The methods behind the maps: Primary resources about landscape theory of the American Cemetery Movement, 1831-ca. 1945

By DPLA, March 13, 2014.
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A guest post by Jennie Benford, Programming Director for the Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund in Pittsburgh, PA.

I am an archivist and my area of expertise is historic American cemeteries. I am paid to design tours, publications, and programs based on the history of the cemetery. Not just the people there, of whom there are over 78,000 (and we have room for that many more), and not just the monuments, but the landscape. Most people think of cemeteries as places but I think of them as businesses, specifically businesses based in and around carefully planned and purposefully didactic landscapes. Twenty-first century people walk into a cemetery and they see monuments, trees, maybe a pond, most likely other (living) people. What they don’t often notice is the landscape of which they have just become a part. How are they moving thru this site? Where are the roads leading them? Can they see into the distance? Are there trees? If so, why are they planted where they are planted?

Most historic American cemeteries are entering their second century. They have grown into their design and look and feel as natural as a heavily used inner city green space can. Yet make no mistake, the landscape was designed specifically for the use of the living, to guide them, to lead their eyes, to manipulate them into having an experience of religious connection (1831-ca.1855) or perhaps of civic pride (ca.1855-ca.1945).

I find this all endlessly fascinating but its not really the sort of thing that brings in the grant monies or the well-financed big university research teams. Primary source documentation of cemetery landscape history is in no immediate danger of being harvested for its own OCRed full-text search engine and website. I was thus curious to see what DPLA might be able to do for a landlocked researcher such as myself. I know which cemeteries are important in this aspect of The American Cemetery Movement and I know what sort of publications capture the theories that were so widely put into practice. So there I was, putting my arcane little search terms into the DPLA search box and coming up with digital surrogates of rare cemetery publications! OMG: a booklet of landscape theory by ADOLPHE STRAUCH?!?!? That is pure gold!

So, how can we best preserve the cemetery? Well first, we need to understand it: what it is, what it was meant to be. And we need access to those primary sources to do that and to put each of these cemeteries into a larger context, beyond that of its own business records, beyond its value to the city in which it resides.

Read some of Jennie’s selections below, and see selected images from the publications at our tumblr account.

(1839). The picturesque pocket companion, and visitor’s guide, through Mount Auburn. Boston: Otis, Broaders and Company. New York Public Library via HathiTrust.

[Parker, H. [from old catalog]. (1849). Notes on Mount Auburn cemetery. Boston: J. Munroe and company. Library of Congress via HathiTrust.

Bigelow, Jacob, 1786-1879. (1860). A history of the cemetery of Mount Auburn. Boston Cambridge, : J. Munroe and company. UMass Amherst Libraries via Internet Archive.

Buffalo. Forest Lawn cemetery. [from old catalog]. (1867). Forest Lawn: its history, dedications, progress, regulations, names of lot holders, &c. Buffalo: Thomas, Howard & Johnson. Library of Congress via HathiTrust.

Bush, Charles G. (1867). “The ceremonies of dedication of the National Cemetery on the Battlefield of Antietam, MD, from Harper’s Weekly.” Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Cleaveland, N. 1796-1877. (1846). Green-Wood in 1846: illustrated in a series of views taken expressly for this work by James Smillie. New York: Published by R. Martin. University of Wisconsin via HathiTrust.

Flagg, W. (1861). Mount Auburn: its scenes, its beauties, and its lessons. Boston and Cambridge: J. Munroe and company. Library of Congress via HathiTrust.

McCandless, W. (1873). Allegheny Cemetery: historical account of incidents and events connected with its establishment, charter and supplemental acts of legislation ;reports of 1848 and 1857 ; proceedings of corporators, June 21, 1873 ; rules, regulations, &c. ; list of officers, managers and corporators to date ; remarks on the ornamentation and arrangement of cemeteries ; funeral oration of Wilson McCandless, esq., on Commodore Barney and Lieut. Parker ; illustrated with sixteen photographic views. Pittsburgh: Printed by Bakewell & Marthens. New York Public Library via HathiTrust.

Mount Auburn Cemetery (Watertown and Cambridge, Mass.), et al. (1832) “Circular: Mount Auburn Cemetery.” [Boston? : Massachusetts Horticultural Society?]. Boston Public Library via Internet Archive.

Park and cemetery and landscape gardening. Chicago: R.J. Haight. University of Wisconsin via HathiTrust.

Parsons, S. (1891). Landscape gardening: Notes and suggestions on lawns and lawn planting–laying out and arrangement of country places, large and small parks, cemetery plots, and railway-station lawns–deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs–the hardy border-bedding plants–rockwork, etc. New York [etc.]: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. New York Public Library via HathiTrust.

Strauch, A. (1869). Spring Grove cemetery: its history and improvements, with observations on ancient and modern places of sepulture. Cincinnati: R. Clarke & co. Library of Congress via HathiTrust.

Wadsworth, Alexander, 1806-1898. (1836). “Plan of the cemetery of Mount Auburn [Middlesex County, Massachusetts].” University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History; crediting University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

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