Any visitor to Boston will quickly learn about the Freedom Trail, a path you can follow through the centre of Boston that connects various sites related to Boston’s involvement in the Revolution and the subsequent founding of the United States. There are a number of cemeteries that are a part of the trail, and I started with the one that was towards the end of the trail – Copp’s Hill Cemetery. This cemetery is, not surprisingly, is on a hill that overlooks the city, and was the second cemetery established in the city of Boston. What I liked about this (and the other cemeteries in Boston) is that they have various information panels that explain to visitors just what they are seeing. Some of the panels give information about the history of the area and who’s buried there, but others explain the symbols that were common to the gravestones at that time.
As most of the gravestones date from the mid- to late-18th century, they were all slab-style gravestones, often featuring a winged skull, a winged head, or a weeping willow or hourglass. What I love about these old stones is the variation in the designs of a few basic symbols that show up again and again. I also love reading the epitaphs, something I think few gravestones today have (today it’s mostly name, DOB, DOD, and maybe a short saying). These gravestones, in addition to the reliefs, are “dedicated to” or “erected by” to a (insert adjective here) person, and for some of the larger stones, a small epitaph or poem as well. It makes visiting these smaller, but older, cemeteries so interesting to visit. For me, these types of cemeteries always got my attention whenever I saw them in movies or TV shows, and were something I desperately wanted to see in Canada but never did until I moved out east.
Because this cemetery was part of the Freedom Trail, there were many people visiting. In some ways I found it heartening that so many people were interested in visiting these historical cemeteries, on the other hand, it seems a bit sad that they probably were only doing so because it was a well-marked site on a well-marked tourist trail. I also came across a woman who seemed to be doing research on the stones, as she was writing down information that appeared on the front and back of the stones. I wanted to talk to her but was reluctant to bother somebody who was clearly working, even though I imagine she probably would have been happy to talk for a bit. In any event, my time was limited here as it was already mid-afternoon by the time I arrived, and I had a few more cemeteries I needed to visit before they closed for the day, as many of these cemeteries, including this one, close quite early (around 4 p.m.).
Monuments: Old, slab-style monuments. Some have been placed in the walls that surround the cemetery.
Grounds: On top of a hill. There are a few stairs to climb to enter the cemetery, but otherwise it’s quite easy to explore the grounds. There are a number of information panels throughout the grounds to explain what you are seeing.
Visitors: Lots. This is a well-known site on the Freedom Trail.
Cemetery: Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Notable Internments: Samuel, Increase, and Cotton Mather; the children of William Copp, the shoemaker who once owned the land; Prince Hall (abolitionist)
Location: Hull Street, Boston
October 5, 2018 at 01:40
It is interesting that some of the headstones have a “death’s head” on them. I had read years back that that was a feature of many gravestones from the period in New England.
October 6, 2018 at 13:32
Actually, for many years the death’s head was the go-to symbol for gravestones, reminding all of the closeness of death. It wasn’t until the late 18th/early 19th century that you begin to see more moderate symbols (cherubs, real people) appear on the stones.
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