, the coins are gathered up by the cemetery’s custodian to cover the costs of maintenance – from cutting the grass to cleaning the tombstones. So the thoughtful gesture does go a long way!

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