Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Grace Hopper's Stone

Whenever I visit Washington D.C. I try to find time to go to Arlington Cemetery. I don't visit the famous graves. Instead I trudge along the main road to a point at the far corner overlooking the Pentagon, which is where my father is buried. Well, in-urned, actually, since he was not important enough for an actual burial. In the military, you carry your rank with you to the grave, literally.

It so happens that I pass by the grave of Grace Hopper on the way to the columbarium, and I always stop and pay my respects.

Arlington is nothing if not military. All of the headstones are identical (with a few famous exceptions), and no decoration is allowed. There are particular occasions on which you can leave flowers or flags (like Memorial Day), but the rest of the time it's just green grass and white headstones. So people have a habit of marking their presence by placing a small stone on top of the headstone. I find it to be very touching, a tiny bit of civil disobedience. I don't think I have ever been to Grace's grave when there wasn't a stone on it. To me it's a great reminder that others also visit her and care. So here is her current stone. And if you visit, please clean the bird crap off her headstone, and add a pebble if you can find one. (She's located at 59-973)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post - somehow I'd never heard of Grace Hopper before - just read the wikipedia article on her and am going to have to find a biography of her...

jrochkind said...

That stone on top of headstone thing is actually a Jewish tradition, even in cemeteries where you are allowed to decorate however you want. I'd imagine that's how it started at Arlington.

I'd go look up a wikipedia article on the Jewish stone thing to cite, but, hey, we're all librarians here, you can find a source yourself.

Karen Coyle said...

Thanks for the reminder to add a link to GH on wikipedia -- meant to do that but got distracted. As for the origins of the pebble on the headstone, according to Rabbi Tom Louchheim, "there is no clear answer" to what this custom means or how it got started. But I am grateful to the tradition the pioneered this practice!