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How to Use
the Readings


Inquiry Question

Historical Context


Reading 1
Reading 2



Table of

Determining the Facts

Reading 3: A Place for the Living--Leisure, Learning, and Mourning

Mount Auburn Cemetery became a sightseeing destination as thousands of visitors from Europe and other American cities roamed its winding paths and wrote about its attractions. Many visitors were so impressed by the beauty and many features of the place that they returned home intent on creating similar cemeteries. Within 15 years, nine major cemeteries were patterned after Mount Auburn: Laurel Hill in Philadelphia (1836); Green-Wood in Brooklyn, Mount Hope in Rochester, and Green Mount in Baltimore (1838); Albany Rural in Albany (1841); Allegheny in Pittsburgh, and Spring Grove in Cincinnati (1844); and Elmwood in Detroit and Swan Point in Providence (1846). By 1849, the Auburn model had reached the Mississippi River (Bellefontaine in St. Louis), and by 1863, the west coast (Mountain View in Oakland). Closer to home, Mount Auburn inspired the spread of rural cemeteries throughout New England in the 1840s and 1850s. The rural cemetery concept had clearly struck a chord that vibrated throughout the nation.

Mount Auburn Cemetery provided its visitors passive, educational recreation. Couples frequented the cemetery for courtship walks. Visitors were thrilled by the beauty and mystery of the landscape and intrigued by the emotional verses and images engraved on the monuments. Teachers urged youth to visit the cemetery to learn from the praise-worthy lives of heroes buried there and to gain goals for their own lives.

Many people went to Mount Auburn simply to find relief from the increasingly hectic life of the growing city. Others came as tourists, having heard that a walk through Mount Auburn Cemetery was an indispensable part of a visit to Boston. According to the American Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge (1835), the cemetery was "justly celebrated as the most interesting object of the kind in our country." Mount Auburn's appeal in the early 19th century was not unlike the appeal to people today of contemporary museums, public parks, amusement parks, or even malls. Numerous guidebooks provided maps, suggested tour routes and descriptions of individual monuments, and provided appropriate contemplative and spiritual readings. As early as 1845, an omnibus provided direct access from Boston. In 1847, the Fitchburg Railroad established a station at Mount Auburn; after 1856, the street railway stopped at the front gate.

Observers both famous and obscure recorded their impressions after visiting Mount Auburn Cemetery. In 1831, Lydia Maria Francis Child wrote in The Mother's Book, "So important do I consider cheerful associations with death, that I wish to see our grave-yards laid out with walks and trees, and beautiful shrubs, as places of public promenade. We ought not to draw such a line of separation between those who are living in this world, and those who are alive in another." Harriet Martineau enthused in her multivolume Retrospect of Western Travel in 1838, "I believe it is allowed that Mount Auburn is the most beautiful cemetery in the world."

A letter written by then 16-year-old Emily Dickinson to a schoolfriend on September 8, 1846, captures the future poet's impression of Mount Auburn:

...Have you ever been to Mount Auburn? It seems as if Nature had formed the spot with a distinct idea in view of its being a resting place for her children, where wearied & disappointed they might stretch themselves beneath the spreading cypress & close their eyes "calmly as to a nights repose or flowers at set of sun."¹

As Mount Auburn Cemetery continued to mature, Andrew Jackson Downing mused about its impact on the country and the potential for recreation parks in The Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste of July 1849:

One of the most remarkable illustrations of the popular taste, in this country, is to be found in the rise and progress of our rural cemeteries. Twenty years ago, nothing better than a common grave-yard, filled with high grass, and a chance sprinkling of weeds and thistles, was to be found in the Union.... Eighteen years ago, Mount Auburn, about six miles from Boston, was made a rural cemetery. It was then a charming natural site, finely varied in surface, containing about 80 acres of land, and admirably clothed by groups and masses of native forest trees. It was tastefully laid out, monuments were built, and whole highly embellished. No sooner was attention generally roused to the charms of this place than the idea of rural cemeteries took the public mind by storm.... Not twenty years have passed since that time; and, at the present moment, there is scarcely a city of note in the whole country that has not its rural cemetery.... If the road to Mount Auburn is now lined with coaches, continually carrying the inhabitants of Boston by thousands and tens of thousands, is it not likely that such a garden, full of the most varied instruction, amusement, and recreation, would be ten times more visited?²

Questions for Reading 3

1. Where were other cemeteries modeled after Mount Auburn started in the 1800s?

2. Name some of the visitors to Mount Auburn Cemetery? Why did they visit?

3. According to Andrew Jackson Downing, what impact did Mount Auburn Cemetery have on the country?

4. Where do you go to spend your leisure time? Do you look for the same things as 19th-century visitors to Mount Auburn?

Reading 3 was compiled from Karen Halttune, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); Blanche Linden-Ward, "Strange but Genteel Pleasure Grounds: Tourist and Leisure Uses of Nineteenth-Century Rural Cemeteries," In Cemeteries and Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture, edited by Richard E. Meyer (Ann Arbor: U.M.I. Research Press, 1989); David Schuyler, The New Urban Landscape: The Redefinition of City Form in Nineteenth-Century America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); John F. Sears, Sacred Places: American Tourist Attractions in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); and Cynthia Zaitzevsky, Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1982).

¹Letter from Emily Dickinson to a schoolfriend, September 8, 1846, Thomas H. Johnson, ed., Emily Dickinson Selected Letters (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press, 1971), 7-8.
²Andrew Jackson Downing,
The Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste, vol. 4, no. 1, July 1849.


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