Meanings, Memorials, and Honored Traditions in Cemeteries

December 5, 2023

By Marquise Drayton, Community Engagement Assistant for the Cemetery Project

This post is part of the December 2023 newsletter.

Woodland Cemetery at Clemson University will be approaching its centennial year in 2024. Catalyzed by the death of a university president in 1924, “Cemetery Hill” was its original name for the Andrew Pickens Calhoun Family plot.¹ So why is it called “Woodland?” By definition, a woodland cemetery is a burial ground built more by its natural aesthetic in woods, trees, and forests than mausoleums, tombstones, and other monuments. ² Long-leaf pine and oak trees dominate the landscape of the campus cemetery. If these trees could talk, they would tell a story of how the football stadium, parking lots, and burial ground came to be. It is still an active cemetery, with many notable names throughout Clemson history buried there.

A weathering beautyberry limb sticking out near the entrance of the campus cemetery as the season changes. Photograph by Marquise Drayton.

Upon entering, visitors can see beautyberry bushes behind the granite wall entrance. The purple plant suits Clemson University colors³ and what the color represents as royalty in many cultures.⁴ Greenery grinds the ground of the granite signage as “WOODLAND CEMETERY” stands out as one around the cul de sac loop at the Williamson Road entrance. Within the cemetery are white flags with colorful ribbons that mark the sites of the unmarked burials of Black people from different generations, orange and purple flowers that adorn the graves of white Clemson employees, and a gated area that is the Andrew Pickens Calhoun Family Plot.

To the left of the campus cemetery entrance lies the remnants of the Camellia Test Garden. During the 1953 Clemson faculty senate meeting, there were attempts to rename the camellia garden after Judge Crawford, an African American who was the primary gardener for Clemson College in the early 1900s.⁵ The flower became an early basis for the South Carolina Botanical Garden (SCBG) in Clemson, South Carolina.⁶

The African American Burial Ground, Andrew Pickens Calhoun Family Plot, and Woodland Cemetery at Clemson University
The African American Burial Ground, Andrew Pickens Calhoun Family Plot, and Woodland Cemetery at Clemson University

As we invite guests back into the campus burial ground, we want to clarify that there are three cemeteries: the African American Burial Ground, Andrew Pickens Calhoun Family Plot, and Woodland Cemetery. With this in mind, I would like to review a few honorific traditions in other cultures similar to this intergenerational and interracial sacred space.

Around the holidays, visitors can see wreaths placed upon tombstones at many cemeteries, mainly where veterans lie. Every mid-December, Wreaths Across America (WAA) honors those who died in the armed forces.⁷ Their tradition began in December 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery.⁸ A wreath-making family-owned business donated leftover decorations to the notable cemetery.

Stones placed on markers at graveyards began from many Jewish communities for religious reasons.⁹ However, it also symbolizes a stone’s unchanging state instead of flowers when visited by a loved one.¹⁰ In addition, items associated with a person’s life may also be there in place of a stone.

Leaving coins on a headstone has ties to ancient times in Rome, metaphorically meaning payment to pass over into the afterlife properly.¹¹ It is more known now for military burials, with different coins to communicate its connotation.¹²

A grave blanket is typically a flower bed on a person’s tomb above ground.¹³ They usually are in cemeteries with colder climates, thus connotatively keeping the deceased warm.¹⁴ In my visits to various cemeteries, I have seen some decorated with colorful flora. But in some cases, I have witnessed elaborate mural illustrations of the deceased person’s casket.

We are delighted that the public will be able to see the different architectural improvements, accessibility upgrades, and interpretative programming coming to the campus cemetery in 2024.


1) Clemson Board of Trustees, Trustees Minutes, July 4-5, 1922,; Clemson Board of Trustees, Trustee Minutes, July 10, 1924,
2) Morgan, Matt. “Everything You Need to Know about Woodland Burials.” Farewill. Farewill Ltd, n.d.
3) Clemson University. “Web Style Guide: Colors.”
4) Miranda, Carolina. “In the Wake of Prince’s Death, a Very Short History of the Color Purple.” Los Angeles Times. California Times, April 23, 2016.
5) Buildings and Grounds Report, February 3, 1953, Faculty Senate Meeting Minutes, 1952-1953,
6) Brian Scott, “The Camellia Garden Historical Marker,” June 16, 2016, Historical Marker Database,
7) Wreaths Across America. “Our Mission.”
8) Ibid.
9) Milano, Alicia. “Why Do People Put Stones On Graves? Here Are 5 Reasons.” Milano Monuments. Milano Monuments, LLC., June 21, 2022.
10) Ibid.
11) Wounded Warrior Project. “The Meaning Behind Coins on Military Graves.”
12) Ibid.
13) Kirk, Julie. “All About Grave Blankets and Where to Find Them.” Love To Know. LoveToKnow Media, January 4, 2019.,holiday%2Dthemed%20ribbons%20or%20flowers.
14) ibid.