During the Industrial Revolution people flocked to American cities.
Overcrowding in these areas led to packed urban graveyards that were not
only unsightly, but were also a source of public health fears. The
solution was a revolutionary new type of American burial ground located
in the countryside just beyond the city. This rural cemetery movement,
which featured beautifully landscaped grounds and sculptural monuments,
is documented by James R. Cothran and Erica Danylchak in Grave Landscapes: The Nineteenth-Century Rural Cemetery Movement.
The movement began in Boston, where a group of reformers
that included members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society were
grappling with the city’s mounting burial crisis. Inspired by the
naturalistic garden style and melancholy-infused commemorative
landscapes that had emerged in Europe, the group established a burial
ground outside of Boston on an expansive tract of undulating, wooded
land and added meandering roadways, picturesque ponds, ornamental trees
and shrubs, and consoling memorials. They named it Mount Auburn and
officially dedicated it as a rural cemetery.
This groundbreaking endeavor set a powerful precedent that
prompted the creation of similarly landscaped rural cemeteries outside
of growing cities first in the Northeast, then in the Midwest and South,
and later in the West. These burial landscapes became a cultural
phenomenon attracting not only mourners seeking solace, but also
urbanites seeking relief from the frenetic confines of the city. Rural
cemeteries predated America’s public parks, and their popularity as
picturesque retreats helped propel America’s public parks movement.
This beautifully illustrated volume features more than 150 historic photographs, stereographs, postcards, engravings, maps, and contemporary images that illuminate the inspiration for rural cemeteries, their physical evolution, and the nature of the landscapes they inspired. Extended profiles of twenty-four rural cemeteries reveal the cursive design features of this distinctive landscape type prior to the American Civil War and its evolution afterward. Grave Landscapes details rural cemetery design characteristics to facilitate their identification and preservation and places rural cemeteries into the broader context of American landscape design to encourage appreciation of their broader influence on the design of public spaces.
Erica Danylchak holds degrees in history from Boston University and heritage preservation from Georgia State University. She has worked in archival science at the Cherokee Garden Library and the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center, and in preservation as executive director of the Buckhead Heritage Society. Danylchak served as a research fellow for the Georgia Historic Landscape Initiative and in 2009 received the Jenny D. Thurston Memorial Award from the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. She currently works in educational publishing and lives in Atlanta.