Boston Gave America Its First Park Cemetery

Recently a visitor to Boston asked me whether he should visit the Arnold Arboretum or Mount Auburn Cemetery.

I recommended the Arnold Arboretum.

That does mean that Mount Auburn is not worthy of a visit, because it is.

Mount Auburn Cemetery is, after all, America’s earliest park cemetery, built in 1831. The  Massachusetts Horticultural Society which sought to express its interest in horticulture and landscape gardening gave its support early on to this new rural cemetery.

In 1804 the French had already built such a cemetery which they called Pere Lachaise.  The book Keeping Eden: A History of Gardening in America by landscape historian Walter Punch says, “The British and Americans quickly followed suit with new ‘rural cemeteries,’ landscaped burial grounds around London, Liverpool, and Boston.”

[courtesy photo]

The entrance to Mount Auburn Cemetery [courtesy photo]

In 1881 Boston gentleman farmer Marshall Wilder (1798-1886) wrote a  book called The Horticulture of Boston and Vicinity. He said, “It was intended by the founders of the Gardens and Cemetery at Mount Auburn that these grounds should ultimately offer an example of the best style of landscape or picturesque gardening.”

The picturesque garden style, originating in the eighteenth century, represented the style of the English park.

To this day people flock to Mount Auburn to see an early American example of the English park.

As you walk the hilly grounds of the cemetery, you follow curved pathways. Along the way you see many shrubs and trees that have been well placed and maintained over the years.

The giant beech tree that greets you as you enter the cemetery is itself a symbol of the grandeur of this cemetery park.

Over the years Mount Auburn Cemetery has truly become a gift to the people of Boston and the world.

Thus this park cemetery is something to share with all visitors to Boston.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this important development in the history of public parks, and the link to the book. -Beth

    • Beth, thanks for connecting. Mount Auburn is such a wonderful place to visit. The rural cemetery idea centers on a democratic use of green space. People would walk the cemetery park just as they would a city park. Happy Holidays.

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