Three Graces

Forest Lawn Cemetery at Buffalo, New York

Forest Lawn Cemetery at Buffalo, New York

In 1831, Mt. Auburn Cemetery opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the first garden cemetery to open in the country and represented a new attitude about burying the dead. These cemeteries were designed spaces, with pathways and avenues, and were landscaped to have the look and feel of a public park.

In Victorian Cemetery Art, author Edmund V. Gillon Jr. writes “The large amounts of space in the Victorian cemetery were to revolutionize cemetery art, and permit the use of sculpture in a way that crowded churchyard had never allowed. Sepulchral sculpture, with it prone effigies and kneeling weepers, had flowered in the past, but only for the rich and powerful.” The opening of Mt. Auburn was the dawning of the rural cemetery movement–the concept of the cemetery as a landscaped space.

The Forest Lawn Cemetery at Buffalo, New York, opened in 1849.  The sprawling 269-acre cemetery features walkways, avenues, and lakes that are in keeping with the garden designs for cemeteries of the time period.  Mirror Lake features a statue by artist Laurence Rumsey Goodyear of the Three Graces, the goddesses of charm, beauty, and creativity from Greek Mythology.

Cities across America began to open garden cemeteries in their communities—Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and Forest Lawn Cemetery at Buffalo, New York—to name just a few.

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1 Response to Three Graces

  1. Until the dawn of the nineteenth century, America, like Europe, depended upon the unseemly churchyard and the even more derelict potter’s field for disposition of the dead. The grave sites in urban burial grounds were ghastly and crowded. As time progressed, these grounds became unhealthy and were considered a primary source of disease. For all but the highest strata of society, a grave was of limited tenure and seldom marked. The old burying grounds were not tended in any way outside of what was necessary to continue their essential function. Taking the lead from Europeans, Americans began developing the rural garden cemetery, designed on more genteel principles. With the Enlightenment, Western culture turned to ancient classical times for inspiration. The very word cemetery is Latin for place of repose or sleeping room. By the 1830’s, Americans began to redefine their funerary and burial customs to suit budding middle-class affluence and popular Victorian virtues. A sentimental and respectable means of disposition and permanent memorialization of a deceased family member was a new luxury and one the public took to quickly. The rural garden cemetery, with its intentionally planned beauty, became immensely popular by mid-century. By this time older cities had adopted the concept and new towns began with rural garden cemeteries. Permanent memorials quickly became available to the common person, where a century before they would have been unheard of.

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