At the corner of Harvard Square, a quiet green area lies oblivious to the thousands of students and other passersby making their way to classes and job interviews in the streets beyond. This is Cambridge’s Old Burial Ground, established in 1635 just inside the walls of the city, and the only cemetery there for nearly 200 years. As a result, a huge cross-section of people were buried here, from paupers to Harvard university presidents. But, as with many of these old cemeteries, there are many more people buried here than there are gravestones, especially since gravestones did not become popular until the 1670s.
There’s a short fence that surrounds the cemetery, and at first I thought perhaps there was no way to get in, but after seeing (what I later figured out as a homeless) person inside, I knew I needed to explore a little further. It wasn’t too difficult, the cemetery is small and occupies only a couple acres of land, and the entrance was easily found next to the church that abuts the grounds here.
I wasn’t the only here, a mother and her two sons were also doing what I was doing – walking around and looking at each grave marker individually, which is really the only way to get a sense of what these old cemeteries are about, since from afar, they look a bit sad with small gravestones laid haphazardly about. Many of the gravestones were quite worn down and difficult, if not impossible to read, but it was easy to see the iconic symbols like winged death/cherubs and hourglasses, as well as willows and urns. It was a nice respite from the busyness of the streets just beyond, it being the beginning of September and thus classes, with the hallowed grounds of Harvard University next door a large shadow on this small peaceful place.
Monuments: Most here are quite old. While there are a few above ground tombs, most are simple slab-style markers.
Grounds: It’s mostly flat but you still have to take care as it can be a bit uneven in places.
Visitors: A few came and went while I was here, but this doesn’t seem to be on the radar of most people who come to Harvard.
Cemetery: Old Burial Ground
Notable Internments: 8 Harvard presidents, 11 Revolutionary soliders, including the graves of two slave soldiers – Neptune Frost and Cato Stedman. I tried to find their graves (I thought they would be labelled with American flags as some of the other graves has them), but I couldn’t find them. I suppose it’s possible the markers were lost with time. There are marked graves of slaves who were servants to the upper class in Cambridge.
Location: 1448 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, at the corner of Harvard Square. It’s just a minute walk from the train station.
Hours: Open 24 hours daily