Gareth and I live just a stone’s throw from one of my favorite spots in the Boston area: the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. When out-of-town guests come a-calling and I mention that I can’t wait to take them to my favorite cemetery they look at me askance, until they experience the place for themselves — then they invariably want to go back again.
Founded in 1831, Mount Auburn was the first large-scale designed landscape open to the public in the United States. The cemetery’s website explains its origins this way:
"Our founders believed that burying and commemorating the dead was best done in a tranquil and beautiful natural setting at a short distance from the city center. They also believed that the Cemetery should be a place for the living, ’embellishing’ the natural landscape with ornamental plantings, monuments, fences, fountains and chapels. This inspired concept was copied widely throughout the United States, giving birth to the rural cemetery movement and the tradition of garden cemeteries. Their popularity led, in turn, to the establishment of America’s public parks."
Today Mount Auburn is this lush oasis in the city, filled as it is with towering trees, flowering bushes, and (of course) the remains of many famous New Englanders. I have been there in every season, and can attest to its year-round beauty. AND the enormity of its size. AND the beauty of its plants and flowers, like these Bluebells.
Only living plant specimens are allowed here, unless you count those carved or in relief, like these roses:
Each time I visit Mount Auburn I discover something I hadn’t noticed before, and quite often my discoveries are tied, in some way, to BOOKS.
The carved headstone above is one I discovered on a recent afternoon visit, during which I also took a couple shots of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s grave to share with all of you.
Longfellow is just one of the many, many famous people buried in Mount Auburn, many of whom were writers and poets. AND publishers, as it turns out. Just seconds after I took this shot, below…
I turned around, mounted a step, and came upon this sad scene, of decapitated tombstones…
and this explanation for it, below. (Clicking on the photos will take you to images large enough for you to read.)
Yep. Gareth and I had stumbled right onto the burying place of Charles C. Little and James C. Brown, of Little, Brown fame. As the signs explain, a large tree branch fell on this the spot during a wind storm in March, doing significant damage to the Brown lot…
and slight damage to the Little lot.
Conservators are currently working on repairs and restorations to both. (And they’re more than happy to accept donations toward those efforts.) If you are ever in the Boston area (or already are), I recommend heading over to Mount Auburn to check on their progress AND (more importantly) to just enjoy the beauty of scenes like this…
and plants like this (Lilly of the Valley).
The illustrators among you might enjoy making a sketch or two of spots like this (which is exactly what Gareth’s doing below).
The designers among you would probably appreciate the artistry of patterns like this:
And you typographers are in for a few treats too. As are those of you in search of names for book characters.
Of course, if that’s not enough for you, there’s always the option of visiting the graves of Winslow Homer, Nathaniel Bowditch, Fannie Farmer, and Isabella Stewart Gardner (below), just to name a few.
(All of the photos in this post have been saved to my ShelfTalker Flickr page, where you can view them larger if you’d like.)
Have you got a favorite cemetery near you? If so, please share. If not, please make a point of visiting this one so you won’t feel left out.