Rural Cemeteries 30076

ONE of the most beautiful traits in the character of a civilized and christian people is. that respectful and affectionate remembrance of the dead which manifests itself in setting apart quiet grounds for the burial place, and in beautifying them with appropriate works of art and with such trees and shrubs as are most expressive of the solemn purposes to which they are dedicated. Nothing that we can point to in this country reflects so much credit upon the public taste and liberality as our rural cemeteries. Whatever the stranger may say of our indifference on other matters, it certainly can not be said that we are indifferent as to the resting places of the dead. The lamented Downing wrote, three years ago, that - "One of the most remarkable illustrations of the popular taste in this country, is to be found in the rise and progress of our rural cemeteries.

"Twenty years ago nothing better than a common grave-yard, filled with high grass, and a chance sprinkling of weeds and thistles, was to be found in the Union. If there were one or two exceptions, like the burial ground at New Haven, where a few willow trees broke the monotony of the scene, they existed only to prove the rule more completely.

"Eighteen years ago, Mount Auburn, about six miles from Boston, was made a rural cemetery. It was then a charming natural site, finely varied in surface, containing about eighty acres of land, and admirably clothed by groups and masses of native forest trees. It was tastefully laid out, monuments were built, and the whole highly embellished. No sooner was attention generally roused to the charms of this first American cemetery, than the idea took the public mind by storm. Travelers made pilgrimages to the Athens of New England, solely to see the realization of their long cherished dream of a resting-place for the dead, at once sacred from profanation, dear to the memory, and captivating to the imagination.

"Not twenty years have passed since that time; and, at the present moment, there is scarcely a city of note in the whole country that has not its rural cemetery. The three leading cities of the north, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, have, each of them, besides their great cemeteries, - Greecnwood, Laurel Hill, and Mount Auburn, - many others of less note; but any of which would have astonished and delighted their inhabitants twenty years ago. Philadelphia has, we learn, nearly twenty rural cemeteries at the present moment, - several of them belonging to distinct societies, sects or associations, while others are open to all.*"

Since this was written, there has been no abatement whatever of the public taste for rural cemeteries; on the contrary, it has grown stronger, and spread wider, until not only the large cities, but hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of country villages have grown ashamed of the neglected, exposed, weedy, forlorn looking spot called the grave yard, and have tried their hand at fencing and planting, and otherwise giving them somewhat of an aspect of culture and civilized care. We are too happy and too thankful that such a spirit is abroad among us to grumble at any errors that are, or have been, committed in the management of these cemeteries; but as new ones are almost every day being laid out, we feel it our duty to offer a few hints that may guard their founders against errors that others, it seems to us, have fallen into.

"*We made a rough calculation from some data obtained at Philadelphia lately, by which we find that, including the cost of the lots, more than a million and a half of dollars hare been expended in the purchase and decoration of cemeteries in that neighborhood alone".

Mr. Downing remarked in the article we have already quoted from, that "the great attraction of these cemeteries, to the mass of the community, is not in the fact that they are burial places, or solemn places of meditation for the friends of the deceased, or striking exhibitions of ornamental sculpture, though all these have their influence. All these might be realized in a burial ground planted with straight lines of willows and sombre avenues of evergreens. The true secret of the attraction lies in the natural beauty of the sites, and in the tasteful and harmonious embellishment of these sites by art".

The cemeteries of the larger cities, where competent artists and workmen are more easily obtained, exhibit in many of their embellishments both taste and harmony, though in the best there are very many exceptions. In the interior, however, where the grounds have been laid out by mere land surveyors, and where every improvement has been made under the direction of persons not having the shadow of a qualification, one finds, as might well be expected, scarcely anything but a repetition of blunders - violations of taste the most aggravated, and a worse than waste of both labor and material. When a city, or a village, or a company of individuals, resolve upon founding a rural cemetery, and expend their money upon a tract of ground which we will suppose the most suitable that can be had, their first step should be to secure the assistance of a person properly qualified to appreciate every feature of it, every outline and undulation of its surface, and every tree and shrub that nature may have planted on it.

It seems very singular that people should not act in these as in their ordinary business affairs. If a company of capitalists unite in constructing a steamship they will not be likely to employ a blacksmith, or a shoemaker, or a gardener, to build it. If they would do so foolish a thing, they certainly would be placed in an insane asylum directly. Now the building of a ship is just as possible to the gardener, or the blacksmith, or the shoemaker, as the laying out of a cemetery would be to any of these craftsmen. Acting like wise men, they will employ the most competent shipbuilder that can be found - one who has mastered the theory and practice of his profession by long years of study and practice. So in everything that people wish to be well done, they employ competent and skilful workmen. It happens, however, that in certain communities the landscape gardener is not a recognized individual. People who would not deny the necessity of employing a good artist to paint a landscape on canvass, do not understand the necessity of employing a skilful and well-trained artist to work a beautiful landscape out of nature's raw material.