Most headstone inscriptions follow a classic formula, but there are no rules dictating what should be displayed above a person’s final resting place. If you know where to look in certain cemeteries, you’ll find grave markers with jokes, movie quotes, secret codes, and recipes. Many famous graves commemorate noteworthy people, while others are unique enough to bring their occupants fame in death. Here are 11 headstones that make creative use of the medium.
1. Mel Blanc’s Looney Tunes Sign Off
In a cemetery filled with famous occupants, only the most unique grave markers stand out. Mel Blanc’s headstone is hardly the fanciest one in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, but its inscription makes it one of the funniest: “That’s all folks” is carved into the stone above the legendary Looney Tunes voice actor’s name. As someone who entertained countless cartoon fans in life, it’s fitting that he continues to bring smiles to people’s faces in death.
2. Naomi Odessa Miller-Dawson’s Cookie Recipe
Many people leave behind family recipes when they pass, but few of them have those recipes etched into their headstones. Naomi Odessa Miller-Dawson’s grave at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn features a stone “recipe book” listing the ingredients of her signature spritz cookies; anyone who visits the site can then recreate the cookies at home. Digital librarian Rosie Grant tests recipes she collects from headstones around the country, and she helped make Miller-Dawson’s headstone famous in 2022 when she chose it to kick off the project.
3. A Violinist’s Mysterious Music Notes
Second Lieutenant Hugh Gordon Langton’s grave marker in the Poelcapelle British Cemetery is engraved with a brief musical phrase. It makes sense that Langton would want to be remembered through music—before dying in World War I, he studied under Europe’s greatest violinists—but the notation itself is a mystery. It hasn’t been connected definitively to any known work. A full composition was written around the tune and performed at the veteran’s gravesite in 2017 for the 100th anniversary of his death.
4. A Funerary Professional’s QR Code
Visiting a grave can be a multimedia experience in the internet age. Quiring Monuments has been in the memorial services business for over a century, and in the 2010s they started offering custom QR codes with their headstone designs. One of the first graves to receive the high-tech feature belongs to the company’s former owner David Quiring Sr. Scanning the code on his grave marker in Seattle's Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park brings up a digital epitaph featuring a sepia portrait, an obituary, and a scan of a Robert Frost poem found in his wallet.
5. Merv Griffin’s Inside Joke for Viewers
As the creator of Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, and the host of his own long-running talk show, Merv Griffin left a huge mark on the television industry. Fans are reminded of his absence when they visit his grave in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles. The inscription on Griffin’s headstone reads, “I will not be right back after this message”—a cheeky twist on his usual line between commercial breaks.
6. A Freemason’s Cryptic Cypher
James Leeson’s grave outside Trinity Church in Manhattan honors his Freemason background in a clever way. When he died in 1794, he left behind a headstone enscribed with a cryptic message. The cypher is written in pigpen—a type of pictogram code used by Freemasons to safeguard secrets. The code has since been broken, and its meaning—“Remember Death”—is known outside the organization today.
7. Dorothy Parker’s Dark Witticism
Writer Dorothy Parker brought her acerbic wit to every work she produced, and her epitaph was no exception. When Parker died in 1967, she left most of her estate to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation. The NAACP received it when King was assassinated the following year.
In life, she often joked that “excuse my dust” would be the perfect epitaph to remember her by. Her wishes were honored when her cremains were interred behind the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore. (They’ve since been relocated to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.) The original inscription read: “For her epitaph she suggested ‘Excuse My Dust’. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind, and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between Black and Jewish people.”
8. A Gay Vietnam Veteran’s Poignant Message
Instead of listing a name, a headstone Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery in pays tribute to “A Gay Vietnam Veteran.” The epitaph packs some powerful context into a few words: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
The memorial is meant to honor all gay veterans, but the actual grave belongs to Leonard Matlovich. In 1975, the Air Force tech sergeant and Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient published a memo coming out to his superiors. Though he insisted his sexual preference had no impact on his performance in the military, he was discharged as a result of the confession. Matlovich died from AIDS-related complications in 1988 at age 44.
9. A Gentleman Gunfighter’s Murderous Memorial
While driving through western Texas, you can visit the grave of a “gentleman gunfighter” in Pecos. Robert Clay Allison was famous in the Wild West for being a master shootist with a short temper and a fast finger. He killed at least 20 men by some accounts, and his epitaph doesn’t shy away from his bloody legacy. His headstone claims that he “never killed a man who didn't need killing.”
10. A Jedi Priest’s Star Wars Quote
Steven Ford loved the Star Wars movies enough to become first Jedi priest ordained in Utah. In 2008, he used the power invested in him by the Force to officiate his brother’s wedding, complete with a lightsaber holstered at his hip. His headstone in West Valley City, Utah’s Memorial Park highlights his real-life Jedi training with the Star Wars quote, “May the Force be with you—always.”
11. Emily Dickinson’s Brief Farewell
Emily Dickinson’s command over the English language made her one of the most significant poets of the 19th century. Instead of having full stanzas carved into her grave marker in Amherst, Massachusetts’s West Cemetery, she kept her epitaph brief. In addition to her name, birthdate, and date of death, the inscription simply reads, “Called back.” These also happen to be the last words she wrote in a letter to her cousins penned shortly before her death in 1886.