The D.I.Y. Graves of Highwood Cemetery, Part 2

handmade grave made from cement block, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

“Bucky” Bailey

In our previous post, we got all philosophical on the nature of a cemetery’s role in eternity. But coming across the D.I.Y. graves in Highwood Cemetery made us think about a lot more than the future of the mortuary industry or how long the living realistically need graves to visit. So in this follow-up we think about the possible reasons that moved these families to create their own grave markers. And, of course, there’s a bunch more pictures.


Adelle Wright

This blogger won’t pretend to know why or how these folks ended up with a homemade cross or a cement building block for their grave marker–there may well be as many different reasons as there are plots. The most obvious though, is that it can be really expensive to purchase and install a custom-made granite stone. From the high hundreds to thousands of dollars it takes to have a stone cut, inscribed, and installed is likely way out of the budget for many people, especially immediately following a death, funeral, and burial.

At Highwood Cemetery, the D.I.Y. graves are all clustered in the same general vicinity, all the way at the back in a section bordering fence and the grounds crew sheds on spot of scrub grass that lacks all of the natural beauty and tall trees of the older sections. I don’t know what the pricing or politics of D.I.Y. graves is, but I’d guess these are the cheap seats.

handmade grave with rough poured concrete, flowers, and spinner, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA


It begs a follow-up question, though, which is that if money were the main object, why have a burial at all? Cremation is absolutely the most cost-efficient way to deal with a death and I’m sure there are a lot of people who would suggest that if you don’t have a “real” gravestone, then what’s the point?

I think the answer to that is pretty obvious. For a whole lot of people, it’s still very important to have a physical place to commune with their loved-one and for a totem of that person’s life to exist. Despite all the practicality of cremation, this is really the primary reason why cemeteries exist.

handmade grave with wooden cross and flowers, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Leroy Jacks

One thing that struck me about the D.I.Y. graves is that, for the most part, they seem to be visited much more recently than their more permanent neighbors. I’m purely basing that on the volume of flowers, wreaths, personal belongings, etc. that have been applied to them. These items don’t last at cemeteries–they’re routinely cleaned-up in seasonal purges by the grounds crew. With nearly every single one of the D.I.Y. graves having some form of recent offering, it’s a remarkable correlation to the type of grave.

handmade grave with photograph, flowers, and stones in shape of a heart, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA


We couldn’t help but think of the study showing an inverse correlation between the amount of money spent on the wedding and the length of the marriage. Maybe in today’s world, purchasing a raised lawn-level plaque is the post-mortal coil equivalent of just buying a Hallmark card and writing a check. How fast can I get out of here?

handmade grave with wooden post, white dove, and memory book, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA



Final note: We’re hooked! If you’ve got a tip on some D.I.Y. graves in the general Pittsburgh area, please let us know.

See also: The D.I.Y Graves of Highwood Cemetery, Part 1

2 thoughts on “The D.I.Y. Graves of Highwood Cemetery, Part 2

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