Monday, April 30, 2007 04/30/07-Cemeteries

In today's excerpt--the American "rural-cemetery movement," launched by the creation of Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts. With Mount Auburn, graveyards came to be called cemeteries and became destinations for truth-seeking and reflection:

"Mount Auburn, the Cambridge cemetery, became one of the principle cultural institutions of the nineteenth century. ... David Charles Sloane notes that the rural cemetery movement, launched by Mount Auburn in 1831, brought into widespread use the Greek-derived term 'cemetery,' from koimeterion ('sleeping- place'). ... The Greek emphasis is one clue to the attitudes being expressed--an escape from the theological gloom of churchyards, a return to nature, a pantheistic identification of dissolution with initiation. ... The new cemetery would be a place of frequent resort for the living, who would commune with nature as a way of finding life in death. The romantic theory of association made people see death in a new way. ...

"Mount Auburn became a place of fashionable resort and cultural indoctrination, a 'school' outside Boston to rank with the neighboring Harvard campus. When Edward Everett was Harvard's president, he took important guests out to contemplate Mount Auburn. In 1849, he escorted Lady Emmeline Wortley there even before showing her around the college grounds, and she was more detailed and enthusiastic in her description of the cemetery than of the campus. [Charles] Dickens was also exposed to this national treasure, which received thirty thousand visitors a year. ...

"The function of a cemetery as a training of the sensibilities was much on Everett's mind. He even suggested that children should be kept in instructive communion with the place by volunteer work on its upkeep."

Gary Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Simon and Schuster, 1992, pp. 63-70.


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