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The Dead of Boston

Posted by on September 22, 2014
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Briget and I like visiting cemeteries when we travel.  Often walking among the peaceful rows of stones in a quiet place can really get you thinking, kind of like one gets thinking in the shower, but with less water and with more people than usual around.  Normally wearing clothes.

When you see the time-line of an area scattered through the graves you can empathize with the region.  But without even considering history you get a vast collection of architectural elements.

Boston was no slouch in its offerings.  From the oldest ‘burying ground’ to the stunningly beautiful, and obsessively organized Mount Auburn cemetery we certainly were entertained.

The old burying grounds are full of historical figures.  All the people who I promptly forgot about after taking American History, and a great deal who I forgot while taking American History.  They have their stories and I kind of feel bad that I don’t get that lump in my throat with the “{historical figure} was actually here at {historic spot}” feeling.  For a history buff, or one prone to throat lumps, Boston is your place.

Boston is not lacking in monuments to just about every historical figure in your elementary history books.

Boston is not lacking in monuments to just about every historical figure in your elementary history books.

My favorite part was the examination of the old headstones, the styles, the copied styles, the badly copied styles.  Artistry designed to last through the ages to commemorate someone long forgotten.  (People discuss the ethics of opening Egyptian tombs from thousands of years ago.  What about the things done to the 200-300 year old burial sites?  They move head stones, open crypts, dig subway vents through the grounds, even show bones in some areas.  I have no problem with those things.)  That commemoration allows future generations to learn about how things were and to understand that nothing is forever, especially the sanctity of a burial.  (And isn’t the point that the deceased should have already gone somewhere else?)

Boston’s old burial grounds offer carvings of skulls, some heads with amazingly coiffed hair, baby heads with wings (the most disturbing in my estimation) as well as newer markers to commemorate those who were particularly instrumental in American history of who popped back into vogue for a time due to easily divisible anniversaries or public relations between various groups.

This style is copied in various forms throughout many of the older Boston graveyards.  Some quite good.  The creative interpretations are awfully nice.

This style is copied in various forms throughout many of the older Boston graveyards. Some quite good. The creative interpretations are awfully nice.

Mount Auburn Cemetery on the other hand is a stellar achievement of burial organization.  Beautiful; meticulously maintained with enough wilding around the (h)edges to make it comforting and less sterile.

Most impressive was the Mount Auburn map.  The most accurate map we encountered on our trip, topping even the MIT map, which was a close second.  The really stand out feature was that even the little side paths, often only dirt or grass, were marked perfectly.  Finding a marker was easy and a pleasure.

Skinner's final box.  Sadly not one of the fancier monuments to someone who is well known in science history.

Skinner’s final box. Sadly not one of the fancier monuments to someone who is well known in science history.

But one wouldn’t care about finding a boring head stone.  Mount Auburn really delivers on that front.  Being an old cemetery, but also being an active burial ground, keeps the styles mixed and varied.  Stones of many varieties throughout the grounds.  Some with stories, which Briget really likes.  One which looked like a puzzle to solve with various, almost random symbols, verses and shapes.  The deceased was either trying to make a statement or let their considerably large stone be used for carver training.

Mount Auburn is certainly worth the bus ride.  Kind of like Piere le Chaise in Paris, but for the obsessive compulsive cemetery visitor.

Although we did not go on a ghost tour this trip, we still enjoyed the dead of Boston.

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