Visit Mt. Auburn Cemetery

The Mt. Auburn Cemetery is a temporary retreat from the urban bustle into a world of trees, birds, rabbits and statuary. While it sounds unlikely, such places do exist, often enough fairly close to the busiest places in the area. This place lies a scant mile from Cambridge's Harvard Square.

The word "cemetery" probably brings to mind a stereotypical graveyard, with rows and rows of headstones marching in even lines across a field of grass. In this case, nothing could be further from the truth. Mt. Auburn possesses a varied landscape: ponds and glens, hills and dells. The plantings and trees are so thick in places that from above they look like a forest. The monuments placed a century ago show an array of styles and themes ranging from statues of angels to giant granite spheres. The grave of the "...founder of the Express System in America..." features a life-size stone dog waiting eternally for its master. All of the components of the park-like cemetery are linked by winding roads and paths named after flowers and trees.

Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded in 1831 by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society with the intention of making it as much a garden as a graveyard. The land selected was a large plot known as Stone's Woods, or Sweet Auburn. The owner, George Brimmer, had planned to build a park and residence on the site, but when he was approached by the Horticultural Society members, he liked their plan so well that he sold them the acreage for $6,000, a bargain price. The design was based on that of a Parisian graveyard, Pere la Chaise.

When you pass through the gates of Mount Auburn you enter a different world. You can, of course, drive through the cemetery, but to savor it properly you should walk. It doesn't matter which road you take; they are all interesting. Since they tend to follow the contours of the landscape, they can be quite convoluted, but since you are in an enclosed area, you can't really get lost-all roads eventually will bring you back to the entrance. Since the aim here is to explore, getting temporarily misplaced is just part of the fun.

Whichever way you choose will, of course, be lined with monuments, headstones, and statuary many of which will bear well-known names from Boston's past. The Lowells are well represented, and Nathaniel Bowditch gazes from his stone chair. The Civil War plays a recurrent theme, with memorial tablets to heroes such as Robert Gould Shaw and a spectacular stone sphinx celebrating the end of slavery.

Turn off the road onto some of the many paths. They are announced with small street signs and lead to hidden surprises not visible from the roads. Some are narrow tracks running across steep hillsides above little ponds that are home to ducks and frogs; these quieter hidden spots are good places to see the numerous species of birds that frequent the cemetery, as well as the chipmunks and rabbits that dwell here.

The crowning touch, the ultimate destination within the cemetery, is the observation tower. Situated at the top of the highest hill in Mount Auburn, its crenelated top rising above the canopy of leaves, the tower is a landmark visible for miles around, from Boston, Watertown, Belmont, Cambridge, Brighton, Arlington and even the Mystic-Tobin Bridge. Obviously, if it can be so easily seen from so many places, it also offers a fantastic 360-degree view itself. Because of its pastoral location, it offers the best autumn foliage viewing south of the White Mountains.

The tower is located on Mountain Ave.; just keep walking toward higher ground and you'll eventually come upon it. It looks like the keep of a medieval castle. A heavy steel door guards the entrance, locked at night and during inclement weather. Just inside begins a spiral staircase made from massive granite blocks. Sixty-four steps up and around leads to the open balcony two-thirds of the way up, and a further 31 steps take the visitor to the exposed summit of the tower.

The view from the top is all-encompassing; in fact, if you look down by your feet you will notice a U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey medallion set into the center of the granite floor because of the tower's suitability for triangulation in surveying and mapping the surrounding environs. To the east spreads out the entire Boston skyline, with Harvard Stadium in the foreground. The Charles River meanders below, and the distinctive buildings of St. Elizabeth's Hospital dominate the upper reaches of Brighton in one direction while the water tower above Arlington Heights claims the attention in another. The strongest impression gained is of the vast amount of trees-an almost unending sea of greenery-visible from this spot in the midst of the megalopolis of the Boston area.

The perspective one gains from the top of this stone tower should serve as a refreshing elixir to fortify one for the plunge back into the urban bustle just outside the cemetery gates. Mount Auburn Cemetery is located on Mount Auburn Street at the Cambridge/Watertown line. Public transportation is available from Harvard Square, Watertown Square, and Waverly Square. Visit this oasis and discover that cemeteries offer peace for the living as well.

Article provided by Homesteader

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