Apr 19, 200602:14 PMThe Life
Grave matters: Coins for the boatman
Apr 19, 2006 - 02:14 PMCemetery visitors have placed coins on some of the markers in our series (examples: A, B, C), and several blog readers are now asking about this custom. Here's what I dug up:
In Greek mythology, Charon was the ferryman who took the newly dead across the river Acheron (or Styx, in some modern reinterpretations) to Hades (or one of its subdivisions, like the Elysian Fields) if they had an obol (coin) to pay for the ride. Those who could not pay were doomed to wander the banks of the Acheron for a hundred years.
Pebbles have been placed upon other tombstones... as far as I can tell, this is a Jewish custom which harkens back to the days when a grave was covered with a cairn (conical mound of stones). If a visitor contributed to building the cairn, it was deemed a mitzvah, or good deed.