Tympana are the semi-circular arches atop early headstones, usually featuring an iconic relief sculpture. In early America, the most common of these icons is the “winged death” head, usually represented as a cherubic face or skull above a pair of wings. New England churchyards and burying grounds abound with these earliest forms of American sculpture, but they’re rarities in the Deep South. Charleston has the largest concentration, with other examples scattered around the low country of South Carolina; Savannah has a few examples but Midway has the best variety in Georgia.
Tympanum detail of the James Wilson stone. Slate. Date of death not visible, as the headstone is half-buried (see first photo).
Tympanum detail of the Elisabeth Way stone, 1792. Sandstone. In regards to design, this is the most important headstone at Midway. In Early Gravestone Art of Georgia & South Carolina (UGA Press, Athens, 1986), Diana Williams Combs wrote: “As far as I know, the nimbus has not been employed elsewhere during this period of American gravestone art. In this context it emphasizes the salvation of the deceased.”
Tympanum detail of the Susanna Stacy stone, 1780. Slate.
Tympanum detail of the Margaret Stacy stone, 1792. Slate.
Tympanum detail of the Sarah Winn stone, 1767. Slate.
Tympanum detail of the Sarah Stevens stone, 1767. Slate.
Tympanum detail of the James Osgood stone, 1793. Marble.
There’s always a nice view of Midway Congregational Church (1792) across US Highway 17 from the famous brick wall surrounding the cemetery.
National Register of Historic Places