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Sudden & Awful: American Epitaphs and the Finger of God

I found this delightful little book on the Vermont shelf at my local library which is otherwise stuffed full of mysteries and other lite fare that don’t interest me much. It’s a non-scientific collection of tombstone epitaphs from the US, covering roughly 1750-1900. The authors were inspired to write this book when they noticed how often the phrase “sudden and awful” used to appear describing frontier deaths, and how rarely it appears now, despite death likely not being any less awful, or sudden. They split the epitaphs up into categories like “died in transit” "drowning" “in the name of justice” and after brief chapter categories, mostly let the tombstones speak for themselves. There are short bits of commentary where they explain that one of the reasons the murderer’s name no longer appears on gravestones is because of a series of early lawsuits, and how current mass media makes the sensationalizing of deaths via their grave’s inscriptions no longer quite as necessary.

Sudden and awful was the sight
To see the horses take a fright
Thrown from the carriage to the ground
Breathing her last when she was found.