The town of Luray (loo-ray’), Virginia, lies in the Shenandoah Valley between two ranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You may know it for its tourist-trap caverns or Zoo (figure 0).
I have recently come to know it better for the fantastically interesting Beahm’s Chapel Cemetery.
In it is the monument (figures 1, 2) of Patrick Thomas Carothers, a U.S. Marshal sadly killed in the line of duty at the age of 53 in 2016. He was born in the same year I was, a month later, on the 63rd anniversary of my grandmother’s birth. His widow, Terry, who erected this husband-wife monument, is also commemorated on it.
As you approach the monument it frantically emits a multitude of signs and signifiers. They tell us Terry’s story about herself, principally through the two things she appears to have thought defined her life, her marriage and religion. Why frantic? Because, I think, she was trying to stabilize a life suddenly overturned. If we detect some self-congratulation, this seems meant to affirm her value when it is no longer sustained by the traditional, very visible buttress of marriage. Luray is, after all, a very traditional place. Her appeal to religion makes sense as a method of dealing with suffering: as a “devoted servant of God” she can accept his will and thus offload a portion of grief onto the (again) traditional framework of religion.
On the front (figure 1) in large letters across the lintel is the surname CAROTHERS. The couple’s names, each dropped the same distance from the lintel, are in the standard places for a husband-wife monument. The single first name of each is in large type and these stand over their middle names in a smaller font. Below those is incised the standard anagraphic data; hers happily lacking a terminus. This much, in gray granite, would have satisfied almost everyone who put up a tombstone between about 1930 and 1990. Terry, however, saw the vast expanses of black stone as a challenge.
As her marriage (and the family that grew from it) was seemingly central to her life, so too is it central to this monument. On the front we see a picture from happy times, a family wedding. Pat is on the left in a tuxedo, Terry center-right in yellow. Above the photo rises the White Tree of Gondor doing duty here as a family tree. On the trunk within a carved heart, is “Pat + Terry.” Up from the trunk rise vine-like branches with ivy leaves giving the names of their five children. In the photograph I can only make out 4 children, three of the 4 boys and what I suppose is their daughter Jessica on the far left. I don’t know them, of course; I can only infer the relationships from a distinctive shape of the face inherited from Pat.
Terry repeatedly affirms Pat through his professional achievements on the front, as though she draws sustenance from them. There are five different insignia and what look like three photographs of presentations and a medal. He is identified as “Deputy Commander, U.S. Marshals Service.” Above his name, fittingly for a man killed in service, reads “AN AMERICAN HERO LIES HERE” over a flapping American flag.
Terry has made fewer claims specifically for herself. Where he is listed as a Deputy Commander, she boasts the title of ‘couturier,’ i.e., a maker of bespoke clothing; and opposite “An American Hero lies here” her she is commemorated as a “FAITHFUL SERVANT OF GOD.”
Centered on the lintel, just above the surname, is the abbreviation “PTL!!!” (“Praise the Lord”) in small letters. Below, on the base, runs Matthew 5:9, “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS FOR THEY SHALL BE CALLED THE CHILDREN OF GOD.”
Turning to the rear, the prominent declaration “MARRIED 30 YEARS” corresponds in position and emphasis to the surname on the front. Again central, however, is a picture of Terry and Pat from the day of the wedding depicted on the other side. This picture is framed in a heart. On his side of the stone are the following declarations, with trademark exclamation points:
DEPUTY COMMANDER, PAT CAROTHERS,
WAS A DEVOTED HUSBAND & FATHER.
HE DIED WHILE PROTECTING HIS
BROTHERS OF BLUE AND THE CITIZENS
OF THIS GREAT NATION WHILE
ATTEMPTING TO ARREST A DANGEROUS
FUGITIVE NEAR SAVANNAH, GEORGIA.
HE WAS A GREAT LEADER WHO
LED FROM THE FRONT!!!
HE WAS NEVER ASHAMED TO
TRADE A HANDSHAKE FOR A HUG!!
LOVED BY MANY!!!
Below the picture are two symbols pertaining to his work as a marshal (one is an image of a badge), as well as a football. Under the football in small type is the further declaration “PAT BELIEVED FOOTBALL WAS GOD’S GIFT TO MAN!!!”
On her side, Terry claims that she has been a “DEVOTED WIFE AND MOTHER.” What is left are religious declarations or biblical quotations: “LOVE NEVER FAILS” (1 Corinthians 13), an image of a bible, and the adapted Pauline quotation “SHE RAN THE RACE AND SHE KEPT THE COURSE. SHE WAS ONE WITH GOD” (2 Timothy 4:7). Finally, below, is incised John 15:13, “GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS, THAT A MAN LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS.” This, of course, reflects his death “protecting his brothers of blue.”
The attentive reader will note the repeated and emphatic presence of the concept of love on this side: implicit in the 30-year marriage, symbolically explicit in the heart-shaped picture frame, and explicit in the quotations from 1 Corinthians and John 15:13 and in the declaration that Pat was “loved by many.”
Coming back to the front, we note the presence of grave offerings: two American flags, a bouquet of artificial flowers in yellow, the color of Terry’s dress in the photographs, and a football. Fully unfurled is the “Thin Blue Line” flag, which is a statement of support for the police viewed as a barrier between civilization and chaos. Its use is not without controversy. The ‘thin line’ concept stems from the designation of the Highland Brigade at Balaclava as The Thin Red Line in 1854 and immortalized by Robert Gibb’s 1881 painting (figure 3).
I’ll conclude by noting that the monument has a fairly classical design with a lintel supported by two columns standing on a stepped base. Between the columns, like a screen, rises a slab which offers a surface for most of the texts and visuals on the monument. Examples of the type are easy to find; I reproduce images of the Jones monument (figure 4) in Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, NC, and the Martin monument (figure 5) in Mt. Hebron Cemetery, which is a little north of Luray in Winchester, VA.
The black polished stone is striking, though it loses some of that because there are many, many other monuments in the same material nearby in this cemetery.
Still, as in many other polished black monuments, photographs or other digitized images or texts have been cut into the stone, the incisions colored to offer a high-contrast, easily legible presentation. It’s certainly a very modern look, but also much in keeping with the desire of commemorators ancient and modern to lure the passerby over to have a look. This monument goes the extra mile by having grimly machine-made light gray columns. We do not live in an age which produces elegant classical monuments, I’m afraid. You can read what I have to say about modern attempts at classical ornamentation here.