While instructions for gravestone rubbing abound on the Internet, information about local regulations and historic preservation is often lacking. However, in South Carolina, it’s important to recognize the existence of applicable laws and conservation practices to safeguard oneself, one’s art, and one’s community history.
Gravestone rubbing, a common creative practice for cemetery-loving goths worldwide, is a way to replicate the raised or depressed images on a monument. A piece of paper is secured to the face of the tombstone, and a thick writing utensil-- such as the side of a pencil-- is rubbed over the paper. This procedure leaves an imprint of the images and letters on the page, which can then be framed for home decoration or given as “gothy” gifts. The activity is also used to duplicate historically significant memorials for research.
Nevertheless, it is not safe, respectful, or legal to head out the door and into a graveyard like Elmwood Cemetery unprepared. South Carolina has laws and regulations specific to maintaining and preserving cemeteries and thus their gravestones. If interested in conducting gravestone rubbing, follow these guidelines to avoid unnecessary trouble and keep the state’s history alive.
- Title 6, Chapter 1, Article 35: sets forth local governments as the authority over cemeteries determined to be abandoned and unmaintained. This fact is important because it means that the creepy, photogenic graveyard down the road might be closed to trespassers, so prosecution could ensue.
- Title 16, Chapter 17, Article 600: delineates the consequences of damaging or otherwise defiling tombs, their markers, buried bodies, buildings, and even the plants on graveyard property. A felony charge resulting in a fine up to $5,000 or up to ten years in prison is one possible outcome.
- Title 27, Chapter 43, Article 310: defines the rights of entry into cemeteries on privately-owned property. Basically, only descendents of buried persons are allowed into private cemeteries after a written request to the property owner is approved.
Consider ways to remain respectful before and during headstone rubbing outings.
- Get educated about proper rubbing practices that best protect the stones, such as which tape to use and how to attain permission to conduct rubbings. Check out Gravestone Rubbing Do’s and Don’ts from the Association for Gravestone Studies.
- Learn to determine the stones that can withstand rubbing with no damage. Consult South Carolina’s Historic Cemeteries: A Preservation Handbook from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History as well as books such as A Graveyard Preservation Primer by Lynette Strangstad.
In other words, use common sense, get educated, and treat each gravestone as if it were your own! Though there are not always legal effects for neglecting these principles, the social and cultural consequences can be far-reaching. Everyone, whether religious or not, can benefit from cherishing these sites of peaceful eternal rest for the sake of cultural perpetuation.
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