Since our founding in 1831, Mount Auburn has been a place of beauty and tranquillity
designed to accommodate the burial and commemoration of the deceased
while also providing comfort and inspiration of the living.
(Dave Barnett, Executive Officer Mount Auburn Cemetery)
Once again an unusual Boston
And the discovery – during my latest journey to Massachusetts – of a charming place, magically hanging among the recesses of time, of history, of the characters’ myth that have been populated it for ages. And then the most surprising art and nature.
What am I talking about?
A National Park, a boundless green land among the greatest ones in Boston, where hills, lakes, paths and woods alternate.
But also the first right art Museum in Boston, besides nature reserve of several species of plants, trees, animals and birds, here people practice the bird watching and organize a series of themed paths and routes for lovers and explorers.
Furthermore, it’s an inspiration place for artists, architects and literary men. And – the cherry on the cake – it’s an amazing view point.
From the top of the old Washington Tower, built in 1854 in honor of the first president of the United States of America, George Washington (it’s on a hill just in the center of the park), you can enjoy one of the most beautiful skylines of the city and the luxuriant neighbored vegetation.
Ah, I forgot. It’s a cemetery, too.
Or perhaps it’s better to say it is the first, very ancient rural cemetery or garden-cemetery (as you prefer) in the North America.
Here are buried poets, writers, sculptors, patrons, famous characters, war heroes and politicians related to the American history.
As for example Isabella Stewart Gardner, the eccentric millionaire owner of the Venetian Palace, rich in inestimable treasures, literally took down and carried to Boston at the end of the 1800s. Today it’s a wonderful museum, among the most appreciated of the state: over time it’s not changed in the furniture and in the displays, it makes a fine show in the Fenway area, less far from the downtown.
Or even characters as Henry Longfellow, really famous American poet and even more important thing first translator into English of the Divine Comedy. Then Frank Crowninshield, founder of Vanity Fair, and Herriot Kezia Hunt, the first professional woman doctor of the United States. And many other famous graves.
It’s a place beyond description where to walk and lose the sense of time.
It’s the heart place of many Bostonians that, besides commemorate their deceased, love to retire to here searching for concentration and inspiration for their creativity, the outdoor activities or simply for a relax afternoon and walks in the nature.
Unusual Boston: Mount Auburn Cemetery, the history
The Mount Auburn Cemetery was planned by Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn with the aim to create outside the Boston downtown a place dedicated to the burial and the commemoration of the deceased.
A new place to meet on one side the impending necessity to lessen the little cemeteries of the city’s ancient churches, full by now. On the other side to create a sort of park-garden in the nature to favour not only the connection with one’s own deceased dear ones but also the inspiration for the daily life through the creation of paths, arboreta, artist installations and dedicated routes.
It was opened in 1831, first among all the rural American cemeteries; the Mount Auburn Cemetery became in a short time a sort of open sky museum: lovers, budding artists and onlookers came here to admire buildings, tombstones and tombs, artist masterpieces crated by the greatest sculptors and architects of that time.
Over centuries this unusual place of peace and relax at few minutes far from Boston has been keeping to be a reference, meeting, growth and inspiration point for locals, visitors and tourists: growing even more and become a real nature park with the recognition of National Historic Landmark District.
Unusual Boston: Mount Auburn Cemetery, the tour
Today the Mount Auburn Cemetery extends over a boundless area and welcomes about 200.000 visitors every year.
More than 17 km of paths including 95.000 burials and dividing among nature, architectonic, literary and artist paths: almost 6.000 trees and plants of 700 different species and 220 varieties of birds, animals and insects.
Maybe is the uncontaminated nature, the feel of peace and serenity by which you are swallowed once you gone in; or the amazing colors of fall foliage in Fall, the surprising blooming between Spring and Summer – people call it Spring & Summer bloom – or the magic of ice crystals covering the sculptures and plants during Winte
An enchanted place, which seems to be fixed in a parallel dimension. I recommend to visit it in each season of the year.
You try to imagine walking along its avenues exactly like the generations of visitors did before you, to stop in front of the great Sphinx near the entrance (it was realized to commemorate the end of the Civil War). Imagine to admire the gothic finishes of the suggestive Old Chapel, to be surprised to recognize Dante’s quotes on the several tombs.
And to listen to or read (with a map in your hand) the stories related to the graves of the famous characters and artists who created for them immortal works with the aim to keep their memory over centuries.
I have to tell you about the curious Mt Auburn Book Club: its members meets on the second Thursday every month to talk books, graves or different nature aspects related to the park and its activities in front of a piece of cake and a cup of tea or coffee. Free admittance is allowed to visitors and interested people, too – by reservation only.
I cannot not to think to the emotion felt on the Harriot Kezia Hunt tomb, first professional woman doctor of the United States. She lived in the second half of the 1800s, fervent abolitionist and supporter of the women’s rights and the ethnic minorites. The same emotion applies to its commemorating monument, the Hygeia statue (the Greek Goddess of health): it was created by one of the most famous Afro-American female artists of that time, Edmonia Lewis, Hunt’s friend and anti-slave paladin.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is a journey into the journey.
Fragments and suggestions of an unusual Boston that in its captivating originality keeps to create attention and to give surprises.
Unusual Boston: Mount Auburn Cemetery, cues, info and tips for the tour
The Mount Auburn Cemetery it’s at about 20 minutes far from Harvard square, in Cambridge, on foot and has free access by car or bicycle, too.
It’s possible to get the map and the opening brochure at the visitor center (or you can download them directly on the website) and go around alone discovering the park.
My personal tip is anyway to book one of the tours organized by Mount Auburn – click here for further information – to follow themed, nature, literary, architectonic or artist paths, according to your interests. The guides, always well prepared, will show you surprising places, lingering on anecdotes and charming stories.
The Washington Tower is opened from May until September, from 8 am to 8pm (for Winter schedules it’s better to have a look on the website). Free access and the view point can be reached by a spiral staircase.