Lots of dead people are underfoot in Boston. For starters, every tourist who comes to this town will pass by cemeteries from Colonial and Revolutionary days, like the Granary Burial Ground just off Boston Common.
The Granary has 2,300 markers but probably twice as many bodies. In 2009, a tourist on a walk there discovered one unmarked grave by falling into it. She put her foot on just the right spot, where a broken slate slab had finally given way, and found herself hip-deep in a stairwell leading down to the tomb. The lady never identified herself to the press, which is a shame — I would have loved to read that interview.
Another of my favorite things about the Granary Burial Ground: After paying your respects to Samuel Adams, you can walk across Tremont Street, enter the Beantown Pub, and order a Sam Adams. Sometimes Boston is just fun like that.
At places like the Granary and at Copp’s Hill in the North End (both begun in the 17th century) the gravestones are now just thin grey shards that lean and sink into the earth, but at least they are identifiable as graveyards. Other skeletons didn’t get that kind of ceremony — according to one historian, a couple dozen British soldiers probably lie underneath homeowners’ gardens in Charlestown, not far from Bunker Hill. Nobody knows for sure.
Sorry to ramble — that stuff is all just pretty awesome. I could talk about graveyards all day! But I write today not to discuss humble churchyards; no, I want next-level graveyards. I want Victorians.
Forest Hills Cemetery and Mt. Auburn Cemetery
I’m surprised by how many locals haven’t visited the Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain or Mt. Auburn in Cambridge. Rich Bostonians went nuts with obelisks and tombstones, even above-ground, walk-in tombs of the sort I imagined were only used for undead French people in movies.
Mt. Auburn was supposedly the first “garden cemetery,” where monuments were arrayed artfully among hills and trees.
Behold! I have finally gotten an Instagram account. #sometimesIneedfilters
Prime real estate for Mr. Tufts here. #forgottoaddafilter
Mt. Auburn’s big draw is the tower right in its center, from which you can perfectly view the Boston skyline. The zoom on my smartphone camera isn’t great, so you’ll just have to trust me on that.
#yep,filter #AmIUsinghashtagscorrectly? #IDontReallyCare
But that’s just Mt. Auburn — Forest Hills came along slightly later, and is more grandiose and quirkier, and therefore my favorite. I go every year in the autumn, which is why these photos look so autumnal:
Forest Hills seems to be the place where people asked themselves: “But no, seriously, which type of tombstone really reflects me, as an individual?” There are huge examples self-aggrandizement and monuments to military badassery, as well as moments of genuine pathos. I mean, look at this stuff:
Little stone sculptures of children’s empty beds. In a cemetery full of children’s and infant’s graves. I mean, good God.
The place is dotted with sculpture as well: It’s an outdoor museum, impeccably landscaped. The perfect place to walk on an October day. When it’s cold and misty, it’s like being in an Edward Gorey sketch. When it’s sunny, it’s just gorgeous.
Pottery shard obelisk.
Why are these tiny houses carved into the rock the walls off this path? I don’t know, but I love it.