Posts Tagged ‘cemeteries’




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The American Sphinx is located in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. Commissioned and designed by Jacob Bigelow, founder of the cemetery, the sphinx was sculpted by Martin Milmore. It is composed of a single block of granite and was completed in July 1872 by Milmore and his brother, Joseph.


It is a rather unique Civil War monument. Inscribed in Latin and English on its sides are the following words:

American Union Preserved

African Slavery Destroyed

By the Uprising of a Great People

By the Blood of Fallen Heroes


In a rather poignant twist, Jacob Bigelow never actually saw the sculpture. By the time it was completed he was blind though as recounted on the Mount Auburn Cemetery website, friends remembered him visiting the statue and “fondly touching the contours of the massive form.” Learn more via the link below.

African American Heritage Trail – The Sphinx

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Worn by weather, and the occasional falling tree branch, the statues in Mount Auburn Cemetery always seem to be changing … a slow change… but change nonetheless.




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It was about 3 miles there by foot, and three miles back, and that’s excluding the times I got lost and had to retrace my steps but it was well worth the visit that had been encouraged by my host.


Glasnevin Cemetery is not old by European standards, having first opened in the early 1800s, but it is significant as a burial place for so many people who were key figures in shaping modern Ireland’s history and culture. It remains an active burial place open to people of all and no religions.


It reminded me of Boston’s Forest Hills and Mount Auburn Cemeteries, with their beautiful and poignant statuary, and a similar commitment to provide current generations access to the history and legacies of those buried through lively tours, books and other media.


My time was limited but I was able to shadow a tour long enough to realize that if I am able to return one day I will schedule time to take the formal tour with one of the knowledgeable guides and then visit the neighboring Botanical Gardens.


Though I chose to walk, public transportation is available.  You can learn more about the cemetery, its museum, genealogical services and more via this link:  https://www.glasnevinmuseum.ie/


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Mount Auburn Cemetery – http://mountauburn.org/

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Burial places they certainly are, but across time, cemeteries have also served other functions within our communities — as gathering places for celebration, as gardens of serenity for reflection, as time capsules that help us remember and document the past. In the first of two posts, friend and guest contributor Donna Stenwall shares memories of her visits to cemeteries around the world, respecting their universal solemnity while experiencing the unique attributes of each place.

Detail from Oscar Wilde Tomb, Pere Lachaise Cemetery

It seems strange to say this, but cemeteries have always played a role in my life. The small New England town I grew up in is where it all began. One of my earliest memories is walking by the old cemetery on my way to the library. It was locked every day with the exception of July 4th. That’s when we were able to enter and roam the aisles of the chipped and weathered headstones of the residents that founded the town in the 1600’s. With the names and dates barely visible to the naked eye, this is where we were taught the art of stone rubbing.

The “new cemetery” as we called it was the spot to learn how to ride your bike for the first time without training wheels. We would fly up and down the streets of the cemetery enjoying the freedom of 2 wheels, and all the while passing the graves of neighbors that left us too soon.

Since Massachusetts still had Blue Laws at the time (meaning no shopping on Sunday), the place to take your first spin behind the wheel was the parking lot of the newly built mall on Sunday afternoons. There we got accustomed to the feel of the car, practicing forward and reverse and left and right hand turns. But, to practice that three-point turn on a hill that we would be tested on? It was back to the cemetery!

Gates of Pere Lachaise

Gates of Pere Lachaise

When I began to travel, trips to cemeteries were on the itinerary. During my first trip to New Orleans I mentioned to our host that I would like to visit one of the old cemeteries I had heard so much about. The next day we set out to St. Louis Cemetery #3. It was there that I decided I wanted to be buried in a Mausoleum! Breathtakingly beautiful, I thanked our host for such an experience. It wasn’t until later I discovered that his mother was buried in St. Louis Cemetery and that our visit that day had been his first trip back since she had passed many years before.

My first trip to Paris, with its famous cemetery Pere Lachaise, was long overdue and bittersweet. My husband and I had planned a trip to Paris several times but circumstances prevented us from ever getting there.  With a smile and twinkle in his eye he promised that he would take me to Paris on my 50th birthday. Ah, I thought, the City of Lights I will see you soon!

Heartbreakingly, my husband passed away on July 25, 2005 after a brief illness. Two months later, I celebrated my 48th birthday. When my 50th was approaching my dear friend suggested I think about Paris for my birthday. I wasn’t sure I could do it or even wanted to but with the urging of family and friends I made the trip. Paris was worth the wait and every step I took I knew my husband was with me cheering me on!


As a huge fan of Oscar Wilde, I knew I had to venture out to Pere Lachaise, the oldest cemetery in the city of Paris, to pay my respects. Not the easiest spot to get to, we hopped on the Metro, then a bus, and finally by foot. As we made our way to the other side of the cemetery we stopped to visit with Edith Piaf, Proust, Chopin, Colette, Sarah Bernhardt and Moliere. I noticed several people taking photos of the graves. I was a bit uncomfortable believing that these legendary souls were gawked at their entire lives and that now they should be allowed the peace they deserved.


On our way to the exit it dawned on me that Jim Morrison of the Doors was buried here and we should find his grave. My friend humored me but after ½ hour of roaming (we were notoriously bad map readers), she was ready to give up. I told her to stay put and I would take 10 more minutes. If I didn’t find his grave we would head back to the apartment.  As I was rounding the corner, there, right in front of me was Jim Morrison, surrounded by metal barriers and his own security guard. His grave was strewn with gifts of cigarette butts and empty bottles of Jack Daniels left by the pilgrims that made the trek.

Several years have passed since my trip but I was reminded of my trip to Pere Lachaise when I caught a documentary on the cemetery and its residents. One scene shows 2 elderly ladies sitting on a bench, taking a moment after visiting their husband’s graves. One was buried next to Jim Morrison. When the interviewer asks her how she feels about all the activity near her husband’s grave, she just smiles and states “at least I know he never gets lonely.”

Photography by Donna Stenwall.

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photo by D. Ledesma

photo by D. Ledesma

I am grateful to have family and friends who as they walk in the world will sometimes pause and think, “Hmmm.  This is a picture that Cynthia might like.” Some people will share photos of that sight in the moment by text.  Other times, as most often happens with my brothers, they will give me a ring and describe in great detail the Virginia sky above them. It is all wonderful, as are these images shared by a friend who recently traveled around London.  She is an archaeologist who has been involved in Egyptian digs and one day I will convince her to sit down for an interview about why she chose that field. Until then here are photos she shared of a walk through Highgate Cemetery.

photo by D. Ledesma

As the website notes, this cemetery opened in 1839 and is considered one of England’s great treasures with its fine funerary architecture.  There is an east side and a west side. The west side which includes an Egyptian Avenue is considered fragile and accessible only by special tour.  People of many backgrounds are buried here with some of the most famous figures buried including Karl Marx and George Eliot.

photo by D. Ledesma

photo by D. Ledesma

From these photos alone one can see the interplay of light and shadow upon the beautiful sculpture.  Scary movies (e.g. one involving Dracula) have been shot here but from these photos one can also imagine the serenity of this sacred space. It is still an operating cemetery.

photo by D. Ledesma

photo by D. Ledesma

For history buffs, the history page on the website is an amazing compilation of old and new video as well as text.  I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to view this place in person but I thank Ms. Ledesma for sharing these images with me.

Learn more at …



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