We like to visit Concord on weekend afternoons, to stroll around downtown and browse in its bookstore and antique shops. On Saturdays, the excellent cheese shop is open, as is its old-fashioned hardware store. It's the quintessential New England town; I fantasize about living there, especially in the fall, when each of its lovely old houses has pumpkins on the porch and the leaves are bright against the sky and crunchy underfoot.
Last weekend, we went for a walk in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The destination there is Authors' Ridge, where Alcotts, Emersons, Thoreaus, Hawthornes, and others are buried. We walked on paths thick with pine needles to get up there.
The cemetery's plan is more natural than many 19th-century cemeteries, such as Mount Auburn. The plantings and trees are native species, rather than the carefully placed ornamental trees, shrubs, and flowers that give Mt. Auburn its elegance. Sleepy Hollow looks untamed and rural in comparison — but that is how it was planned to look back in the 1850s. We are supposed to feel we're walking in the woods rather than in a garden. And we do.
Many of its monuments are simple and unremarkable, but there are always surprises. The marker below looks very old, but it's from the mid 20th century. I guess we could call it a Colonial Revival tombstone:
It has so much more character than a typical stone from the 1940s. I've often thought it would be a good idea to start a company that reproduces historic tombstones, but I lack both capital and carving skills.
Here's the Alcott family's simple marker: "Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy," in order of age:
Fans of Little Women and her other books leave pens and pebbles as tributes by Louisa's stone:
Sleepy Hollow lacks Mt. Auburn's artistic landscaping, specimen trees, and fancy monuments. But I feel an even greater sense of peace in its simplicity, and in the wind rustling the leaves up on Authors' Ridge. It's an eternal sound — perhaps it comforted Alcotts, Emersons, and Thoreaus as they visited their dead amid.
When the cemetery was consecrated in the fall of 1855, Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke:
When these acorns, that are falling at our feet, are oaks overshadowing our children in a remote century, this mute green bank will be full of history: the good, the wise, and the great will have left their names and virtues on the trees... will have made the air tuneable and articulate.