The Victorians loved their cemeteries. In fact, the Victorians essentially invented the idea of the cemetery that we have today. In earlier years, communities in Great Britain and America generally buried their dead in churchyards—literally, the small plot of land surrounding a church, usually in the middle of town. However, as populations increased and urban centers started to become overcrowded with the living, let alone the dead, a new idea was born: the rural cemetery. Based on the ideals of Romanticism, a rural cemetery (also called a garden cemetery) is a sprawling, landscaped burial ground, built to resemble a park and located on the outskirts of dense city centers. They tend to feature meandering paths, artful statuary, and plenty of trees and other greenery. During the Victorian era, they became popular sites for tourism and public recreation, in addition to their primary function of housing the dead. The rural cemetery movement spread simultaneously across England and America, but in this post I wanted to focus on 5 particularly gorgeous examples in the U.S.
1. Mount Auburn Cemetery (Massachusetts)
Mount Auburn was the very first American cemetery to follow this new model. It was built in 1831 and sits on the line between Cambridge and Watertown, Massachusetts, just west of Boston. The cemetery features an imposing main gate built in the Egyptian Revival style, a Gothic chapel, and a beautiful garden with a fountain. Among Mount Auburn's more well-known permanent residents are the cemetery's designer Jacob Bigelow, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, the escaped slave and abolitionist Harriet Ann Jacob, and many of the prominent Boston Brahmins. Mount Auburn served as inspiration for many other cemeteries on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the following century.
2. Green-Wood Cemetery (New York)
Green-Wood was another early rural cemetery, having been built in 1838. It is located in Brooklyn, New York, and has served as a popular leisure destination (and ultimate destination) for many New Yorkers, since long before the city's other green spaces were constructed. At the main entrance to the cemetery are gorgeous Gothic Revival gates built by the prominent architect Richard Upjohn. The natural landscape consists of glacial ponds and rolling hills, full of wildlife and foliage. Popular destinations within the cemetery include the monuments for the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, as well as famous grave sites like those of the gangster "Boss" Tweed, the composer Leonard Bernstein, and the stained-glass designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. The winding paths and cultivated greenery of Green-Wood Cemetery served as inspiration for New York's Central Park, which was built a few decades later. Green-wood offers regular tours and hosts all sorts of special events from movie nights to battle reenactments.
3. Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum (Ohio)
Rural cemeteries were by no means limited to the east coast. Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum is located in Dayton, Ohio, and has been there since its establishment in 1841. Today it sits right next to the University of Dayton. The cemetery's chapel boasts a gorgeous example of an original Tiffany stained-glass window, and its mausoleum has a whole series of more modern stained glass depicting scenes from literature. The most popular graves are those of the famous aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright, as well as that of the humorist Erma Bombeck who chose to be interred beneath a giant boulder.
4. Hollywood Cemetery (Virginia)
This sprawling cemetery is located on the edge of Richmond, Virginia, overlooking the James River. Directly inspired by Mount Auburn, Hollywood Cemetery was built in 1849 and named for the holly trees that dotted the landscape. This site contains the graves of two U.S. presidents, James Monroe and John Tyler, as well as that of Jefferson Davis, leader of the Confederacy. Hollywood Cemetery is also home to the legend of the Richmond Vampire—local folklore holds that a member of the undead resides in the mausoleum labeled "W. W. Pool" and occasionally ventures out to haunt the surrounding area.
5. Woodlawn Cemetery (New York)
New York City really does have some of the country's best cemeteries. This one is located in the Bronx and was built in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. It contains over 1,300 mausoleums located in distinctive circular lots with paths that spoke out to connect to the main walkways. The cemetery houses a number of the famous dead, including authors like Herman Melville and Countee Cullen, famous musicians like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, and Nellie Bly the American journalist best known for her exposé on mental institutions. There's always something going on at Woodlawn Cemetery, whether it be tours, concerts, or even a summer camp for kids.
Have you ever visited a rural-style Victorian cemetery? Do you have a favorite that's not on this list? Let me know in the comments!
Written By: TheGothicLibrarian