Tag Archives: Mount Auburn Cemetery

A New England Road Trip Companion

New England Cemeteries: A Collector's GuideNew England Cemeteries: A Collector’s Guide by Andrew Kull

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book jacket describes this as the “first and only” guide to the cemeteries of New England. I’m curious to know if that’s true. I know there were guides to Mt. Auburn and the other garden cemeteries published in the 19th century (unfortunately, I don’t have any of them in my collection), but I don’t know if there was an overall guide to the region — or if this is just a publisher’s hype.

Either way, this is a really fun book. If you’re making a road trip, as I’ve been lucky enough to do, throughout New England and wonder what lovely graveyards you might find along the way, this is the ideal guidebook. Andrew Kull seems to have actually visited these cemeteries and has opinionated, entertaining observations about them. I like that he directs H. P. Lovecraft “cultists” to ask directions to the author’s grave when they visit Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. I like also his assertion: “Burial Hill in Plymouth enjoys, without question, the most magnificent site of any cemetery in New England.” Doesn’t that just make you want to see for yourself?

The primary flaw is a dearth of photographs, although there are a few. In addition, New England Cemeteries jams 260 cemeteries, graveyards, and burial grounds into a mere 240-some pages (plus index and an essay on how to make grave rubbings), so you’re not getting in-depth information. In fact, you’re not even getting cemetery addresses, though the book does include opening hours, which were current in 1975. Still, for company on a road trip, Kull’s book is a useful and entertaining companion.

New copies are exorbitant, but you can find reasonably priced used copies on Amazon: New England Cemeteries: A Collector’s Guide

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A Necessary Cemetery Book

The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American HistoryThe Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History by David Charles Sloane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Any collection of cemetery books MUST include this one. This is the history of American graveyards pulled together into one readable, fascinating package. If you’ve wondered how cemeteries in America morphed from Boston’s Mount Auburn (one of the loveliest graveyards in the world) to Forest Lawn’s miles of flat bronze markers, this will answer your question in vivid detail.

The book suffers from a lack of illustrations, which makes it look uncomfortably like a textbook, but believe me, one you delve into these pages, you will learn while being entertained. In fact, the book reads much like a guidebook, leading you to yearn to visit these graveyards in order to see the historical remnants for yourself. This would be the perfect gift for that friend who devours history and can be counted on to dole out intriguing tidbits while the two of you stroll your local graveyard.

New copies are very expensive, but you can find used copies on Amazon: The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History (Creating the North American Landscape).

Use the Book Review category in the right column to see all my cemetery book reviews.

Introduction to the Art of the Victorian Cemetery in America

Victorian Cemetery ArtVictorian Cemetery Art by Edmund Vincent Gillon Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Published in 1972 when Americans were beginning to wake up to the kinds of landscapes they were surrounding themselves with, Victorian Cemetery Art proposed that people look back at earlier consciously-created landscapes. Photographer Edmund V. Gillon opens the book with a quick overview of the garden cemetery movement, illustrated with lovely etchings of the era, then moves into describing the iconography and statuary common to the Victorians.

Gillon points out that the very anonymity of the artists who created cemetery monuments forces us to look at their work freshly, forced to judge it on its own merits rather than because it was created by someone famous or is displayed by a well-regarded museum. He points out that generations of Americans learned about art solely from their visits to the local cemetery, because in most communities, that was where art was kept.

After the brief introduction, Gillon sets about illustrating his argument. In 260 black-and-white photographs, he displays all that is lovely about American Victorian-era cemetery decorations: angels, grieving women, veiled children, family pets, and more. He illuminates trends in iconography, like the open book, the heavenly gate, the sphinx, the broken harp, and whole flocks of birds. Some of my favorite monuments are those to sailors, whether lost at sea or anchored to their faith.

I don’t know enough about the history of Gillon’s book to know if it brought about the resurgence of interest in cemeteries for which he hoped. Now, as an artifact of another’s cemetery obsession, it’s a book that reaches across the years to spark our own explorations.

I found my copy of the book on ebay, but some copies seem to be available via Amazon: Victorian Cemetery Art.

Victorian cemeteries mentioned in the book on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #31: Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #53: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Cemetery of the Week #58: Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island

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What’s the prettiest cemetery in springtime?

Mount Auburn in the spring

Several years ago, I took a graveyard tour in the springtime, driving from Boston to Philadelphia and back to New York City.  I saw 17 cemeteries in 10 days, each lovelier than the last.  So my question to you is:  where is the best place to revel in spring?

I’m limited by the poll-making program to 10 responses, so I merely listed the first 10 beautiful graveyards that came to mind.  I know I’ve missed many, many more.  Please point up the omissions in the comments.

Also, you can feel free to vote for more than one in the following list.

Finally, this poll doesn’t record your identity, so no worries there.  I’m just curious to see what springtime cemeteries I should add to my must-see list.

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.

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