Monday, April 30, 2012

Wilder Pictures + Happenings: A Trip to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (Resting Place of Alcott, Hawthorne, Thoreau...)

Swimming in Walden Pond while studying the transcendentalists in high school is not a bad to way to become steeped in a great literary tradition. Lincoln, MA, where I live, is about five minutes from Walden and ten minutes from Concord center and the homes of Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. It still amazes me that such great minds all lived and worked within a mile of each other; there's clearly something to be said for having a literary and intellectual community with which to grow and work.

When I was nine, my mom gave me Little Women. I'd begged for it for a year; some of my friends had read it in second grade but my mother (and I remember this very clearly) wanted me to wait until at least third to read it. It had been her moral guide growing up and she wanted to be sure that I was old enough to understand and appreciate it (many more photos after the jump).

I read that book at least eleven times before I was twelve. It became my guide as it had been my mother's; I ached for Jo, by turns hated and admired Amy, delighted in Meg, and sobbed for Beth. They are my fictional sisters (I'm an only child) and I still carry them with me; today, like my mom, I can recite the first page by heart.

On Saturday, my mom, my dad, Rosie the Dog and I all set out to visit the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where Louisa May Alcott and the other Concord greats are buried. The reason for our pilgrimage (because that's indeed what it was, and is for most who go there--wait til you see the photos of the graves) was that my mother has an article coming out soon about Louisa May Alcott and Little Women. She had just finished the piece, so we thought it an appropriate celebration to load up the car and head out to pay our respects to the bones of the woman herself.

Here, our adventure, in pictures and words:
Rosie was very excited to begin the trip.

We parked in a little lot about half a mile from the cemetery. I love Concord; it's has my favorite houses in the whole world. I was about to say that might be an exaggeration, but I don't actually think it is. They are glorious.

Isn't this a majestic Beech tree?


I fell in love with this house. And the name: Silas Hosmer. The last names on the graves and houses are all still around, either as street names in the area or as the last names of people I know. It's pretty amazing to see history stretch so far back.

Lilacs! A little early this year. Smelling so sweet. 

A friendly message from a bear we passed.

More houses I'd give anything to live in. 

 More flowers.

We've arrived!

A stone leading us to our literary idols. 

My mom checking out the grave listings. 

I love #26: Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley, "remarkable lady known for her taletns and intelligence, admired by all-lived in The Old Manse" (the house where both Emerson and Hawthorne lived at some point).

I didn't know that Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of "The Seated Lincoln" memorial in DC, was buried at Sleepy Hollow. What a crew they've got. I bet the ghost parties are killer.

I loved these exposed tree roots. 

Beautiful steps.

The light on the flowers was unbelievable. It looked like they were lit up from within. 

Ah, here they are. 

Louisa's grave. It was amazing to see the things people had left there, physical evidence of how books change and affect people. There was a little toy horse on the grave, a candle, a carnation, and a bouquet of wilted lillies. The ground was packed down, the grave worn. It was a bit spooky and wonderful to know the body of a writer who made such an impact on me was below my feet.

Emerson's grave. Quite the monument. 

People had put stones atop his grave. I love that Jewish tradition (strange, because Emerson was not Jewish); flowers wilt and die, but a stone marks remembrance forever. It doesn't fade.

Hawthorne's grave was not without adornment, either. 

And my favorite; the Thoreau family grave stone, and Henry's little marker. It was so sweet, so unassuming. Kind of like his cabin on the shores of Walden.

More flowers blooming away.

Graves tell stories by their shape, their size, and with such few words. I like to wander through the headstones, to see the heartbreaking small graves of children, the huge monuments of men and women who fancied themselves important, and to see lives condensed into a few carved words and dates. It's even more incredible to see graves of people whose words have made an impression on me. To know that I am the closest I'll come to ever physically being near them.


  1. What an amazing pilgrimage! There is nothing like exploring an old cemetery and finding the graves of those you have a connection to. I love how simple and almost primitive they are - especially Louisa's.

    I also love how the sign says Open - 7am to Dusk. So perfect.


  2. My dad grew up in Concord! In one of those houses similar to the ones in picture #4, which my grandparents owned for 50 years... ah memories...


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