The Meaning Behind Those Coins You See On Headstones

Have you ever gone to visit a loved one at the cemetery and noticed some graves have coins on them? Have you ever wondered what that means?

The tradition dates back to Greek Mythology where it was believed that Charon, the ferryman of Hades, required a coin as payment to ferry your loved ones soul across the River Styx that separates the living from the dead. Coins were placed in the mouths or over the eyes of the deceased. People who can’t pay the fee are said to be doomed to wander the shores of the river for 100 years.

The tradition of leaving coins on the headstones of military personnel only really became popular in the United States during the Vietnam War as a way of leaving messages for the families of the deceased without contacting them directly.  It was a way of letting the deceased soldier’s family know that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect, and a way of telling all who pass that the person buried there was loved.

Sometimes coins are left as a “down payment” for the deceased as a promise to buy them a drink in the afterlife.

The coin tradition goes as follows:

  •  a penny indicates that you knew the deceased
  • a nickel means you trained in boot camp together
  • a dime signifies serving in the same company
  • a quarter tells the family that you were with them when they died.

The featured picture was taken at McGavock Cemetery in Franklin Tennessee. The marker indicates that there are 230 soldiers buried in that area from Tennessee. The coins, in this case, are a symbol of remembrance and respect.


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