The Nation’s First Garden Cemetery
Just 4 miles west of Boston proper, Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first landscaped or “garden” cemetery in the U.S., is much more than the most enchanting place to spend eternity. It’s open every day. Admission is free. The cemetery offers a place to stroll, lush gardens, ponds, a trove of art and architecture and many creatures. It is the resting place of numerous famous literary figures and leaders whose words and concepts are still studied in classrooms in Boston and around the world.
Visit A Boston National Historic Landmark
Founded in 1831 and located at 580 Mount Auburn St., Mount Auburn cemetery is a National Historic Landmark. Mt. Auburn street was named after the cemetery, which was created on the rolling land of a former farm. According to the Friends of Mt. Auburn, locals called the land where the cemetery was built “Sweet Auburn,” after the fictitious town in Oliver Goldsmith’s 1770 poem “The Deserted Village.”
Both children and adults can receive an education here, thanks to a rich roster of programming. The online lesson plan Mount Auburn Cemetery: A New American Landscape is offered to teachers and parents through The National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program. Using the cemetery as a teaching tool, the program offers curricula tailored to a variety of themes, subject areas, and ages.
Boston’s Second Arboretum
On 175 acres you’ll find 5,500 trees, shrubs and other plants from around the world. More than half of the trees on the grounds are labeled with their names, the date they were planted and their origin. The cemetery is an important arboretum, according to the Library of American Landscape History.
As their website puts it: “Mount Auburn’s forest glades and ponds contrasted sharply with grim American graveyards typical of the day.” At Mount Auburn, founders laid out a system of roads in the shapes of ellipses and parabolas derived from Greek architecture. Roads and paths are mostly named for trees and plants and reflect the cemetery’s horticultural origins. You’ll find the names on 19th century iron signs designating the cemetery’s paths and avenues.
Read our article about visiting the Arnold Arboretum.
A Spot for Birdwatchers, Walkers, and Nature Lovers
Not only were specific trees and shrubs planted intentionally to attract birds, but also the space is designated as a bird sanctuary, since it provides essential habitat to one or more species of breeding, wintering, and/or migrating birds. Read more about birds and other creatures found at Mt. Auburn.
The manicured grounds provide a spacious, beautiful, and shady place for the living to stroll, and include a one-mile inner loop and two-mile outer loop. You can take a guided tour or download the cemetery’s app to guide you. If you visit with children, the cemetery provides a thoughtful list of suggested activities, since neither bikes nor climbing are permitted (strollers are acceptable). Not far from the cemetery’s entrance, you can rest and reflect on one of the shady benches provided inside the circular Asa Gray Garden, where water shoots from a circular spray fountain at its center. Gray, according to the archives of the Arnold Arboretum, created Harvard’s botany department. He is the author of Gray’s Manual. First published in 1848, it’s still used to teach botany today.