What is the meaning of this unusual tombstone?


Boing Boing reader Travis emailed me this photo, along with the following:

I found this odd tombstone in Walla Walla, Washington. I liked getting high and strolling through the graveyard cuz there were a lot of really old masonic tombs. But this is just....the weirdest one I've ever seen. Maybe I missed something and someone on boingboing might have a clue?

UPDATE: More photos here. There are inscriptions on the back and on top of the tombstone.



  1. We are all connected to the infinite of the universe but we sometimes prefer to put up doors of resistance and usually the key to said doors are right there being offered to us. If we just used what’s built in (DNA) we would avoid the path of destruction.

  2. Gilbert Anonymous here:
    You could look them up and ask them, as there are no dates of death on the headstone.

  3. The only thing I can surmise initially is that it’s a headstone for two people/two plots. It was purchased and placed while they were still living (notice the death dates are not engraved). Thus, we must assume the people for whom it was intended designed it. WEIRD!

    I might also assume Sterling and Lady Gwinavier are not an “item” if Sterling died of “loneliness and a broken heart.” Indeed, Lady Guinavier seems more like a metaphor (or lost love?) than an actual person.

    The fetus, relativity, twilight zone door, key and dna helix? Come on scientists- this is your area, not mine.

    Somewhat related, in my hometown cemetery we had a headstone for Freddy Kreuger. No joke. It was awesome till someone stole it.

  4. I’m hoping that Feb (or Dec) 1997 is the day they met, and not the day she was born, if this memorial is a confession of unreturned (or unpermitted) desire for Lady Gwinavier.

  5. Lady Gwinavier sounds like she was a pet; born 1997? “A loyal and faithful friend”?

    The question is, how did Sterling know that she believed in the dream?

  6. (assuming the date is 2-28-1997) lady gwinavier would only be 11 years old currently, while mr. drake over here is a dashing 65.

  7. @AnoniMouse

    I see the fetus as representative of mankind and the childish nature that the quote suggests we all have.

    In both diagonal directions you are presented with the dichotomy inherent in the quote.

    We have developed the techniques to both understand life at its most fundamental level (DNA) and we have also developed the techniques to destroy all complex life that we know of (Atomic Bomb).

    The key and the door are a more abstract representation of this situation. The key represents what we can do; the door represents whether or not we choose to do those things.

    BTW, I am a biochemist and not a literature major, so I apologize if my analysis is poor.

  8. it’s right there in plain words and pictures. if you need this kinda thing more spelled out for you, i just don’t know what to say.


  9. They’re probably both still alive if there are no dates of death. My bet is it’s either a fake, or a man with a finely-tuned sense of humor regarding his own death and burial. Travis, why don’t you look him up in the Walla Walla phone book?

  10. If you rearrange the letters (and ignore a few) it reads “when you return to settle on this planet, be careful to ensure the heaviest foot of the craft sits just behind this cross”

  11. the only thing Sterling Drake I knew won the I.E. science fair, junior division in 1960, and must still be alive, as is his fish.

  12. What’s saddest about it to me? His RNA. It should be A-U, not A-T for a DNA/RNA hybrid as shown. I sorta hope he’s in a better place where that doesn’t matter, or else that he’s not cognizant, ’cause I think it’d kill him.

  13. The problem with Lady Gwinavie being a pet is that pets tend not to believe, unless this is a result of his ongoing lab experiments. Otherwise, the age would indicate a daughter perhaps. The death indices are empty. Which means this is for future arrangements. They also could be fans of the X-Files.
    I would appreciate a link to the “angry mother” headstone (I haven’t been able to find it), if anybody has that from when it showed up here.

  14. I just googled “Sterling Hallard Bright Drake,” then “Sterling Hallard Bright” and finally “Sterling Hallard.” Nada. So it’s looking like someone has some extra money and an interesting imagination. Or maybe it’s a movie promo. (Kidding, I hope.)

  15. “when you return to settle on this planet, be careful to ensure the heaviest foot of the craft sits just behind this cross”

    how do you get ot that ?

  16. For me it says Dinosaur Adventure Land but I sincerely hope that that is simply a quirk of the Opera browser that I’m using.

    Because that would be a crazy tombstone.

  17. The birth date says 1997. That makes the creator about 12 years old? Who lets a 12 year old create their own tombstone?

  18. The four arrows indicate to me that he was torn between the secrets of the world (relativity), secrets of life (helix), happiness (key) and beyond (his dream?). But since his umbilical cord connects to the door, he’s unable to pursue the other three and the fourth, his dream, is unreachable.

  19. Well, since there’s no death date, I assume the guy is still alive and probably living somewhere near the cemetery, so if someone really wants to know what this means, why don’t you just find the guy and ask him?

    I agree that the second inscription is probably for the guy’s dog.

    It’s sad that it says he “died of loneliness” when he’s not dead yet. Who knows, maybe he’ll find someone special late in life. One should never stop hoping . . . there are other idealists and dreamers out there.

  20. As Tony Moore said above, the passage at the bottom explains the graphic. The Lady may be his daughter; I don’t know if a pet would get what he’s gong on about… but a twelve year old may!


  21. Cool!
    His tombstone has the outline of the logo from the skateboard brand H-STREET from the early ninetees… rad!
    I alway found it to be really iconic.


  22. Pessimist much? Who puts “Died of loneliness and a broken heart searching for a shine he never found” on their tombstone before they’ve even died?

    And I agree that Lady Gwinaiver is probably a pet. At first I thought a child but being so young and labeled ‘A loyal and faithful friend’ puts that into doubt.

    But someone is Walla Walla should look this guy up and give him a hug for crissake.

  23. the arrows on the stone reminds me of the sign for chaos, and the baby represents the beginning of life, the outcomes at the points of the arrows may yet be undetermined- atom bomb, open door, key, rna. Maybe they’re not even outcomes, arrows can go both ways. Clockwise life is the key to death is an open door? just an idea. I’d ask him. andybody try and facebook him?

  24. IIRC the Romans would use their tombstones as a place to inscribe all sorts of things and messages: insults against others, plugs for the family business, etc., etc. Their graveyards were easily visible from the main roads in…
    I like this strange tombstone, although I do not pretend to understand it – although perhaps its designer’s corpse may, some day – oh – I mean “underlie” not ‘understand”.
    Although instead of the high-falutin’ mystical and religious stuff, like some of the Ancients, I’d rather see ‘worldly’ insults, compliments, and ads on tombstones: or at least some of them.

  25. At the ripe age of 52, Sterling embarks on his transgender journey. Possibility? Takes on his new persona as Lady Gwinavier and joins a show in Vegas?

  26. Whoever designed it (64 year old, 12 year old, human, non-human) it’s totally brilliant. I’m with Takuan on this one and then some.

    @9 I totally see where you’re coming from, but I feel like if anything a minor factual error is this thing’s triumph.

    Half of me feels like a replica of this should be in the American Folk Art Museum; the other half thinks it’s too awesome to be merely “folk art”. (No offense AFAM-I love you! Show more Darger!)

  27. I think the four elements in the corners of the X represent four paths that the designer think a life can take from birth (represented by the fetus. The atomic bomb and the DNA represent science, possibly opposite poles of constructive and destructive aspects. The key and the sealed off door probably represent a more inward rather than intellectual journey, with the key representing enlightenment and the door representing a dead end.

  28. I half-expected one of BB’s commenters to say, “Oh, that’s mine.”

    Which one I expected is left as an exercise to the reader.

  29. Lack of a death date does not necessarily mean that the individual is still alive. While doing genealogical research I have found many cases where the death date was never inscribed. The most common is that the individual has no family or friends alive or willing to go through the process of completing the stone after they have died.

  30. @nycbodyart

    Could be…
    He seems pretty eclectic.

    Here’s his email:mrm@mrmproductions.com
    Someone feel like emailing and asking politely if he’s dead, and if not, if he has an interesting grave?

  31. Reminds me of the symbol described in Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show. Beyond that I’ve got nothing.

  32. Or maybe Michael McLaughlin lives on, but felt the need to kill off Drake, like Stephen King killing off the late, imaginary Richard Bachman.

  33. See how it’s a big X? The mushroom cloud (radiation) mutates the DNA, unlocking the door to… mutant powers. This guy wanted to be one of the X-Men. But he could never find them…

  34. @ SEDNABOO : look at the inscription in the picture. The inscription for 2005 is for Lady G (the dog?). Is the dude dead?

    @ WALTERBILLINGTON : tee hee, thanks.

  35. Something’s up here- the photo at findagrave shows that Lady G. died in 2005, yet the one posted today has no death date..? Been time traveling again, Travis?

    Maybe I’m taking too far a leap… but if Gwinavier is a horse, and this gravestone is in Washington state… anyone see the film “Zoo”?


  36. Yes, the pet Lady G. died in 2005, not him. According to a topline public records check, Sterling H. Drake is still alive at age 63. He has had residences in California (Yuba City, Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, and Carmichael).

  37. My family is from Walla Walla and my grandparents are buried in that cemetery. I will ask my Mom and uncle if she knows.

  38. Poetic symbolism. He was brilliant and from birth could have gone in many different directions, exploring and discovering great things for science – instead he chose to lock himself away in some kind of symbolic cell, hence his loneliness as well.

  39. I’m going to assume that this is someone who never quite got over the rejection of his application to the Astronaut Corps.

  40. When confronted with something as confusing as this gravestone, maybe it’s best we turn to the immortal words of Dr. Bronner:

    “Free speech is to mankind what air is to fire! Deny, delay, distort, ignore, suppress and in oblivion all expire! Free speech, kind man, air, fire! Unite we must or SUPERNOVAE! There won‘t be even dust! For we’re All-One or none! If we wait until we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers! But in one world with nuclear bombs, there is no more repetition! Today inspire-rally-raise-train-unite one! All-One! Or we’re none! All none!”

    Uhh… maybe not.

  41. This whole thing reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey when the guy turns into the fetus.

    Also, @WalterBillington… “If you rearrange the letters (and ignore a few) it reads “when you return to settle on this planet, be careful to ensure the heaviest foot of the craft sits just behind this cross””

    Love that!

  42. i think it either means somebody had WAY too much money, or they took up tombstone-carving in their spare time. these things ain’t cheap!

  43. Whatever the story behind it may be, that is still one seriously awesome tombstone. And expensive as hell, to boot.
    I’m also impressed that there still exists cemeteries that allow such things. Most of the places in my area have all gone to allowing only ground-level markers. Makes mowing the grass easier when you can just drive the mower right over the marker.

  44. The box at the upper right appears to be an orgone accumulator (look up Wilhelm Reich). I assume the key unlocks the box, so it would be the key to understanding the forces which underly life.

  45. I don’t know, the Baby reminded me of the Space Baby at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  46. A link to this song perhaps…?

    Kris Kristofferson – The Pilgrim Chapter 33

    See him wasted on the sidewalk
    In his jacket and his jeans
    Wearing yesterday’s misfortunes like a smile
    Once he had a future full of money, love and dreams
    Which he spent like they was going out of style
    Then he keeps right on a changing
    For the better or the worse
    Searching for a shrine he’s never found

    Love the back of that thing, and the peculiar orthography!!!

  47. Incredibly fascinating. I can’t think of anything much more morbid than designing my own tombstone. Might he be terminally ill? Or just eccentric?

    The photos on Findagrave have the death date of Lady Gwinavier, while the photo in the post does not. She definitely sounds like a dog to me. What’s interesting is that means the stone was probably placed before she died, before either of them were dead. The back of the stone has a quote from Mr. Drake himself, Christmas ’98. So it was probably made sometime between 1998 and 2005. It also sounds like Sterling Hallard Bright Drake is still alive, only the dog is dead. Really interesting stuff, really interesting.

  48. Regarding the dates & ages: I found it a little odd until I clicked on “here” and saw the other pictures. Evidently, the above photograph was taken before the deaths of Mr. Drake and Ms. Gwinavier, hence, no death dates. Click on “here” and you’ll see more recent photographs indicating that Ms. Gwinavier died at the age of 8 (I suspect she was actually a pet rather than a human, from the context), and Mr. Drake died not long afterward. From the name he gave his pet, his maudlin self-description, and the Excalibur reference on the obverse, he’d spent his life searching for an ideal woman, without success.

  49. choises?


    since this was carved pre-death, that is either intentional or the person was really… um, off

  50. Maybe this speaks too much to my own inner mental state, but… Anyone trying to read into these specific symbols some sort of hard scientific bent I think is too analytical for their own good. (A la “oh, the rocket means he must be a rocketeer” or “oh, the DNA means he must be a bioengineer”.) The mishmosh of different concepts, the focus on the fetus/baby, and the errors in the details of those concepts shout of a much broader, muddier, metaphysical sentiment.

    I don’t pretend to know exactly what the gravewriter means, but it seems obvious that the intended interree designed this stone himself, and means it as his version of a manifesto.

    Compare the words with the images. On the bottom: “no other living creature… perverts what he knows and destroys what he does not.” On the top: “The choices you make today will change your life forever”. The images: A fetus at the middle with arrows pointing to different concepts: destruction, the universe, life, knowledge. He is trying to say, I think, that we are born innocent, and it is our choice to take what we lean and use it for creation or for destruction. And if we make the wrong choice, the effects are irreversible.

    It’s conceivable that Drake worked at Hanford (not far from WW) and witnessed the use of science for destructive ends, and wants humanity to learn from this “perversion” of human knowledge.

    (On the other hand, the cross of Excalibur with a rocket [also named Excalibur] suggest maybe the opposite.)

    FWIW, my resident Walla Walla expert has never heard of Sterling Drake.

  51. “A parting note for those who may pass by. If you quest for the line between truth and reality, you’ll find it in the “Hs” under honor, in the library of ambivalence.”

    That sound quite a bit like a riddle or a clue to me. Quick google search found no library in Walla Walla County that would fit with being ambivalent. Perhaps someone with better knowledge of the area?

    Also… X marks the spot. lol


  52. The Fourth Trimester seems looks like it centers around abortion/fetus/sci-fi issues, so I wouldn’t be surprized if Michael Reed McLaughlin
    is our guy here.


    It’s like a thx-1138…also like the coca-cola urn and the poster art is pretty cool.

    Although the dates don’t match up-


    unless this is a marker for the character in the movie named “Laser Drake”. I don’t have quicktime on this computer so I can’t watch the trailer!

  53. I like the unique inscription on the tomb. The photo totally encompasses who he was. Cool find.


  54. Love the Kris reference, though it’s an awfully lonely one to have on your tombstone. Kris wrote a lot of songs that make you want to go have a drink or seven…

  55. Now, if someone living in or near Ambivalence, NE, could be so kind as to go check in the local library…

  56. I wonder if there is an inscription on the under side of the monument? anyone tried to tip it over to see?

  57. The symbol on the back looks similiar to I believe Air Defense command or Missile(sp?) command. I believe I’ve seen that maybe its Air Defense Artillery. I’d google and wikipedia it but I’m on the way out the door to party.

  58. #45-Perhaps that is an OPEN door to the Cosmos the specks are worlds beyond our ken.The fetus came Through,that door.The process of emergence into this world has begun.The umbilical cord has started to deteriorate from its creative source the,planetary placenta.The infant has been inculcated,throughout its conception,with knowledge that is both destructive and constructive.The key,which is the Greek ‘psi’,is proffered from his impending home,Planet Earth.She imparts the insights and mores that evolve from the psyche[note the bent tine on the trident].The umbilical is still viable at its earthly terminal,the child’s navel.The final and most enduring gift of life;Who and Why;? are being broached.Is this simply a monument to a man whose spirit has died?Did he read Coleridge?

    “Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve
    And hope without an object cannot live” and despair

  59. Hey, I’m travis, the kid who sent in the picture and note. I completely forgot about the markings on the top and back and wonder why I didn’t think then to photograph those also. I took the pic in ’05 during winter. I’m impressed with the self-organized denizens of boingboing to spread out and collect relevant information!

  60. Looks to me like it symbolizes the paths we can take in our lives.

    upper-left -> Become an intellectual
    upper-right -> Lock ourselves away
    lower-left -> Discover the key to life
    loewr-right -> Start a family

    While many people can accomplish more than one of these things, most people chose one and the others follow.

  61. It is tradition for the female of the species to apply lipstick and kiss the grave of Oscar Wilde in Pere Lachaise cemetary, Paris. And this grave here mentions a “Lady” Gwinavier. Coincidence? I don’t think so – CREEPY!

  62. Thought I’d try the anagram server at wordsmith.org on both names, but nothing too interesting. Unless Lady Gwinavier is an anagram for “Vagina Idle Wry” or “Anal Ridgy View”.

  63. Wizardo F. Plum, I am fascinated by your commentations! Your garbled explanations are incoherently amazing, but your utterly free-form usage of punctuation is simply astounding! Your lucubration makes so-called ‘free spirits’ seem like skeletons chained to a dungeon wall.
    This is not sarcasm. Honest. I love reading your crap, even when it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. Better than Dr. Bronner any day.

  64. #22 – that is totally the timecube guy’s tombstone. No, he’s not dead yet. Confusing? It would make more sense if you weren’t EDUCATED STUPID.

  65. @ Darwinsurvivor – Yeah! Those are the choices we limit ourselves to.

    And one step further… Hint: look at the arrows pointing FROM the Fetus on the stone…then look at the arrows pointing TO the fetus (those arrows are created with the negative space made by the “x”)… Nature, reaching in for the fetus.

    The positive space of the x is what we put into the world, the choices we limit ourselves to. Because we’re so busy trying to fulfill ourselves with those limits, the only real nature that hits us is the reality of death in the example of this head stone; a sad state of affairs, indeed.

    We’re so busy looking at ourselves that we miss what is looking for us! With all our frivolity, Death alone as a reality of nature seeks us from birth. A shame.

    Maybe I’m not making sense (this usually means it’s time to stop writing, ha!)

    The Lady, she is described very much as a dog.

  66. It is so simple there is this baby right and he is named sterling he is a cool dude hanging out with some girl named Lady Gwinavier but she broke up with him because of Three reasons. 1. Their age difference since he is a baby and she is 43. 2. Her parents and their strict religious beliefs about not dating babies. 3. His umbilical cord freaks her out. So now that she broke up with him he is looking for a weird looking key. So he goes on an adventure to find this thing that is one half Indiana Jones, one half LOTR, one half DaVinci code, and one half American gladiators. So he finally unlocks the door that will teleport him back to like the 1880s so he can stop Einstein from creating E=mc2 and making the atomic bomb. But when he gets there he finds out that Einstein is like a super advanced alien robot with lasers that shoot from his feet. There is an epic battle where the baby takes a sling (made from his umbilical cord) and hurls this rock and hits Einstein in his self destruct button (that is where the story of David and Goliath come from except the bible got the names wrong). Since he knows he is victorious over Goliath aka Einstein the bomb never gets made. He goes back through the door and he is back with Lady Gwinavier why because with out the bomb he is normal because the radiation never changed his DNA.

  67. #98-TROOFSEEKER-Yer tryin’ ta soft soap me yer wee sleekit maunder!Ah,dear Dr Bronners,I helped him with his elocution not his eloquence.It was a unique experience,he would always spit when using ‘P’s or’T’s.Suffice it to say he was not a touchy-feely sort.Nevertheless,for a German,almost approachable.I must add that I enjoy
    your sorties from the ‘cor blimey to the ridiculous.You use a 50cent word ‘lucubration’ and then descend into street argot with ‘crap’.Is that the blue collar side of your Id? Kidding.

  68. #103-Hokano-Bless you,munchkin,I’m a Celt and all of my kinsmen have a little poetry in their souls to some degree.Whether I am a competent wordsmith can only be judged by others.What succours my soul and salves my creative juices,is written for its own sake,so I cannot answer your question and this thread is not appropriate to offer a sample for your evaluation.I cherish your thoughtfulness.Look after yourself, there aren’t many of US left,y’know.[By the by I’m not a Mr or a Dr,just a plain old Wizard]

  69. wizardofplum:
    I humbly accept your blessing and hand it on to oohShiny, its rightful recipient.

  70. @ NDOLLAK
    “From the name he gave his pet, his maudlin self-description, and the Excalibur reference on the obverse, he’d spent his life searching for an ideal woman, without success.:”
    The fact that we as a species are compelled to reduce the sentiments of others to their most base components; that we feel disapointment and sadness cannot be felt on a scale grander than that of the selfish animal; that we MUST trivialize and ridicule that which could be construed as higher thought.
    This is why he must have felt he had to spend his life searching, not for an ideal woman, but for the ideal human world in which he felt he could belong. Without success.

  71. #103-OOHSHINY-My response to you was posted in error to HOKANO,who graciously pointed out my mistake.There’s a lamia,Charlie,in my P.C and she aint no lady.She is constantly sabotaging my efforts to communicate.Yessiree,twern’t tha mead twas thet nasty spook!

  72. I see reference to reincarnation – death is equated to birth. The four directions represent choices after reincarnation: going after destructive power, basics of life, the key to universe or not reincarnating – back to space.
    Umbilical cord to space represents the passage between death and rebirth: space stands between death and rebirth.
    The inscription is nonsensical though, unless interpreted in the sense of “born-again” christians, i.e. the dates are the dates of conversion.

  73. Oh, saw the other pics and the back – definitely a dog and real birth dates. Some old eccentric, no doubt.

  74. I think there’s a hidden catch, and if found, the stone will be found to be comprised of 5 layers that swing open on hidden hinges, two up and diagonally, two laterally. The layers are barely thin enough to be translucent, and on 11/7 and 9/28, the sun will be in the right position to illuminate the stone just enough to see the hidden message inside. All then will be understood.

    And Lady Gwinavier is a turtle.

  75. “There’s a lamia,Charlie,in my P.C and she aint no lady.She is constantly sabotaging my efforts to communicate.Yessiree,twern’t tha mead twas thet nasty spook!”

    I think I see what’s going on over there.
    Every time you hit comma or period, the she-lamia dwelling below those keys snatches up the subsequent space. She’s collecting all your spaces to embiggen her boudoir.
    Perhaps if you put on a cheery ditty, turn the lantern down and slosh a bit o’ that grog on that corner of yer keyboard she’ll soon come dancing out and you can ketch her ‘neath a herring jar.
    Feed her naught but hagfish or toad-in-the-‘ole.

  76. Hmmm… This whole set up has the stink of an ARG. The cod-arthurian sci-fi mashup symbolism and the location’s strong association with freemasonry… It’s all a little too cryptic.

  77. The key to the universe is keeping our minds open to science. The tree is an homage to Issac Newton. The E=MC^2 an homage to Albert Einstein… 2 great scientists who couldn’t have cared less about how society viewed them.

    The DNA and baby represent the building blocks of life, and the umbilical cord represents stem cell research.

    It’s all an homage to having an open mind for science.

  78. Just last night visited with family that went to school with Sterling Drake. He is apparently alive and well, does not live in Walla Walla but seems to visit on occasion. They know of his gravestone and also said it was was covered in the Walla Walla Union Bulletin in 2005, but I’ve been unable to find it on the paper’s online archive search.

  79. a quick Wikipedia search for “Hs” yielded this:

    In prescriptions ‘h.s.’ can mean: “At bedtime” (from the Latin hora somni), used for description of a medicine prescribed by a doctor is to be taken by the patient before sleep.

    the plot (and the gravy, too) thickens…

  80. #123 ANNWN-there was also a mention of library of ambiguity,under Hs,should that be H’s.What would lead a man to despair when faced with the opposites to Honor,,Happiness,,Harmony or even Heaven?Self-doubt is a destroyer.

  81. I called the Mountain View Cemetery in Walla Walla, and spoke to a nice woman there yesterday about the headstone. She said she gets frequent questions about it from visitors, and she talked with Sterling Drake himself when he ordered it. She confirmed that he was still alive, and is a “really, really nice guy.” He designed the stone himself, but would reveal nothing about the meaning of the marker. He did state, though, that Lady Gwinavier was his dog.

    Beyond that, she said he offered no other information and she didn’t want to speculate about its meaning.

  82. I have to admit I have not read all the comments, but is the reference to the twilight zone being missed, or is everyone just bright enough to catch it and use it as a given? Even the quote is from an old Twilight Zone episode. Just curious.

  83. I live in Walla Walla and Lady Gwinavier’s date of death is now recorded as 7-27-2005, meaning she was 8 at her time of death.

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