Tag Archives: Boston cemeteries

Cemetery of the Week #139: Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Vintage postcard of Copp's Hill Burying Ground, postmarked 1909.

Vintage postcard of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, postmarked 1909.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Hull Street and Snowhill Street
Boston, Massachusetts
Telephone: (617) 635-4505
Founded: 1659
Closed: sometime during the 1850s
Size: 4 acres
Number of interments: more than 10,000
Open: Daily 9 AM to 5 PM
GPS coordinates: 42° 22′ 2″ N, 71° 3′ 19″ W

While the area near the Old North Church may have been used as a burying ground as early as 1633, the graveyard was officially laid out on February 20, 1659. It was the second graveyard in Boston, as King’s Chapel was founded right around 1630.

Originally called Windmill Hill, then the North Burying Ground, the graveyard came to be named after William Copp, a shoemaker who lived near what is now called Prince Street and had at one point owned the land. He and his family are buried in the graveyard now.

Also buried in the graveyard at the Reverend Doctors Mather. The Mather tomb contains the mortal remains of Increase (died 1723), Cotton (died 1727) and Samuel (died 1785). Cotton Mather may be best known these days for his encouragement and support of the Salem Witch Trials. He preached from horseback after the hanging of Reverend George Burroughs, who spoke the Lord’s Prayer flawlessly before the hangman dropped him. Witches weren’t supposed to be able to do that and people watching the hanging grew restive, but Mather said a devil stood at Burroughs’s shoulder and fed him the words. The trials — and executions — continued.

More than a thousand freed blacks and slaves were buried in Copp’s Hill by the time the Revolutionary War started. They had lived in the so-called “New Guinea” settlement at the base of the hill and are buried, for the most part, in unmarked graves on the Snowhill Street side of the graveyard. The Celebrate Boston website says that their markers were stolen and re-used as construction materials during the 1860s.

Vintage postcard of Copp's Hill Burying Ground and the Old North Church

Vintage postcard of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and the Old North Church

According to New England Cemeteries: A Collector’s Guide, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground is half a block west of the Old North Church, where Paul Revere saw the lights that signaled “one if by land, two if by sea.” During the Revolutionary War, the British camped in the graveyard in order to shell Charlestown to the north and Bunker Hill. It is commonly believed that British soldiers used headstones for target practice, particularly one belonging to Daniel Malcolm, whose epitaph names him a “true son of liberty.”

Others at rest in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground are Edmund Hartt, shipyard owner and builder of the USS Constitution; Robert Newman, who raised the lantern to signal Paul Revere; and Prince Hall, an anti-slavery Revolutionary soldier who founded the black Masonic Order. Also buried there are thousands of artisans, craftspeople, and merchants who’d lived in the surrounding area.

Useful links:

The City of Boston page on Copp’s Hill has a map.

City of Boston Freedom Trail entry on Copp’s Hill

Celebrate Boston site, referenced above.

A bunch of photos of Copp’s Hill’s monuments on Grave Addiction.

The Freedom Trail website

Other Boston cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

King’s Chapel Burying Ground

Granary Burying Ground

Central Burying Ground

Forest Hills Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #109: Central Burying Ground

Coffin detail, Central Burying Ground

Coffin detail, Central Burying Ground

Central Burying Ground
On Boston Common at Boylston Street between Tremont Street and Charles Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Telephone: 617-635-4505
Established: 1754
In Use: 1756 – 1856, although tomb burials continued into the 1950s and cremated remains were buried there in the 1960s.
Size: 1.4 acres
Number of interments: 5,000 originally?
Number of monuments: fewer than 500 remain
Open: The listing on Waymarking.com said they found the gate closed when they visited, but I haven’t been able to find any information about opening or closing times. I walked right in when I was there.

Boston’s Central Burying Ground is the least visited of the three downtown graveyards. (The other two are King’s Chapel Burying Ground and the Granary Burying Ground. Add links) The graveyard lies alongside Boylston Street at the edge of Boston Common. The 44-acre Common is American’s oldest public park, but before that, it was owned by William Blackstone, the first white settler in the area. He – and subsequent Bostonians – used the land to pasture their cattle in the 1600s. During the 1700s, it was used as a training field for the militia.

In the middle of the 18th century, city fathers set aside a portion of the Common as a burial ground for paupers. Lonely Planet quotes one account as saying the Central Burying Ground became the final home for “Roman Catholics and strangers dying in the town.” Many of its earliest graves went unmarked.

During the occupation of Boston in the American Revolution, the British army camped on the Common. British soldiers who died if disease during the siege or during the Battle of Bunker Hill were buried in trenches at the edge of the burying ground.

The monument to those reburied after the subway displaced them from their graves.

The monument to those reburied after the subway displaced them from their graves.

At one point, the Central Burying Ground connected with the Granary Burying Ground, but hundreds of graves were removed when the city cut Boylston Street through. The excavation of the original subway line in the 1890s displaced more graves. Some families moved the remains of their ancestors to Mount Auburn Cemetery, but others were re-interred in a mass grave marked by a large slate slab. Estimates range between 1,100 and 2,000 bodies of the 5,000 original burials were exhumed.

One of the notable features of this burying ground is that its old vault tombs are still in place. They stand inside a raised tumulus surrounded by a deep ditch. Rusted iron doors punctuate the grass-topped mound. Some of the family tombs still have marble nameplates.

The old tombs in the middle of the Central Burying Ground

The old tombs in the middle of the Central Burying Ground

The most “famous” person buried in one of the tombs of the Central Burying Ground is the bipolar artist Gilbert Stuart, whose painting of George Washington in his black judicial robes hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Stuart also painted the unfinished “Athenaeum Head”—Martha Washington’s favorite portrait of her husband—which appears on our one dollar bill. Due to his mental illness and his sharp tongue, Stuart died a pauper, replaced by painters with better social skills. He had no marker until 1897, when the Boston Paint and Clay Club erected a cenotaph adorned with a palm frond threaded through the thumbhole of a painter’s palette.

Willow weeping over a pair of urns

Willow weeping over a pair of urns

This graveyard has more recent monuments than in the other colonial-era burying grounds. In place of death’s-heads or soul effigies, these stones bear urns and willows. They also have specific epitaphs that address the visitor. Near the gate stands the stone of
Mrs. Susanna Brown, who passed in 1797, which says,

“Go home my frinds dry up your tea
rs For I shall rest till Christ apea

Both “tears” and “appears” wrapped to the lines below, because the stonecutter hadn’t left enough room.

The sentiment in this epitaph illustrates a new stage in the development of Christian philosophy. Rather than rotting in the ground with the Puritans or her soul winging away with the Anglicans buried under their soul effigies, Mrs. Brown was content to “rest” in her grave until Christ’s resurrection summoned the dead to be judged and sent to their final rewards. This, of course, was eventually replaced by the Victorian belief that all our loved ones would be awaiting us in Heaven.

The top of Frederick Gilbert's gravestone

The top of Frederick Gilbert’s gravestone

In the Central Burying Ground lay a number of Masons. The most ornate Masonic gravestone of all remembers Mr. Frederick Gilbert, who died “Octr 2d 1802.” His monument is adorned with a compass and the phrase “He liv’d within compass,” seven stars, a moon and a sun, a shovel and a pick, and a skeleton lying in a toe-pincher coffin. His epitaph reads:

“Sure as yon Sun shall leave old Ocean’s bed,
And o’er the Earth its genial influence shed;
Sure as chaste Cynthia wanders through the skie,
Or stars with bright effulgences shine on high;
So sure had Gilbert’s spirit soar’d above,
To the celestial Lodge in realms of love.”

Gilbert doesn’t seem to have left much mark on history beyond his gravestone, but perhaps that’s enough.

Rubbing isn’t allowed on these old stones, since they are not engraved very deeply and are old and fragile.  Preachers, Patriots, and Plain Folks suggests you visit in late afternoon to catch the stones in their best light.

Some Useful Links:

ETA:  I just discovered there’s a ghost story, too.

The City of Boston listing for the burying ground

A map and directions, care of Celebrate Boston

The Lonely Planet listing for the Central Burying Ground

GPS information via waymarking.com

My review of Preachers, Patriots, & Plain Folks

Cemetery of the Week #61: Granary Burying Ground

The Granary Burying Ground in springtime

Old Granary Burying Ground
101a Tremont Street at Bromfield
Boston, MA 02108
Telephone: (617) 635-4505
Founded: 1660
Size: 2 acres
Number of interments: 5000, or perhaps as many as 8000, under 2345 markers
Open: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., although some areas may be closed during the restoration work.

This weekend and throughout the summer: The Freedom Trail Organization offers a full schedule of historical tours, led by a costumed guide. The schedule is here. Tickets range from $6-$12.

Established in 1660 in an attempt to alleviate the crowding at King’s Chapel Burying Ground, the Granary Burying Ground takes its name from a grain storehouse that once stood nearby. More than 2300 — and perhaps as many as 8,000 — corpses lay inside this small patch of ground, which barely covers two acres. One source estimates that as many as 20 bodies lie beneath each tombstone.

Unfortunately, few of the grave markers actually mark graves any longer. Around the dawn of the 20th century, groundskeepers re-aligned the gravestones to make it easy to mow between them. In some cases, the footstones — which once marked the foot of a grave like a footboard on a bed frame — now lean against their headstones. At least they hadn’t been lost altogether. Perhaps during the current renovation, some well-meaning soul will set them back up the way they belong.

Paul Revere’s gravestone

The Old Granary Burying Ground is the final home of many of Boston’s Revolutionary War patriots, including James Otis (“Taxation without representation is tyranny.”), Robert Treat Paine (signer of the Declaration of Independence and first Massachusetts Attorney General), and victims of the Boston Massacre, including Crispus Attucks.

In the center of the graveyard stands a granite obelisk labeled Franklin in large, proud capitals. It marks the grave of Benjamin Franklin’s parents, Josiah and Abiah. The original stone he’d chosen was replaced by this one in 1827, erected by local citizens who wanted to lay claim to the glory of their native son, despite the fact that he’d preferred to be buried in Philadelphia. One of my antique postcards incorrectly identifies the monument as Franklin’s own, a misconception that was undoubtedly good for tourism.

John Hancock’s monument

It’s common for visitors to line up to be photographed beside the monuments of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. Also in the graveyard is the monument to John Hancock, although he may no longer lie beneath it. One story says that grave robbers stole his hand first, whether because they couldn’t remove his rings or because a collector wanted the hand that signed the Declaration of Independence. His body may have vanished during the restoration of his gravesite. I don’t know how much truth there is in these allegations.

Another gravestone that attracts pilgrims is that of Mary Goose. Mary was the first wife of Isaac Goose, whose second wife Elizabeth may or may not have been the famous Mother Goose. Legend has it that Elizabeth’s son-in-law collected her stories into Songs for the Nursery, or Mother Goose’s Melodies, but scholars find it suspicious that no copy of the original book survived. Many of the Mother Goose tales date back to France in the late 1600s. Still, some old guidebooks to Boston identify Mary as Mother Goose.

In the Granary Burying Ground, ornamentation on gravestones runs a gamut from the early awkward death’s-heads common in King’s Chapel Burying Ground to anatomically correct skulls to cherubs with portrait-like faces. I particularly liked the cherubs with hair etched by a delicate tool. These “soul effigies” indicate a huge shift in Christian philosophy, from the Puritan belief that only the Elect will rise to Heaven while their bodies moldered in the grave to a general sense that all souls took flight upon the body’s death and Heaven was available to all.

Some of the stones can be traced to particular carvers, which demonstrates an advance in how people valued graveyards. Once tombstones were acknowledged as works of art — instead of a necessary evil — artists wanted to claim to their designs. Some carvers even autographed their stones. Henry Christian Geyer advertised his talents in the local papers. He was a fisherman who had studied birds well enough to put realistic wings on his cherubs.

Unlike earlier headstones, the Granary stones offer epitaphs that record how the survivors felt about their losses. These seemed to have come into fashion in the late 1700s. One that struck me said:
“To this sad shrine who ’ere thou art draw near
Here lies the Friend most joy’d, the Son most dear
Who ne’er knew joy, but Friendship might divide
Or gave his father Grief, but when he died.”

The Granary Burying Ground is guard by a small Egyptian-style gate. Egyptian grave ornaments didn’t come into fashion until after Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign nearly two centuries after this cemetery was founded. The granite gate was designed by Solomon Willard, architect of the Bunker Hill Monument. It was quarried in nearby Quincy and unveiled in 1840.

In 1879, the last body sank into the dirt of the Granary Burying Ground. Now it invites visitors to touch history.

ETA: More information about John Hancock’s monument and his missing hand, via Gravely Speaking.

Useful links:
Interesting tidbits about the Granary Burying Ground and a map of Boston

The Granary Burying Ground is getting a facelift.

My review of a guidebook to Boston’s historic burying grounds

Other Revolutionary War heroes on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #18: King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #33: Old Dutch Burying Ground, Tarrytown, New York

Cemetery of the Week #41:  Trinity Churchyard, New York City, New York

Cemetery of the Week #43: Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadephia, Pennsylvania

Cemetery of the Week #73: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard, New York City, New York

The primary text on Mount Auburn Cemetery

Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory And Boston's Mount Auburn CemeterySilent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory And Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery by Blanche M.G. Linden

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.

View all my reviews

Cemetery of the Week #31: Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mary Baker Eddy’s monument at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery
580 Mount Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Telephone: (617) 547-7105
Founded: 1831
Size: 175 acres
Number of Interments: 95,000, give or take
Open: October through April: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. From May through August, the grounds remain open until 7 p.m. Closing times in September vary.

Following in the footsteps of Pere Lachaise in Paris and Highgate Cemetery in London, Mount Auburn Cemetery liberated the dead from the churchyard to rest in the beautiful arms of nature. As America’s first garden cemetery, Mount Auburn was nothing less than a paradigm shift on the soil of Massachusetts.

Dr. Jacob Bigelow, the foremost botanist in New England and a professor at Harvard Medical School, began the discussion of opening a country cemetery in 1825. In 1830, the Mount Auburn site — one mile from Harvard and four miles from Boston — was chosen for its beauty. It had hillocks and dells, valleys and promontories. With Bigelow’s assistance, the cemetery was carefully designed to give a very real sense of space and privacy. Plantings were chosen to turn the cemetery into an arboretum of unparalleled loveliness.

People used Mount Auburn Cemetery for everything, according to an Englishman quoted in Tom Weil’s The Cemetery Book: “Cemeteries here are all the ‘rage’; people lounge in them and use them (as their tastes are inclined) for walking, making love, weeping, sentimentalizing, and every thing in short.” The cemetery was so popular that it inspired not only garden cemeteries across the U.S., but also the urban park movement.

At 72 acres, Mount Auburn Cemetery was the largest burial ground in the United States. (The New Haven Burial Ground, which was considered large at the time, encompassed only six acres.) The cemetery has now swelled to 175 acres, too large to comfortably explore in a single day. Luckily, the cemetery office offers a one-hour driving tour as well as two 75-minute walking tours on cassette tapes or CDs. These are available for for purchase or rental during office hours (8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily at the Entrance Gate). Audio players are also available for rent, or you may bring your own.

In addition, a variety of maps and materials about the Cemetery are available at the Entrance Gate and in the Cemetery office. These materials include flyers highlighting a “Person of the Week,” featuring poetry by the resident bards, and locating the State Champion trees. They may also have picture postcards and copies of the books featuring Mount Auburn. I bought my copy of Blanche Linden’s Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery there.

Although they seem to have nothing scheduled for September, the Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery offer guided walking tours, slide lectures, and special events at the cemetery. In addition to visiting the celebrities buried there, the Friends explore the history, horticulture, art, and architecture of the cemetery.

Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary leads birdwatching tours of Mount Auburn. Check here for the next scheduled event. Here’s one of the birds I saw there.

With so many other things to see and do at Mount Auburn, the graves serve as adornments, not as the distinguishing features. Still, Famous and Curious Cemeteries by John Frances Marion calls Mount Auburn the “Westminster Abbey of America.” Its permanent residents include Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poet James Russell Lowell, Amy Lowell (who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry), John Bartlett (compiler of the Familiar Quotations), publishers George H. Mifflin, Charles Little, and James Brown, as well as Dorothea Dix, who pioneered humane treatment for insanity, the painter Winslow Homer, Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science.

I suspect autumn must be quite spectacular amidst such luminaries.

Useful links:

Mount Auburn Cemetery website

Birds of Mount Auburn checklist

Calendar of events

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Mount Auburn:

Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory And Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery

The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History

Famous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries

The Cemetery Book: Graveyards, Catacombs and Other Travel Haunts Around the World

Victorian Cemetery Art