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Respectful, legal gravestone rubbing in South Carolina

Graveyards such as this one attract goths for activities like gravestone rubbing.
Graveyards such as this one attract goths for activities like gravestone rubbing.

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.

Pertinent Laws

These laws, taken from the South Carolina Code of Laws and noted by the South Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, are directly related to cemeteries and gravestones.

  • 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.

More Guidelines

Consider ways to remain respectful before and during headstone rubbing outings.

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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  • Cory 5 years ago

    Wow, thanks for the insight. I never realized that there were so many laws regarding gravestones.

  • Carrie 5 years ago

    This is an interesting and informative article. I have done gravestone rubbings in the past and had no idea I could potentially be breaking the law. I feel well-informed now and next time I do some rubbings, I will do it the legal way. Thank you for writing about this.

  • Steve 5 years ago

    Not into gravestone rubbing. All I ever wanted to do was meet these people...What's so wrong with calling forth their spirits???? :-O

  • Larisa 5 years ago

    Very interesting!!!

  • Zack 5 years ago

    Awesome article! I'm glad that this kind of information is out there so that if anyone wants to take part in gravestone rubbing, they can do so legally, respectfully, and most importantly, carefully!.

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