Pennies of Graves

Have you ever needed a ‘mental health day’? Do you take these type of days off on occasion just to decompress, de-stress, and concentrate on yourself? I think these days are important to a person’s well-being, mental health, and just a good, fun way to spend a little time away from the ‘daily grind’ of life. After all, I may be disabled and work from home, but my day still starts around 5 a.m. with my husband’s.  We all have stress to some degree or another and need breaks from it now and again.

Thursday, on a glorious, although chilly, Spring day, my younger sister, Jackie, and I took the day to go to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  The area was formed in 1963 when the Army Corps of Engineers built Kentucky Dam and the Government basically stole the land from the many families that had lived there for generations. Some of the ruins of the old homesteads are still quite visible to this day – but we were unable to get through those rough roads this early in the year (my Accord can’t do too much of that!).

We were able to get to this beautiful family cemetery located on one of the little gravel roads and found that someone had truly cared for and taken care of this one many years ago and it still showed.



Someone had taken the time to plant daffodils around the graves! The more recent ones, did not have them, only the older ones, even the children. The amount of love that went into this act just made it perfectly clear that this family was close. They loved each other, and seemed to really put alot into that. It was plainly evident by not just the daffodils, but also the perfectly kept fence that went around it, the strong wooden gate with secure latch, the way there was no trash or big tree limbs laying about from the Winter, and the pennies.

Yes, pennies. Plain old copper pennies. See it? Shines bright, right in the center.

This penny could be from another soldier, or a simple friend.

Why on Earth would someone leave pennies on a grave, you ask?

Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, it became popular to leave coins on the graves of fallen soldiers. The denomination of the coin held significance in this case. A penny was left by a casual friend or acquaintance. Someone who trained in boot camp with the deceased would leave a nickel. A soldier from the same company would leave a dime and a family member a quarter. The coins were a way to for soldiers to leave a message to the family of the fallen when they didn’t have direct contact. The money was also sometimes considered a down payment on a beer or a hand of poker when the mourner met the deceased again.

Paying the Ferryman

The custom of leaving a coin for the dead to pay the Ferryman to take them into the next world goes back to Greek mythology. Charon, the Ferryman of Hades, is said to require one coin in payment. Any spirit that cannot pay the fee is left to wonder the shores of the River Styx, between this world and the next. It was tradition to leave the coin in the dead person’s mouth or to place coins over the eyes of the deceased. It is common now to see pennies left on a grave to pay the ferryman.


Pennies are left on graves, most of all, in remembrance of the deceased. Leaving a coin from your pocket is a way to leave a part of yourself at the burial site. The coin is a visual reminder that, even in death, the memory of the deceased lives on. It is also a sign of respect to the dead, as it shows that their memory has value to you and is something you want to commemorate.


Coins left in Remembrance. (I’m not showing the entire stone here because it’s that of a very small child.)

We took many pictures that day, but I really wanted to share these first to show the beauty of the love, devotion, and respect, that this family had, and still has, for each other and their roots. It brings to my mind the old days when families really stuck together and took care of each other.

Do you ever wonder what happened to change things? I’d love to know your opinion on this! Please comment and let me know what you think!

Have a Wonderful, and Wonder-Filled, Day!!

Don’t Forget to Smile! They’re Contagious!

2 thoughts on “Pennies of Graves

    1. Thanks! I hadn’t heard of it either! I had to come home and research it. Such a great tradition.

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