A Dismal Epitaph

While browsing findagrave.com earlier, I came across one of the gloomiest epitaphs I have ever seen. The headstone belongs to Henry Beck (1842-1899). Beck was born in Germany and died in the United States. He was buried in Mayville Cemetery (originally called the IOOF Cemetery) located in Mayville, Oregon. Here is the epitaph:

Poorly born,
Poorly lived;
Poorly died;
And no one cried.


Image by Shellie Vonce

Not much is known about Beck’s life.

When I did some further research, I found an earlier epitaph similar to the one above, cited in Chamber’s Journal (February 20, 1869):

Poorly lived,
Poorly died,
Poorly buried,
And no one cried.

In addition, American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne in his Our Old Home (1863), which detailed his day to day life during his stay at Lennington Spa in Warwickshire, England as a US diplomat, related a story of him finding a depressing-looking gravestone:

While we rested ourselves on a horizontal monument, which was elevated just high enough to be a convenient seat, I observed that one of the gravestones lay very close to the church, — so close that the droppings of the eaves would fall upon it. It seemed as if the inmate of that grave had desired to creep under the church-wall. On closer inspection, we found an almost illegible epitaph on the stone, and with difficulty made out this forlorn verse: —

Poorly lived,
And poorly died,
Poorly buried,
And no one cried.

It would be hard to compress the story of a cold and luckless life, death, and burial into fewer words, or more impressive ones; at least, we found them impressive, perhaps because we had to re-create the inscription by scraping away the lichens from the faintly traced letters. The grave was on the shady and damp side of the church, endwise towards it, the head-stone being within about three feet of the foundation-wall; so that, unless the poor man was a dwarf, he must have been doubled up to fit him into his final resting-place. No wonder that his epitaph murmured against so poor a burial as this!

Hawthorne said that it’s almost impossible to read the inscriptions but as far as he can tell, the owner of the headstone is named John Treeo and he died in 1810 at the age of 74.

It makes me wonder whether the gravestone still exists today.  

  • Henry Beck (1842-1899)
  • Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, Fourth Series, No. 269, February 20, 1869.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (1863). Our Old Home




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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is edmarklaw@learnfunfacts.com

19 thoughts on “A Dismal Epitaph

  1. Great piece – got everyone thinking.
    This is an epitaph for a friend of mine who was a bit stuck for cash one day when I was with him.

    Here lies a man who never went far
    He couldn’t put petrol in his car.


  2. Poverty in life and death!

    A poem by Stephen Crane:

    Behold, the grave of a wicked man,
    And near it, a stern spirit.
    There came a drooping maid with violets,
    But the spirit grasped her arm.
    “No flowers for him,” he said.
    The maid wept:
    “Ah, I loved him.”
    But the spirit, grim and frowning:
    “No flowers for him.”

    Now, this is it —
    If the spirit was just,
    Why did the maid weep?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. But — who would go to the trouble of creating such a stone, if there was no care for the man? Flipping the coin, who’s to say the epitaph isn’t the work of man himself, prepared before his death for reasons only he could know?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think that It takes a cold-hearted person to do something like that or perhaps someone with a twisted sense of humor.

      Indeed, I have also considered the possibility that he himself may have written the epitaph beforehand as there are people who do that.

      Liked by 1 person

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