Haunting Photograph of Ethel

Ethel-B&W-Sig copy


In a Llano Estacado cemetery, a lone tombstone remains hauntingly untouched by time and from the elements of nature and man. It’s rare when you come across a perfectly decades old intact tombstone and photo ceramic gravestone marker in this region. Often the photos are damaged by high winds carrying sand and dirt or suffer from hail damage. Most often they are purposely smashed by vandals or inadvertently are damaged by either lawn mowers or weed eaters.

When I saw this large graven image on this gravestone, I was immediately struck that a supernatural protective shield must be encasing this marker that’s faced the setting sun for over eighty years. Older tombstones deteriorate in this region due to the varied climate changes of rain, drought, and sandstorms, however, this one is perfect as though it was only set a few weeks ago.

Ethel was suspended in this moment in time via this graven image over eight decades ago. The photo served three purposes: giving her parents the ability to revisit her short life, her memory became ingrained for others seeing her image and it’s a tragic reminder of a child who was lost way too early. No death certificate could be located to determine her cause of death. Often death certificates were not created for babies or children even by the 1920s or 1930s, especially in rural areas of Texas.

An example of a married couple’s photo that’s been damaged.


Photoceramic grave marker photos are often seen on older headstones. These photo memorials were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They often depict either a single person or a married couple. Ceramic photos like Ethel’s were created to withstand being outdoors and were a multi-step creation process that varied from maker to maker. Somewhere decades ago on the Llano Estacado was a person who created Ethel’s perfect portrait using a negative transferred to a glass plate. Then he or she applied a mixture of chemicals of silver nitrate, potassium cyanide and then either gold, silver, platinum, iridium or palladium was used to strengthen the photo against heat and sunlight. The image was transferred to ceramic where it was fired in a kiln. As one final step, it was sealed with transparent resin.


Note: to protect the location of Ethel’s gravesite the cemetery is unnamed.


Photograph – © Christena Stephens Photography