My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mount Auburn is arguably the most important cemetery in America. Founded by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1831, Mount Auburn was the first nonsectarian graveyard in this country, opened in a beautiful woodland outside of the city of Boston. It single-handedly began the “rural” or “garden” cemetery movement, where a premium was placed on the uplifting, consoling beauty of nature.
Linden-Ward’s Silent City on a Hill places Mount Auburn in a context of the “grim graveyards and common pits” that preceded it, as well as the carefully designed gardens of England, where nature was “improved” to make it more melancholy or inspirational.
Although it leans heavier on text than image, the book holds a wealth of black-and-white illustrations. Since Mount Auburn was so influential, artists such as engraved James Smillie recorded it in great detail. Often the scenes of the original engravings are recaptured by photographer Alan Ward, providing a sense of continuity through the centuries.
While the book comes down on the scholarly end of the spectrum (it includes 26 pages of footnotes and a 16-page bibliography), it is readable and full of information that would appeal to anyone interested in the history of burial and commemoration.
For my tastes, however, Silent City on a Hill contains too much information on garden design and not enough of the sense of humor inherent in its title. Some color pictures would have been nice, too. This book just doesn’t do justice to the splendor of Mount Auburn.