Grave Money: Why do some tombstones have coins on them?

We’re the type of family that picks up loose change…even during a pandemic. On a recent trip to a graveyard, my son spotted some coins sitting on a tombstone, and he thought we should grab them.

I told him to leave it there because those coins were not lost and, in fact, had a special significance.

Some sources indicate that a coin left on a headstone lets the family of a deceased soldier know that somebody stopped by to pay their respects. A penny means a person visited. A nickel means that you and the deceased soldier trained at boot camp together. A dime indicates that you served with the soldier. A quarter means that you were there when that soldier was killed.

The tradition actually extends far beyond deceased members of the military. Visitors of all kinds leave these small tokens regardless of their background to indicate that someone has visited that particular grave military or not. Simply put, a coin left on a headstone is a symbol of remembrance and respect. A way of telling all who pass by that the person buried there was loved and remembered.

Leaving money with the deceased is hardly a new idea. When people died in ancient Greece, coins were placed inside the mouth or over the eyes during burial. The belief was that when people died, their souls went to the underworld, known as Hades. The deceased need to cross the river Styx. The only way across was to be ferried by an underworld spirit known as Charon. Like any self-respecting capitalist, Charon charged a fee for his services.

Charon, the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.

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If you are curious what’s the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery, click here.

One thought on “Grave Money: Why do some tombstones have coins on them?

  1. In Jewish cemeteries, you will see pebbles on the tombstones. There are a number of explanations for this tradition. This tradition can be observed in the Beth El Cemetery north of Lititz.

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