Known as as “America’s first garden cemetery”, ” Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and Watertown Massachusetts was founded by Bostonians in 1831 and soon became the model for the American Rural Cemetery Movement.
The aim was both practical and aesthetic: to solve an urban land use problem created by an increasing number of burials in the city and to create a tranquil and beautiful place where families could commemorate their loved ones with tasteful works of art in an inviting and natural setting.
Originally named Stone’s Farm, Mount Auburn was inspired by Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and was itself an inspiration to cemetery designers, most notably at Abney Park in London. Mount Auburn was designed largely by Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn with assistance from Dr. Jacob Bigelow and Alexander Wadsworth.
Dr. Bigelow began planning Mount Auburn as early as 1825, though the site was not acquired until five years later. Bigelow was concerned about the unhealthiness of burials in church cemeteries as well as the possibility of running out of space. With help from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded on 70 acres of land authorized by the Massachusetts Legislature. The original land cost $6,000 and was later extended to 170 acres. The main gate was built in the Egyptian Revival style and cost $10,000. The first president of the Mount Auburn Association, Joseph Story, dedicated the cemetery in 1831.
Mount Auburn was established at a time when Americans had a sentimental interest in rural cemeteries. It is still well known for its tranquil atmosphere and accepting attitude toward death. Many of the more traditional monuments feature poppy flowers, symbols of blissful sleep. In the late 1830s, its first unofficial guide, Picturesque Pocket Companion and Visitor’s Guide Through Mt. Auburn, was published and featured descriptions of some of the more interesting monuments as well as a collection of prose and poetry about death by writers including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Willis Gaylord Clark.
The cemetery is nondenominational and continues to make space available for new plots. The area is well known for its beautiful environs and is a favorite location for local birdwatchers. Guided tours of the cemetery’s historic, artistic, and horticultural points of interest are available.
A list of some of those who reside in Mount Auburn Cemetery is comparable to a Who’s Who of American history, culture and scientific inquiry of the last 200 years. Here is a small sample of the notables buried here:
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Julia Ward Howe
Mary Baker Eddy
Henry Cabot Lodge
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Josiah Quincy III
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Recognized as one of the most significant designed landscapes in the country, Mount Auburn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003.
Here is a video tour of the Mount Auburn Cemetery by Dick Eastman of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter: