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Unmarked grave

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Title: Unmarked grave  
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Subject: Patio 29, Henry John Burnett, Ballarat Bandit, Buddy Bolden, Casualties of the Second Chechen War
Collection: Anonymity, Burial Monuments and Structures, Metaphors
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Unmarked grave

The phrase unmarked grave has metaphorical meaning in the context of cultures that mark burial sites.

As a Apple, Inc. founder Steve Jobs is a recent example of a notable grave without a headstone.

Even when a person's remains are lost, a cenotaph may be erected. This is what happened to comedian John Belushi. The gravestone at his grave in a Martha's Vineyard cemetery was removed and relocated, after operators of the cemetery found many signs of vandalism and rowdiness, where his body lies. A cenotaph gravestone was erected at a nearby empty grave, to deter disrespectful visitors, leaving his actual final resting place without a marker. Another John Belushi cenotaph gravestone was erected by his family, in a Chicago area cemetery at the Belushi family plot, where his parents are now buried. Similarly, when H.P. Lovecraft's headstone in Providence, Rhode Island was stolen, a replacement marker was erected in a different location.


  • Criminals 1
  • Judaism 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Conversely, a deliberately unmarked grave signifies disdain and contempt. The underlying intention of some unmarked graves may be that the person buried is not worthy of commemoration, and should therefore be completely ignored and forgotten, e.g., Heinrich Himmler, Jimmy Savile.

Unmarked graves have long been used to bury executed criminals. More recently, the practice has been to cremate and secretly scatter the ashes of notorious criminals in some anonymous place. This was the fate of Nazi war criminals such as Hermann Göring, Fritz Sauckel, Julius Streicher and Adolf Eichmann. The remains of British serial killers Myra Hindley and Dr Harold Shipman were treated in the same way. Cremation and secret scattering of the ashes has the additional effect of removing all possibility of there being a grave for someone to visit in the future.


Within Judaism, in which contact with a corpse confers uncleanness (see Numbers 19:11-22 and Tractate Oholoth in the Mishna), an unmarked grave opens up the possibility that a pious Jew could become defiled without being aware that it happened. The Jews of early times, therefore, sought to avoid unmarked graves by two means: clearly designating cemeteries beyond the limits of their villages and cities, and making graves and tombs obvious by whitewashing them. This is the background for Jesus' comparison of the Pharisees of his time to white-washed tombs (see Matthew 23:27-28) and to "unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it" (Luke 11:44). Jesus warned that the Pharisees were defiling others by their hypocrisy, misplaced priorities, and selfish ambition.

See also


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