Grave Spotting

Spooky? A bit, but Massachusetts's cemeteries are also the bucolic, final resting places of many great American writers.
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  June 16, 2010

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I asked the question this way: "Where would you want to be buried?" Not "do," but "would." That is to say if, by chance, you were to die, unlikely as that might be, where would you want to spend all of nonexistence?

I posed the question recently walking on the sidewalk outside of Union Square to someone that I like.

He snorted dismissively. "I can't think of a less important question," he said. "Where I decide to throw my gum wrapper is a bigger decision."

Well, shit. I hadn't thought about it that way before. Nevertheless, deciding on your post-life address can afford you some tiny sense of control while pondering the idea of, well, not existing. And who wouldn't prefer eternal rest in some mossy patch of shade by a river or some other bucolic spot in lovely ol' Massachusetts (especially if you are a deep-thinking lover of literature, given the commonwealth's rich tradition of wonderful writers)?

Talk of graves is, of course, an odd thing for summer, a season better suited for whiffle ball and hot dogs and tan lines. But for those bored of mid-summer trips to Thoreau's Walden Pond (and thanks to the torrential rains we've gotten, there's no beach left there anymore, anyway) who'd still like to seek out soul-searching, contemplative (and, admittedly, fucking strange) adventures this summer, why not hunt for the headstones where your favorite Bay State writers lie?

Back-yard graveyard
In terms of bang-for-your-dead-author-buck, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge proves the best value around. Beyond being a star-studded cemetery, it's also one of the loveliest spots in Greater Boston. You need not be a horticulturist to appreciate the variety of trees or an avian enthusiast to note the birds winging between limbs — the thrushes, the warblers, the Baltimore orioles. Rolling over 175 acres, Mount Auburn was the first garden cemetery, and though it houses the dead, it's quite clearly a place designed with the living in mind.

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow resides there with his two wives, one of whom was burned to death. In trying to smother the flames that engulfed and killed her, Longfellow burned his face and couldn't shave; his grew his trademark full white beard to cover up the scars.

Based on the poem "Blessed Are the Dead," one could argue that Longfellow might've approached death with some relief:

Ah! who would not, then, depart with gladness,
To inherit heaven for earthly sadness?
Who here would languish
Longer in bewailing and in anguish?

His eternal neighbor, poet Amy Lowell, wrote lovely longing poems ("If I could catch the green lantern of the firefly/I could see to write you a letter."). Robert Creeley joins the poet ranks there, as does the daring Thom Gunn, who wrote about biker gangs and Elvis and LSD. (Don't lick his headstone.) Fannie Farmer, of cookbook fame, rests at Mount Auburn. So does Bernard "The Natural" Malamud. You'll also find jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, who often waxed exuberant:

Old Time his rusty scythe may whet,
The unmowed grass is glowing yet
Beneath the sheltering snow, my boys;
And if the crazy dotard ask,
Is love worn out? Is life a task?
We'll bravely answer No! my boys,
We'll bravely answer No!

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