Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Is this art? Mrs. Sgt. Tanuki and I went on an outing last week to Mt. Auburn Cemetery here in Cambridge - it looked like it was the closest we were going to get this season to a serious leaf-peeping excursion.

It's an interesting place. First garden-style cemetery in the States (as opposed to the earlier churchyard-style cemeteries), and a pioneer in landscaping, precursor of the great urban parks of the 19th century, such as Central Park, or the Tanuki's favorite, St. Louis's Forest Park.

The difference is, of course, that this is a graveyard. It's full of dead people, and the stones that mark where they lie. So you stroll around enjoying the foliage, the carefully arranged treescapes and ponds and hills and hollows, but every prospect is centered around tombs. Link

Of course these are tombs of wealthy Bostonians from the mid- to late nineteenth century: romantic in the extreme, decorated with all manner of statuary, all kinds of Greco-Roman motifs and Romantic imagery.

Romantic is the key word: the whole place is like a strollthrough the Romantic imagination. The earth itself is sculpted so as to epitomize the contemporary ideal of the picturesque - hidden pools meant to evoke lonely cathedrals of nature, dells shaded by huge maples and ringed by gothic tomb entrances, mausolea designed to look like rustic forest chapels.

And everywhere there's mortuary sculpture. Angels, gods, eagles, urns, ivy, all of stone, all standing out white against the leaves and grass, like ghosts or something.

I've tramped around any number of old New England graveyards, the
style that preceded Mt. Auburn - I can't get enough of them, the old death's-head tombstones, the eighteenth-century epitaphs. Compared to them, this would have been a startling new conception of death and the afterlife.

As well as a nice place for a stroll in early November.

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