Thursday, July 16, 2009

Garden cemeteries

The gravestone of Swiss-American geologist Jules Marcou (1824-1898) in Mount Auburn Cemetery (above). A great 6-minute segment about Green-Wood Cemetery from the ongoing on-line video series The City Concealed, which explores the unseen corners of New York (below).

One day several years ago, Jody Arlington and I took a brown-bag lunch to beautiful Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. We perched on the stairs of a family tomb that took the shape of a rotunda and began to enjoy our sandwiches in the shady, picturesque setting. Almost immediately, we were chased away by a caretaker who lectured us about disrespecting the dead. I didn't have the presence of mind to counter with the history of garden cemeteries, but just have a look at the first paragraph of this article - which features Oak Hill and 5 other Washington-area cemeteries. The garden cemetery movement of the 19th c. was inspired by Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, with its artistic tombs and winding walkways. Graveyards, previously believed to emit an unhealthy miasma, drew visitors to enjoy the statuary and stonework in a landscaped setting. Garden cemeteries in the U.S. led to the public park system and two of the first - Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Green-Wood in Brooklyn, New York - have been designated National Historic Landmarks. I have never been to Mount Auburn Cemetery, but did take a driving tour of Green-Wood Cemetery with my friend Kristina - the guard was going to deny us entry, since we didn't have relatives buried there, but I produced my membership card for the Association for Gravestone Studies (to which I have belonged since 1987) and he let us in. We didn't bring a lunch.

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