Chester Village Cemetery – Chester, New Hampshire - Atlas Obscura

Chester Village Cemetery

Chester, New Hampshire

The gravestones in this historic cemetery are carved with mysterious faces. 


Abel and Stephen Webster, two brothers who were stone carvers, carved many of the gravestones in this cemetery in the late 1700s. What’s unusual about their work, which is remarkably similar, are the faces chiseled into the gravestones.

Some of the faces are smiling, while others are frowning. It’s unclear why the Websters carved these intriguing images, though many speculations have been made.

Some have postured that the smiley faces are for projects they were paid for, and frowning faces were marks of those who did not pay their bills. Others have suggested that one of the brothers always carved the frowning faces and the other always carved the happy faces, and as such, it was the temperament of each brother that determined the face on the gravestone.

The most popular idea, however, is that the frown or smile was the brothers’ way of declaring their opinion on whether or not they felt the deceased had a shot at getting into heaven. Those they thought had good odds of making it through the pearly gates received smiley faces, while those whose chances didn’t seem so great received a frown.

And what about the brother’s graves? Abel is buried in the cemetery as well, but there are no clues upon his gravestone as to whether his brother thought he would make it into heaven or not. Stephen carved a simple funerary urn upon Abel’s gravestone, so his opinions on his brother’s ultimate fate are unknown to all.

Know Before You Go

When entering the graveyard turn immediately right. The area of the graveyard with the pre-1800 gravestones carved by Abel and Stephen will be at the front of the cemetery nearer to the wall.

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