But there is much more to the art than morbid encounters with the dead. In fact, the practice of gravestone rubbing is becoming increasingly common and popular among academics and scholars as a way to preserve history and record genealogy.
According to the Association of Grave Studies in Greenfield, gravestones display the cultural significance of a society by telling the public about societal norms of the past, as well as family lineages and the effect of disease on the population.
For instance, some gravestones have special seals that are common among families, while others give details such as “died of tuberculosis” or “died while giving birth.” With more than 1,000 members, the association has annual conferences around the United States and has been in existence for more than 40 years.
Not only is the gravestone culture significant for preserving history, but it also serves as a platform for educating youth. Holding cemetery scavenger hunts and practicing grave rubbings can give kids a different perspective of the graveyard, one marked by respect for those who have passed on.
“This is your history. These are open-air museums, free of charge,” Sullivan said. “It’s a chance to walk into a burial ground and meet someone from the past.”
MEET THE GRAVESTONE GIRLS
What: Virtual tour of Danvers cemeteries
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Peabody Institute Library, 15 Sylvan St., Danvers
More information: 978-774-0554