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The Iconography of Hands

As with all iconography in a burial ground, when hands are engraved on a tombstone, they have a special meaning. There are a few examples of hand iconography among the memorials of Old Parish Cemetery. Each has their own message to tell.


Charles Hensel (1823-1862)                                                          Lot 184

Charles Hensel was born on February 16, 1823 in Germany. He emigrated to America and on November 2, 1856, he married Mary Miller, also a German immigrant. A varnisher by trade, Hensel became a United States citizen in October of 1860. On April 28, 1862, Charles and Mary Hensel had a daughter, Mary Emma Hensel. Charles Hensel died on December 1, 1862 of tuberculosis. He was 39. His widow left South Dedham and remarried. The substantial marble gravestone erected in Charles Hensel’s memory has been damaged significantly by vandals. The top portion was found in three pieces and another section is missing making it difficult to remount on the lower portion and base. Volunteers are working to restore the gravestone.

The hand engraved on Hensel’s stone is pointing up. The message conveyed to the passer-by is that the deceased has gone to heaven, with the star representing heaven. The image also encourages the viewer to look up.

 Nancy Morse Chamberlain (1815-1848)                      Lot 92

Nancy Morse was born in Canton, the daughter of Samuel and Nancy Gay Morse of Stoughton. She married Isaac Ellis Chamberlain around 1835. The couple had two children: Nancy Maria, born in 1838, and Samuel, born in 1845. The Chamberlains owned and worked a farm in South Dedham. Nancy Morse Chamberlain died on June 5, 1848 of an infection. She was 33. Isaac did not remarry; he died on May 9, 1871 at the age of 73.

Nancy Chamberlain’s gravestone depicts a hand reaching down from above. This represents mortality or sudden death; God reaching down a hand to bring the deceased up to heaven. In addition, a chain is visible; its broken link symbolizing the person’s departure from the chain of life.                              

 Rev. Thomas Wait Tucker (1791-1871)               Lot 68; Highland Lot 226

David Sylvester Fogg was born in New Hampshire in 1821, and was educated at Dartmouth College and Medical School. In 1846, he settled in South Dedham to practice. In 1847 he married Mary Bagnell Tucker, the youngest daughter of Rev. Thomas Wait Tucker, a Methodist minister then stationed in Dorchester.

Thomas Wait Tucker was born on April 22, 1791, was ordained at the age of 21 and served throughout New England. He and his wife, Mary, came to South Dedham around 1850. On October 19, 1865, Mary Orn Tucker died. She was interred in Old Parish Cemetery in a lot purchased by her son-in-law Dr. David S. Fogg. Rev. Thomas Wait Tucker passed away on August 6, 1871. He too was buried in Old Parish. After Highland Cemetery was established, Dr. Fogg purchased lot 226 in that burial ground, and removed the Tuckers and their memorial stones from Old Parish. In need of cleaning, repair, and resetting, they now stand next to the Fogg memorial in Highland.

Similar to the gravestone art on the memorial to Charles Hensel, Rev. Tucker’s stone is etched with a hand pointing upward toward heaven, indicative of the reward garnered by the righteous and a confirmation of life after death.


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