There are many traditions that involve placing objects, specifically money, on graves. These traditions are usually regional or customary practices and do not necessarily have religious connotations.
Large amounts of pennies which are thrown onto Benjamin Franklin’s grave by visitors each day are a symbol of good luck, and a nod to Franklin’s motto that “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
Some people hold to the tradition of leaving something of yourself when visiting a grave. If nothing else, a coin from your pocket serves as a marker of the passage and your esteem for the departed. It also signifies to any that pass by that the grave was visited and that the deceased is well loved and esteemed and has not been abandoned or forgotten. Coins are also an older form of leaving flowers, a practice prompted by the heavy Romanticism of the Victorian era.
Some believe that to leave a coin on a grave brings good luck. Students in some areas are known to leave pennies on the graves of their school’s founder in the hopes of good luck with exams.
Some are, perhaps unwittingly, mimicking the ancient tradition where gold coins were buried with the corpse in order to pay the toll charged by Charon, the boatman of the Underworld, for passage to the other side of the river Styx. It was considered sinful not to leave this toll with the dead as it would condemn them to forever wander the shores without end.
It is an old tradition to leave a penny at the grave site of a loved one as a gesture of deep love and understanding. Some coins have distinct meanings when left on the headstones of those who gave their life while serving in America’s military, and these meanings vary depending on the denomination of coin.
A coin left on a tombstone or at the grave site is meant as a message to the deceased soldier’s family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect.
Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited. A nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime means you served with him in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the solider when he was killed.
In the United States, this practice became common during the Vietnam War, due to the political divide in the country over the war; leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the soldier’s family, which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war.
No matter what type of item you leave at a grave site, it is seen by others that the person is not forgotten.
At Woodland Cemetery, you will find that the grave sites of the Wright Brothers and Paul Laurence Dunbar receives the most coins. The coins are picked up periodically and are deposited to the Woodland Arboretum Foundation to care for the grounds and gardens of the cemetery.
Woodland Cemetery, founded in 1841, is one of the nation’s oldest rural garden cemeteries and a unique cultural, botanical and educational resource in the heart of Dayton, Ohio. Visit the cemetery and arboretum and take one of the many tours Woodland offers free of charge. Most of Dayton’s aviation heroes, inventors and business barons are buried at Woodland.
Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum is located at 118 Woodland Avenue off of Brown Street near the University of Dayton Campus. The Woodland Office is open Monday through Friday 8 am to 5 pm and Saturday 8 am to 12 pm. The Cemetery and Arboretum are open daily from 8 am to 6 pm. The Mausoleum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. For more information, call 937-228-3221 or visit the Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum website.