Nature and Landscaping
Garden Cemeteries: The first modern cemeteries
In the mid 1800's American cities had a problem, church burial grounds were full and toxic. Fortunately, a group of horticulturists in Massachusetts had a solution and, in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge became the first modern cemetery. Other cities began to follow suit, dedicating rolling, scenic tracts of land on the outskirts of town to honor the deceased.
“In a country sorely lacking in public green spaces, these cemeteries provided these graceful, elegant places,” says Keith Eggener, architectural historian and author of the book “Cemeteries.” “They were all around recreational and artistic centers for people. They became seen as major urban amenities.”
But it was the cemeteries’ success that inspired the competition that edged them out — city parks. Early cemetery topography, with its rolling hills and gently curving paths, also highly influenced the first large city parks designed in the mid-19th century. As urban destinations like Central Park and Prospect Park became more popular, they edged their forerunners out.
The time was ripe for these parks’ rise over the cemeteries: Attitudes toward death were shifting. In the Victorian Era, high mortality rates, especially among children, had meant that mourning and death were very much a common presence in peoples’ lives. That culture, with its romanticized poems, songs and rituals surrounding death and mourning, had contributed to the elaborate rural cemeteries and their popularity.
Over time, as burial became more sterile and efficient, cemeteries followed suit. Eggener writes: “Increasingly, they became places of the dead almost exclusively, as the living preferred to avoid them except when absolutely necessary.”
Of course, the cemeteries themselves didn’t go anywhere. As our cities continued to grow, they engulfed these plots of land until the cemeteries — once on the edges of town — were massive chunks of green space often smack in the hearts of our major metropolitan areas. Thanks to perpetual care agreements and historic preservationists, many of these historic cemeteries remain today, protected from development. The result is a generation of gated, g landscaped gardens lying comfortably in the hearts of major American cities, ready for their comeback as urban dwellers seek out nature in the city. (American Forests Spring/Summer 2014 Publication)
Parsons Cemetery, while still operational with beautiful burial grounds, a permanent cremation garden, and columbariums available to meet the community's needs, it also meets the needs of our City's urban dwellers. Parsons has an ever increasing number of visitors eeking a gardened green space to walk, job, bike, or enjoy a quiet respite. Please join them with a visit to our historic sectiosn and the waterfront Parsons Memorial Walkway.