September 29, 2010

Sleepy Hollow: so fitly named

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts was a smaller version of Mount Auburn Cemetery in nearby Cambridge. The ground was consecrated on September 29, 1855 in an afternoon ceremony.

The day began with an opening prayer, followed by the singing of an ode by Franklin Benjamin Sanborn. One of Concord's most well-known names, Ralph Waldo Emerson also gave a speech in which he notes that "the whole life of man... was ponderously determined on death." He then gave a short history of the way people dispose of the dead, with the landscape cemetery movement the latest trend.

A simultaneous movement has in a hundred cities and towns, in this country, selected some convenient piece of undulating ground, with pleasant woods and waters; every family chooses its own clump of trees; and we lay the corpse in these leafy colonnades... In all the multitude of woodlands and hillsides, which, within a few years, have been laid out with a similar design, I have not known one so fitly named. Sleepy Hollow. In this quiet valley, as in the palm of Nature's hand, we shall sleep well, when we have finished our day.

Emerson also acknowledged that the cemetery played two roles: a final resting-place for the dead, as well as a place to benefit the living. After Emerson's speech, local poet William Ellery Channing contributed an original poem, "Sleepy Hollow" (in part):

No abbeys gloom, no dark cathedral stoops,
No winding torches paint the midnight air;
Here the green pine delights, the aspen droops
Along the modest pathways—and those fair,
Pale asters of the season spread their plumes
Around this field, fit garden for our tombs.

Here shalt thou pause to hear the funeral bell
Slow stealing o'er thy heart in this calm place;
Not with a throb of pain, a feverish knell,
But in its kind and supplicating grace
It says: "Go, Pilgrim, on thy march! be more
Friend to the friendless than thou wast before..."

After their respective deaths, Channing, Sanborn, Emerson (and his family) were buried at Sleepy Hollow, along with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Daniel Chester French, Bronson and Louisa May Alcott and other members of the Alcott clan (just to name a few).


  1. The picture shown is Emerson's grave? (A caption might be useful.)

  2. Sorry - as someone who visits Sleepy Hollow at least 10 times a year, I just assumed every knew! :)

  3. I am sad to say that I have never actually been to Sleepy Hollow . . . but, that may not be so surprising as I don't live in or particularly near Massachusetts.



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