Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Natalie Zaman, author of Magical Destinations of the Northeast.

One of my favorite sections of Magical Destinations of the Northeast is Magical Monuments. I’ve always loved cemeteries. They’re museums and gardens, historical records and ancestor altars on a grand scale. If you know where your ancestors are buried and can visit their last resting places you can make a special memento to honor them at Samhain (and all year round).

Gravestone rubbings are easy to make and require only a few materials. You’ll need:

  • Heavy paper on a roll, like butcher or mailing paper
  • Crayons (The fat ones are best or, fun this, make your own unique wax cakes by melting unwrapped crayon stubs in cupcake baking cups.)
  • Masking tape
  • Soft, wide paintbrush
  • Water only-dampened sponge
  • Soft cloth
  • Rubber bands or poster tube

Know Before You Go

Some cemeteries don’t allow gravestone rubbing. If you have any doubts, check with the cemetery office about any restrictions and rules. If the cemetery is on private property, you’ll need to get permission before going in. Never work with a gravestone that’s crumbling, damaged, or has lichens on it. Applying pressure to these stones may break them. Remember, rubbing gravestones is an outdoor activity, so dress for the weather. Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen, bug repellent, and a bottle of water—and bring a buddy. It’s always safer to travel in groups, and besides, it’s more fun.

Make A Good Impression

  • Dust off the stone with your paintbrush to remove any dirt and small rocks. Use the damp sponge to remove bird droppings, then dry the stone off with soft cloth. Never scrape a stone!
  • Unroll enough paper to cover the stone, plus enough to wrap around the edges to the back.
  • Center the paper over the stone, then use the masking tape to secure it.
  • Hold your crayon horizontally, and then firmly but gently rub it across the paper in the same direction, being careful not to press too hard. Take your time to go over the area as many times as you need to until all of the words and images are clearly visible.
  • When you’re finished, make sure to remove all the tape from the stone.
  • Remember to record names, dates, location, and the date the rubbing was made on the back of your paper before rolling it up.

Your gravestone rubbings are direct descendants of your ancestors’ last resting places, and so are direct connections to them. Bless them according to your tradition and place them on your ancestor altar or in a place of honor in your home. Ancestors are family, but they can also be friends and those we consider heroes—and cemeteries where they rest can be found in every state. Visit before you travel to discover the famous and familial who have passed beyond the veil.

Houdini Grave Rubbing

Natalie Zaman making a grave rubbing of Harry Houdini’s grave


Our thanks to Natalie for her guest post! For more from Natalie Zaman, read her article, “13 Sites to Celebrate Samhain in the Northeast USA.”

Written by Anna
Anna is the editor of Llewellyn's New Worlds of Body, Mind & Spirit, the Llewellyn Journal, and Llewellyn's monthly newsletters. She also blogs, tweets, and helps maintain Llewellyn's Facebook page. In her free time, Anna enjoys crossword puzzles, Jeopardy!, being a grammar geek, and spending time ...