History

Seashells Cover These Victorian-Era Graves in This Hill Country Town, But Why?

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Comfort, Texas, is located in the middle of the Hill Country, about 200 miles from the Texas coast. So, why do you suppose this area would be home to gravesites adorned with seashells on many of its Victorian-era graves? Seashell-covered graves are fairly commonly found throughout the south on resting places from the late 1800s, prior to 1910. This peculiarity has perplexed visitors and locals alike for generations, and while there’s no definitive answer to this query, we do have several plausible theories.

Comfort Was Settled By ‘Freethinkers’

Comfort Cemetery

Photo: Facebook/Chuck Franz

These seashell covered graves in a local cemetery in Comfort are easy to spot. The graves are adorned with an impressive layer of cemented-on seashells, that traverse the length of the gravesite. In a historic, coastal community like Galveston, for instance, one probably wouldn’t bat an eye at this clever use of readily-available resources for decoration. However, the seashell graves in Comfort have intrigued many in this Hill Country community.

The community of Comfort was established in 1854 by German immigrants who were “freethinkers” and abolitionists. These freethinkers were advocates of democracy and freedom from religious tyranny. Interestingly enough, one of the theories as to why graves are covered in shells is because seashells are often thought to symbolize Christianity. Shells symbolize a Christian pilgrimage or a “crossing over,” as shells cross oceans in their lifetimes.

Protection From The Elements

seashells

Photo: Facebook/Laura Massirer Scott

Others speculate that the seashells served as protection for the graves. If you look closely at these seashell graves, you’ll notice that the shells are placed like shingles on the gravesite. Some posit that the addition of the shells helped to keep the graves from washing away during periods of heavy rain and flooding. Another idea is that these graves of white, Victorian-era people, were adorned with shells, borrowing a tradition from the slaves. To slaves, seashells represented their journey from their homeland in Africa. The shells held the promise of a final return to Africa, once they were deceased. As a result, shells were often scattered at a gravesite or a single shell was left on top of a headstone when a friend of family member went to visit a grave, as a reminder of their visit.

A By-Product of an Important Commodity

seashell graves

Photo: Facebook/Wade Peebles

Another interesting idea refers to the method by which people obtained salt during this time period. Seashells served as a byproduct of the salt refining process. In the 1800s, salt was scarce and very expensive. As a result, people would head to the Texas coast to boil down saltwater, rendering salt crystals to take home. People would often also take home a collection of seashells from the coast as souvenirs and for use as decoration in their homes. During this time, most people didn’t have the means for fancy headstones or grave markers, so seashells worked nicely to adorn, as well as to mark the graves of loved ones.

The tradition of decorating gravesites goes back eons. Whether it’s a matter of carefully choosing just the perfect objects or words chiseled on a headstone to represent the life of a loved one, or making do with what is available, the sentiment is the same. Adorning and lovingly caring for the graves of those close to us perhaps helps to heal and bridge the divide between the living and the dead.