There are more ways to mark a grave than a traditional, individual headstone. One of the most common grave markers, in fact, is the footstone.
Like their names suggest, a headstone marks the head of a grave, while a footstone marks the foot. You can use footstones and headstones together, or a footstone can be used alone to mark a grave.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What’s a Footstone?
- Why Do People Choose Footstones Over Headstones?
- How Much Do Grave Footstones Cost?
- What Can You Write On a Footstone?
- What Are the Different Types of Footstones?
You might be considering a footstone for your own grave or for the gravesite of a loved one. Or you might just be interested in learning more about footstones and their purpose in a cemetery. Below, we’ll explore footstones, how they’re used, and how much they usually cost.
What’s a Footstone?
A footstone is a flat, square piece of stone placed at the foot of a person’s grave. Like a headstone, a footstone marks a person’s final resting place.
Most people assume that headstones are the most popular choice of grave marker. But footstones might be more prevalent than you’d expect. In recent years, footstones have grown significantly in popularity.
Many modern cemeteries have even done away with headstones and started using footstones exclusively for individual graves.
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Footstones with and without headstones
As mentioned, you can use a footstone alone or in addition to a headstone:
When used together with a headstone, a footstone sits opposite, marking the end of the grave. The two markers are usually made of the same stone or material and have similar design elements, but the footstone is much smaller.
Historically, footstones could stand upright like a standing headstone, or they could lie flat. In modern cemeteries, footstones almost always lie flat on the ground.
And since a headstone includes most of the standard information (like the person’s name, birth date and death date, and a quote or funerary art), the smaller footstone usually just features the person’s initials.
When used alone, without a headstone, a footstone still sits at the foot-end of the grave. However, the stone might be slightly larger so that it can incorporate the information that’s usually added to the headstone.
Solitary footstones for individual graves are a more and more common site in modern cemeteries, where site owners are trying to conserve space. They’re also common in cemeteries that offer family burial plots, in which case a family could have just one upright headstone and many footstones.
Footstones vs. gravestones
You might visit a cemetery and not even notice that all of the grave markers are footstones. That’s because footstones tend to look so similar to another type of grave marker: the gravestone.
A gravestone is a simple, flat stone grave marker, just like a footstone. Sometimes, the only way to tell whether a grave marker marks the head or the foot of the grave is to ask the cemetery management or groundskeeper.
Why Do People Choose Footstones Over Headstones?
When used in conjunction with a headstone, a footstone marks the boundary of a grave. And that demarcation serves several purposes.
First, it can help protect a grave from excavation when future plots are placed. It also helps a family understand exactly where their loved one lies. And finally, many people consider it disrespectful to walk on a grave, and a footstone helps you avoid doing so.
But when it’s used alone, why would you choose a footstone as an alternative to a headstone? The most common reasons are the ones below:
One of the main reasons you might choose a footstone over a headstone is if you’re burying a loved one in a family plot.
In that instance, the family plot features one upright monument with the familial name or names. This monument sits in the middle or head of the plot, with graves in front of it or surrounding it in a circular fashion.
Each member of the family then has their own footstone, so that their “headstone” is the family monument and their footstone is an individual marker.
Additional rows of footstones may be added beneath the first if more family plots are added. In that case, the approximate head of a person's grave might be marked by another family member’s footstone. However, there is typically about a foot of space, or more, in between the rows.
Another reason to choose a footstone instead of a headstone is if it’s required by the cemetery.
Modern “garden cemeteries” have started implementing rules limiting the number of upright headstones. This allows a mourner to visit a loved one’s grave and not be distracted by a sea of stones. Instead, it can appear as though your loved one’s grave is the only one there as you look out on a field of manicured grass.
Many of these cemeteries still allow upright stones and monuments for family plots, but they won’t accommodate individual upright stones. They might only allow flat, gravemarker headstones, or they might require everyone to use footstones instead.
When a veteran dies, their family can apply for a grave marker that’s provided by the U.S. government. They can choose either a headstone or a flat grave marker. Whichever option they choose will feature the veteran’s name, dates, and military information.
Depending on the cemetery where the family’s laying their loved one to rest, they might choose the flat grave marker. They can use the flat marker as a footstone independently or within a family or military section.
If the family wants to purchase their own headstone, they can also request the flat marker from the government. They can then use the flat grave marker as a footstone in combination with the headstone they purchased.
How Much Do Grave Footstones Cost?
Because the two are so similar, the average cost of a footstone is the same as that of a gravestone. Whereas upright headstones can easily cost upwards of $3,000 or more, a footstone or gravestone costs an average of $1,000.
Several factors can affect the cost of a footstone, including the material you choose, as well as the intricacy of the engraving. More engraving means a higher-priced footstone, as do higher-quality materials.
Some footstones are also slanted or “beveled,” rather than lying flat on the ground. This can increase their cost, as well.
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What Can You Write On a Footstone?
Footstone design differs from headstone design because of a footstone’s smaller size. The smaller size limits the amount you can engrave on the stone. But it’s usually still large enough for the person’s name, birth date and death date, and a short quote or prayer.
The average size of a grave footstone is about two feet wide, which can fit about 80 letters or figures. Most people inscribe just the person’s initials on a footstone when it’s used together with a headstone, so that the headstone is the primary focus. But when there’s only a footstone, you’ll need to fit your inscription into that smaller space.
What Are the Different Types of Footstones?
If the sea of choices overwhelms you when it comes to headstones, you might be relieved by the simplicity of footstones. Most footstones are very similar in shape, size, and style. However, there are still some decisions to be made when you’re choosing a footstone.
1. Upright footstone
The earliest footstones were used together with headstones to mark the head and foot of the grave.
The footstone was traditionally smaller than the headstone but made in a similar shape and design. Like the headstone, the footstone also stood upright. The effect of the two stones together, with the larger, more intricate stone at the top and the smaller, simpler one at the bottom, gave the appearance of the headboard and footboard of a bed.
Today, newly-placed footstones rarely stand upright. But if you want to create this same headboard-and-footboard effect, you might find a cemetery that allows that type of stone placement.
2. Slant or beveled footstones
As mentioned above, some footstones have a slant or “bevel.” Rather than lying flat against the ground, they’re slightly tilted forward. This style is less common with footstones than it is with gravestones placed at the top of a grave, but it still exists.
A slanted or beveled footstone can be made entirely of stone, or it can sit in a bronze or steel frame.
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3. Flush or flat footstones
The most common type of footstone is the kind that lies flat or flush to the ground. This has the benefit of reducing the cluttered look of a cemetery overall, and it gives the gravesite a more modest look.
Many modern cemeteries incorporate flat footstones in sections--or the entirety--of the grounds to preserve a more pristine and peaceful appearance.
4. Stone footstones
Footstones are often made out of the same stone materials as headstone. This includes granite, as well as marble. Granite is the more popular option because it costs less, and it’s just as durable. However, some people choose marble for its glossier look.
A granite or marble footstone might be set into the ground or incorporated into a beveled design, as described above. Some granite and marble footstones are also set into fieldstone to create a more dimensional look.
5. Metal footstones
In addition to stone materials like granite and marble, footstones can be made of metals, like bronze. A footstone could be made entirely of bronze and set into the ground.
More often, though, bronze is incorporated into marble or granite footstones as a placard or frame. Instead of carving the person’s information directly into the stone, a footstone could include that information in bronze. The bronze is then affixed to the stone before the footstone is installed.
Some slant and beveled footstones also have bronze framing to protect their exposed edges and corners.
Choosing the Right Grave Marker
Ultimately, the type of headstone, grave marker, or footstone you choose boils down to two factors: your preferences and the cemetery’s preferences. If you choose a cemetery with strict rules regarding uniformity and design, you won’t have many options. Many people find those kinds of limitations comforting, while others want their grave marker to stand out from the crowd.
A simple footstone might not be for everyone, but it’s an important option to consider. Whether you’re preparing for your own final resting place or burying a loved one, a footstone is a simple and dignified solution for marking the location.
- “Veterans headstones, markers, and medallions.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/memorial-items/headstones-markers-medallions/