Gravestones are meant to live on long after the person they represent has passed. It’s important to make sure they’re both well-deserved celebrations of life and completely accurate, since correcting these stones can be an arduous and expensive process. In honor of “Plan Your Epitaph Day,” which took place yesterday, here are six famous examples of epitaphs with grave spelling or grammatical errors.
William Gaddis, Writer
For a celebrated author, grammatical or spelling mistakes can be the kiss of death. That’s why it’s both perplexing and unfortunate that the gravestone of renowned author William Gaddis, two-time winner of the National Book Award, includes a spelling error. Gaddis’ epitaph includes not only his birth and death dates, but also an excerpt from his first published novel, The Recognitions. Unfortunately, the engraver misspelled the novel’s title as The Recongnitions. Many suspect that the author’s family members may have overlooked the mistake in this familiar title.
Ed Koch, Politician
Like many men who want to retain control over their legacy, Politician Ed Koch designed his own gravestone. The only pieces of information that the one-time mayor of New York City left out of the final design were the dates. While the finished product included a correct death date, the engraver transposed the numbers within Koch’s birth date. Instead of December 12, 1924, his epitaph reads 1942, shaving about 20 years off his life.
Zora Neale Hurston, Writer
Though she is a beloved writer today, Zora Neale Hurston was originally buried in an unmarked grave. When this misfortune was discovered, and her resting place was moved to a more prestigious burial ground, the engraver unceremoniously misspelled her middle name. Admirer and fellow writer, Alice Walker, arranged for the tombstone to be corrected to read “Neale” instead of “Neil.”
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Writer
When celebrated writer Isaac Bashevis Singer died, his wife included the title “Noble laureate” in his epitaph. While Singer may have been noble, he actually won the 1978 Nobel Prize for literature. When family members brought the error to his wife’s attention, she requested that the epitaph remain unchanged. It wasn’t until many months later that a new gravestone corrected both Singer’s title and his misspelled middle name.
Stephen Hemlin, Family Man
While the blame for grammatical epitaph errors often lies with grieving and distracted family members, some are clearly the fault of the engraver. The family of British family man Stephen Hemlin designed a gravestone with a customized epitaph, only to find that the engraver inserted both a grammatical error and additional language. Instead of the family’s desired and correct phrase, “too dearly loved,” the epitaph unfortunately read as the cringe-worthy phrase, “to dearly loved to be forgotten.”
Elvis Presley, Crooner
Fascination and intrigue perpetually surround Elvis Presley’s life and legacy, and his gravestone is no exception. While there’s no argument about the spelling of the singer’s first and last names, his middle name has a history of confusion and botched official documents. Presley’s parents intended for his middle name to be spelled “Aron,” which is how his name appears on his birth certificate.
Later in life, Presley attempted to change the official spelling to the more familiar “Aaron,” only to find that poorly handled documents already listed his name that way. When he passed away, Presley’s father made sure that the name was spelled the way his son intended: “Aaron.” Though this story continues to baffle diehard Elvis fans, rest assured that this apparent spelling mistake is actually correct.
Despite unhappy mistakes, these stories can teach us an important lesson. Even when you’re distraught at the loss of a loved one, be sure to edit thoroughly before finalizing an epitaph. Have you seen any poignant or ironic gravestone errors?