If You See Coins Placed On Gravestones, Don’t Pick Them Up

Touching tributes to the lost are all around you at a cemetery. Bunches of flowers are lovingly placed on gravestones, as are trinkets with true sentimental value. Then, of course, on the stones themselves, there are written testaments to the lives of those who have passed away. But next time you find yourself at a burial ground, see if a glinting object catches your eye. As you get closer, you’ll probably notice that this is in fact a shiny coin. And it’s there for a truly poignant reason.

So, where can you find these coins on the gravestones? Are they easy to see? Well, in most cases, the money is placed on top of the stones. And while this may look odd, it’s actually a pretty widespread practice – one that takes place in many cemeteries across the United States. That’s not all, either.

If you take a closer look at those tombstones, you’ll likely spot a variety of coins of different financial value. There could be a mix of dimes or pennies, for instance, resting on the edge of the grave marker. Seems pretty arbitary, right? It’s almost like someone just emptied their pockets.

But it’s not a random assortment of money, actually. You see, the different coins have very particular meanings to those who leave them behind at the cemetery. And when you know a little more about the significance behind this tradition, you’ll probably never look at a quarter the same way again.

Mind you, coins naturally aren’t the only things you’ll spot in a graveyard. As you stroll around, you’re sure to notice other objects sitting around the grassy plots and the stones that memorialize the dead. And while at first glance these may appear to be mere decorations – perhaps ones that provide some comfort for mourners – that’s not always the case.

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So, what do they all mean? Well, let’s begin with arguably the most traditional memento left next to tombstones. We’re referring to flowers, of course. Blooms are a beautiful way of honoring a loved one and can also serve to brighten up a plot. But what kick-started this practice? When did it become a thing?

Well, that tradition goes all the way back to ancient times, when the people of Greece were looking to honor their dead soldiers. In a custom known as “zoai,” flowers were laid around a plot, and the mourners then kept watch over them. Nice touch.

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It was essentially a waiting game from there. If the plants opened up and bloomed on the burial site, it was thought that the person’s spirit had reached some sort of contentment in the afterlife. It’s not quite as simple as leaving a coin on a gravestone, but the Greeks seemed to swear by it.

Anyway, the Romans adopted the tradition, too – although its meaning was a little different. Instead of using flowers as a spiritual signal, these ancient people saw them as gifts with which they could appease their deceased loved ones. Why’s that? Well, they were of the opinion that human souls lingered near their burial plots after death.

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So, flowers and other keepsakes were left in the area. And the blooms may have played an additional – if rather less appetizing – role as well, making the air smell a little sweeter during the decomposition process. Yuck. But there’s something else we should tell you. You see, there’s evidence that perhaps flower-laying goes back even further than Greek and Roman times.

Yes, in 2010 a discovery was made that suggested Spanish people have been placing flowers at gravesites since the Upper Palaeolithic age. Wow! Preserved pollen was found inside a crypt within El Mirón Cave, which is located in Cantabria. And these botanical remnants were found to be at least 16,000 years old. No, that’s not a typo.

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Just how significant is this development? Well, one researcher from the University of the Basque Country can tell us. María José Iriarte-Chiapusso knows her stuff when it comes to the discipline of paleobotany. And along with fellow researchers Alvaro Arrizabalaga and Gloria Cuenca-Bescós, she has written an academic paper on the find.

Iriarte-Chiapusso said of the people who once existed in that part of Spain, “They put whole flowers on the tomb. But it has not been possible to say whether the aim of placing plants was to do with a ritual offering for the dead person or whether it was for a simpler purpose – like, for example, to ward off the bad smells associated with the burial.”

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Iriarte-Chiapusso and her colleagues were able to identify the color of the flora, too. She went on, “With their small, generally white or yellowish flowers, we would not regard them as colorful plants today.” But even if the greenery wasn’t the best-looking in the world, it’s still impressive that we can know so much about a practice from thousands of years ago.

It’s fair to say, too, that the custom has been around for a very long time. But, curiously enough, it apparently didn’t start to take shape in the United States until after the conclusion of the Civil War. That’s according to history expert Jay Winik, who has claimed that Abraham Lincoln’s death was the catalyst.

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Winik wrote, “Searching for some way to express their grief [for Lincoln], countless Americans gravitated to bouquets of flowers. Lilacs, roses and orange blossoms – anything which was in bloom across the land. Thus was born a new tradition: laying flowers at a funeral.”

So from that, Decoration Day was born in 1868 – although you may better know the occasion as Memorial Day. But flowers don’t just adorn the gravestones of those who’ve died serving their country. They’re found on the burial plots of others, too, after they’ve passed away. As Winik said, it became tradition.

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Does your choice of flowers mean anything, though? Yes, in a similar way to the coins placed on gravestones, different varieties of blooms have their own distinct messages. So, you may want to be a touch more mindful of the bouquets you pick up before heading to the cemetery.

Camellia flowers, for instance, are supposed to denote affection towards the deceased. That’s apparently also the case with carnations and red roses. Daffodils, on the other hand, convey “rebirth and hope,” according to a 2019 article by Southern Living magazine. And this makes sense when you remember that these yellow flowers typically pop up in spring.

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Yet you won’t just find flowers around gravesites. There’s a very good chance that you’ll spot a few pebbles on the headstones, too. But is there a deeper reason for their presence beyond just mere decoration? Of course.

And this practice again has its roots in ancient times. In the distant past, stones were used to shield dead bodies from any roaming animals. They also served as proto-tombstones, signaling where certain people had been laid to rest. These arrangements are usually referred to as cairns.

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So, why do the stones keep cropping up now? Simply put, some folks want to maintain the routine that their ancestors employed to honor the dead. And each pebble left on a plot apparently represents a single individual who’s dropped by to say hello. That may explain why certain tombstones are littered with tiny rocks. Even in death, these people are still popular.

But by now, you’ve probably got one question in mind: what eventually happens to all this stuff? Well, cemetery custodians are known to clear the pebbles off the gravestones after a while, although they don’t actually throw them away. Instead, the stones are dropped close to their respective plots.

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And bouquets of flowers obviously start to fade away after a while – which can’t really be helped. When that happens, the custodians have to get rid of them. Any flora planted at a gravesite, however, can be looked after by the person who added them to the plot.

But what about the coins? Are they removed at some point? Well, unless you’ve been told otherwise, take this advice on board for future trips to the cemetery. Simply put: never touch the coins. Those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters are important both to the deceased and the person who placed them on the tombstone.

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Why? The coins are usually put on the gravestones of those who were part of the U.S. military, as it’s seen as a way to commemorate a fallen serviceperson’s life. Plus, as we previously mentioned, the different denominations of currency have their own special messages to be deciphered by those in the know.

Reportedly, a penny signals that someone outside the military has come to pay their respects to the soldier. It’s just a nice way to inform their loved ones that a passer-by dropped in. As the monetary value goes up, though, the meanings become a lot more personal.

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For instance, if you leave a nickel on the tombstone, that indicates you went to boot camp with the deceased. The connection becomes even tighter with a dime, as that coin says that you were in the same regiment. But quarters have undoubtedly the most poignant meaning of them all.

If you drop that coin off at the cemetery, it means that you were present when the soldier lost their life. We can only imagine how emotional a relative could get upon seeing a quarter at the burial plot. But now you know why the coins are left there, you may be curious as to how the tradition all started.

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The truth? We don’t know for sure, but one theory continues to prevail. Apparently, the custom began in the United States while the Vietnam War was raging. Lest we forget, more than 58,000 American troops died over the course of that 11-year conflict.

And that war, as we know, provoked many protests throughout the 1960s and 1970s. It was largely an unpopular conflict – even among some of those who had served. So, if you wanted to talk about a fallen brother, there was a chance that things could take an unwanted turn. According to a 2015 article by the Wadena Pioneer Journal, that’s where the coins came in.

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The simple gesture of adding a nickel, dime or quarter to a graveside both acted as a way of remembering the dead and eliminated the potential of getting into a fierce debate. But the Wadena Pioneer Journal claims that the coins didn’t just crop up for that reason. In some cases, they were left as what the newspaper calls a “down payment.”

Touchingly, the money was seen as a way for vets to buy drinks for their deceased friends once they had also passed on – or, in other words, when they were reunited together in the afterlife. How lovely! And here’s hoping God’s bar is worth the wait. Still, there’s something else to keep in mind. The connection between coins and death didn’t just emerge during the Vietnam War.

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Roman soldiers received a similar honor when they died in ancient times, according to the Wadena Pioneer Journal. And it’s worth noting that the practice hasn’t solely been reserved for fallen servicemen and women. Some families have wanted to put change on all of the burial sites belonging to their nearest and dearest. That could be all down to Greek mythology.

If you’ve forgotten a lot since you left school, we’ll clear things up for you. The ancient Greeks believed that Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, had a boatman named Charon. Charon’s job was to take the spirits of the dead into the Underworld, and to get there he traveled along the fabled River Styx. But like other modes of public transport, the journey wasn’t free.

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Yes, Charon needed coins from the deceased to grant them passage. And in ancient times, the money required was either put on the eyes of a dead person or in their mouth. Without the cash, the boatman would reject the spirit and leave them stranded on the River Styx for a century. Yikes!

Given the consequences, some didn’t want to take a chance, so they left coins for their loved ones just in case. Pretty interesting, right? And that’s not all. The Wadena Pioneer Journal has claimed, you see, that a family with the nickname the “Black Donnellys” also helped popularize the practice.

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This infamous clan ran roughshod in Ontario, Canada, after leaving Ireland in the 19th century. Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that five of the Donnellys were murdered in 1880. And once these family members were buried, it was said that you should drop a coin onto their plot and make a wish. If the legend is to be believed, your desire was eventually fulfilled, too.

So, other people believed that the same thing would happen with their own relatives – meaning, of course, that they put down coins and hoped for the best. And while the reasons behind the custom may have changed in the decades since, you’ll still see the coins on headstones. A lot of them are placed on one particular occasion, too.

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Understandably, it’s on Memorial Day that many folks pay their respects to the fallen by adding their pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters to plots. And, in time, the coins are gathered up by the cemetery’s custodian to cover the costs of maintenance – from cutting the grass to cleaning the tombstones. The thoughtful gesture goes a long way.

But what if you’re out for an evening stroll around the neighborhood and suddenly spot a green light radiating from somebody’s porch? It’s bright and eye-catching, but it’s not related to Christmas. Neither is it anything to do with Halloween. What gives? Well, the reason why people have decided to illuminate their houses in this color is truly poignant. In fact, it may even just leave you with a tear in your eye.

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It’s fair to say, then, that green isn’t the most obvious choice of color with which to illuminate your home. And if you spotted a property being bathed in verdant light, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ghoulish hue was trying to draw in trick-or-treaters. However, as previously mentioned, you’d be mistaken.

Since 2015, you see, a campaign has been trying to attach a special meaning to the green light. More specifically, the aim is to use the color as a way of showing support to a certain section of society. And people are actively encouraged to display green lights on their porches and to try and convince their friends and family to do the same.

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An extract from a website that was set up to promote the green light campaign informs readers about how they can get involved, too. Yes, it urges people to “Change one light in a visible location in [their] home or office to green.” It then encourages individuals to keep the emerald light switched on every day – for a full 24 hours.

What’s more, as well as asking people to display the correctly-colored lamp, those behind the campaign also want participants to spread the word about what they are doing. Their website reads, “Inspire others to join the cause by taking a picture of your green light and sharing it on social media.” Another extract then asks people to log their efforts on maps, and this allows them to see both how many people are getting involved and how far the participation is spreading across the country.

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As it turns out, then, the idea has seemingly caught on. And many people have got involved over the years, deciding to illuminate green lights of all shapes and sizes on the front of their properties. Some folk kept their displays subtle, with one emerald-colored lantern. But others went the whole hog, lighting up their whole houses in the grassy hue.

And as the campaign grew, participants shared photos of their efforts on social media. Many of the images wound up on a dedicated Facebook page, which, as of November 2019, boasted over 27,000 likes. Meanwhile, the map depicting the whereabouts of the green lights showed more than nine million “online acts of support” from around the United States.

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Of course, the green light campaign isn’t the first time that an organization had harnessed the power of social media to raise awareness of a worthy cause. That’s right, in recent years a number of charity movements have achieved viral fame. All they had to do, you see, was capture the imagination of the general public and inspire them to get involved.

One such viral moment was the Ice Bucket Challenge from back in 2014, and as you may remember, it took the internet by storm. As its name suggests, the activity required participants to douse themselves with a bucket of icy water while being filmed. And following their soaking, they would post the video to social media and nominate others to take the plunge.

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But what was the purpose of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Well, it was meant to raise awareness of ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The activity started to get some widespread coverage in July 2014, and it had soon earned viral status. In fact, during September 2014 alone, a whopping 17 million ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos were shared on Facebook.

The campaign proved so popular that it attracted a number of high-profile participants. That’s right, celebrities such as Jimmy Fallon, Lady Gaga and Oprah Winfrey all completed the Ice Bucket Challenge – as did former U.S. president George W. Bush. The president at the time, Barack Obama, was also nominated. And despite ultimately deciding not to take part, he did end up donating $100 towards the cause.

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The success of the Ice Bucket Challenge was notably good news for a variety of Lou Gehrig’s disease charities, too. The ALS Association, for example, received donations totaling $115 million over just eight weeks in 2014. Furthermore, the majority of the money raised went towards funding research into the neurological disease.

Given the good that the campaign had done, the ALS Association was eager to replicate its success the following year. But the campaign sadly didn’t catch on for a second time. In 2017 Brian Frederick, executive vice president of communications and development for the ALS Association, told Mashable, “I think we learned you can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice.”

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However, one non-profit campaign that’s managed to tick over year after year is Movember. The movement was founded back in 2003 by friends Luke Slattery and Travis Garone in Melbourne, Australia. At first, these two men had much simpler ambitions; they merely wanted to bring the mustache back into the public eye.

But Slattery and Garone had a brainwave when they decided to make the humble ’tache a symbol of awareness for men’s health. In particular, the Movember campaign was designed to shine a light on male cancers and mental wellness. And as is self-explanatory, all participants had to do was raise money by sporting a mustache throughout the month of November.

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Since its launch, Movember has reportedly managed to keep growing annually. In its first year, for example, just 30 people took part. But in the following year, this number increased dramatically, seeing 480 people raise over $40,000 towards men’s health initiatives. And in 2010 over a million participants reportedly took part in Movember in 11 different countries.

Like the Ice Bucket Challenge, Movember has also attracted celebrity supporters over the years. These include the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Chris Hemsworth and David Beckham – all of whom proudly promoted the campaign on their own faces. And with the help of social media, they could encourage even more people to get involved.

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Another viral charity campaign that received celebrity backing was the #NoMakeUpSelfie movement in aid of Cancer Research. This trend initially started out in the U.K., but it soon attracted some of Hollywood’s most famous faces. And they were more than willing to bare all in order to raise awareness of the cause.

Among the women to get involved in the #NoMakeUpSelfie campaign were celebrities such as Rihanna, Beyoncé and Cara Delevingne. They, like hundreds of others, took to social media to share a photograph of themselves in all their natural glory. And thanks to the awareness that was raised, the U.K. charity Cancer Research received millions in donations.

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Following the success of the #NoMakeUpSelfie trend in 2014, Harpal Kumar – the chief executive of Cancer Research U.K. – issued a statement to the Press Association. In it, he talked about the group’s astonishment at how much the public backed the initiative. He said, “We have been overwhelmed by the support people have been showing us through the #nomakeupselfie trend.”

Kumar continued, “We don’t receive any government funding for our research. And so it is phenomenal to think that the generosity of the public is enabling us to fund critical research that we didn’t have the money for six days ago… It has been an exciting week, and we would just like to thank everyone again for their support.”

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Part of the beauty of viral, non-profit campaigns is that they can restore our collective confidence in human kindness. If timed correctly, they can give society something to feel good about when current affairs stories seem to address somewhat depressing topics. And the green light campaign is by no means any different.

Like the Ice Bucket Challenge and Movemeber before it, the green light movement relies on the goodwill of everyday people. It encourages individuals to take inspiration from their friends, families and neighbors to get involved and share their efforts online. That way, they can join the viral revolution and raise the profile of a good cause.

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But what exactly is the green light movement in aid of? Well, to give it its proper name, the Green Light a Vet campaign aims to raise awareness of veterans and show appreciation for the sacrifices that they make for their country. And as you may have already guessed, all people have to do to get involved is change the color of one of their bulbs.

The organizers of the Green Light a Vet campaign even includes entities such as the retail chain Walmart. The initiative as a whole, you see, wants to create a clear symbol to military personal that their service is highly valued. So, neighborhoods can show their appreciation without saying a word; they simply have to flick a switch.

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The Green Light a Vet campaign was launched to coincide with Veterans Day in 2015. And the symbolism behind the initiative was revealed in a statement from the Walmart Foundation at the time. It read, “A green light means go and that’s what veterans are known for – their ability to take action quickly no matter the challenge.”

Meanwhile, as an extract from the Green Light a Vet Facebook page points out, “Green is the color of hope, renewal and well-being. ‘Green Light’ is also a term commonly used to activate forward movement.” And that’s why the verdant shade was chosen to be the best color to “shine a light on America’s veterans.”

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Gary Profit is a former brigadier general who subsequently went on to become Walmart’s senior director of military programs. In an interview with TheBlaze in 2015 he revealed what the Green Light a Vet campaign meant specifically to him. Profit said, “I hope it symbolizes what I have felt certainly since 9/11.”

Profit then went on to explain what he meant by that statement. He said, “That is the sense that, whether one agrees with the decisions to do things from a national security perspective, there is this universal sense that we should honor the service and respect the sacrifice of those who have worn the nation’s uniform and the families who have supported them.”

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Within weeks of the campaign launching in 2015, some 1.5 million people had promised to get involved. And many of the people who pledged their support shared their efforts on social media, alongside the hashtag “greenlightavet.” As a result, Blue Star Families’ CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet told TheBlaze that she was “thrilled” with the response.

Blue Star Families is an organization that was created by the spouses of military personnel in August 2009. It aims to help the families of service personnel and also to raise awareness of the challenges that they often face. And as a result, it is a perfect partner for the Green Light a Vet campaign.

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One challenge that service personnel face is establishing roots with their families. That’s because their job involves them moving around a lot. But Roth-Douquet hoped that the Green Light a Vet campaign would help them to feel more connected. She told TheBlaze, “We think this initiative is very important. Military families love the work they do for the country, but they can feel isolated from their neighbors.”

Roth-Douquet continued, “You can not know your neighbors, and it’s easy to not know whether your neighbors know the hard work that you’re doing… I think this green light initiative is a really beautiful way to do that. You see green lights dotting the porches, and that’s a wonderful visualization that people know you’re there, and they do care.”

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Furthermore, Walmart’s pledge to partner with the Green Light a Vet campaign isn’t the only way that it reaches out to military members. Yes, the retailer also encourages businesses to employ veterans or their spouses – with the aim of making civilian life easier for them. Often, you see, the challenges of military life mean that the partners of service personnel can struggle to find employment.

Roth-Douquet elaborated on this idea to TheBlaze. She said, “Moving the way they do, it’s very hard for the non-military member to keep working… We can remember to include the person who also serves, besides the one in the uniform, acknowledge them and help them find the work that they can do.”

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Gary Profit, it seems, shares a similar belief. He agrees that society needs to better understand the challenges faced by a number of military personnel. Speaking of Green Light a Vet, he said, “We think that the campaign is entirely intended to spark a movement where we change the dialogue in our communities to one that recognizes the value of veterans and their families.”

Four years after it launched, then, it seems that the Green Light a Vet campaign is really starting to catch on. People show their support for the initiative across social media by posting photos of their emerald-hued lanterns. And many of them write heartfelt tributes to the military alongside their snaps.

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One poignant post shared on Instagram in 2017 showed a lantern glowing green outside someone’s front door. And alongside the snap, the user wrote, “Thank you to all the veterans out there who served, fought, sacrificed… choosing to put their lives on hold and run to the sound of chaos because they believed in something bigger than themselves.”

This particular internet user’s glowing tribute continued along the same lines. The grateful person went on, “Thank you to all the military families who have been and continue to be the glue and the foundation. You can never be thanked enough… You’re proof that our freedoms have never come free.”

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Concluding their post in support of the Green Light A Vet campaign, the participant also expressed her gratitude to all those people that continue to serve today. She said, “Thank you to all my brothers and sisters deployed right now finding and destroying evil all over the world. Stay safe and get after it!”

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