Character of a Rural Cemetery

This week began with a trip out to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. I was assisting Olmsted Center Historical Landscape Architect, Tim Layton, who is producing a Cultural Landscape Report for Culp’s Hill located in the northern portion of the park. Preparing for this trip, I had already become accustomed to the incredible number of monuments that have been erected to the three day Battle of Gettysburg (there are over 200 monuments in our study area alone!). Going to the site not only reinforced the impression of the enormity of this commemorative undertaking, it also struck me that this was actually a deeply familiar commemorative landscape: that of the rural cemetery.

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The character of a rural cemetery at Gettysburg

This is a style of burial that became popular in the 1830s and 1840s, beginning with Mount Auburn outside of Boston in 1831. These were places modeled on the tradition of English picturesque gardens with winding walkways, rolling topography, and specimen trees amidst a field of lawn. Families would purchase lots and mark each family member’s passing with a headstone or statue. By the time the Battle of Gettysburg took place in July of 1863, rural cemeteries had proliferated in the United States and were a familiar commemorative landscape type. It is true that instead of following winding paths past family owned lots, we were walking across former avenues and carriage trails past monuments dedicated to infantries. It is also true that rather than mark the final resting place of the deceased, these markers are precisely sited to correlate to where the living commanders and soldiers were known to have been during the battle. These superficial differences notwithstanding, the scale, style, and proliferation of monuments at Gettysburg evoke the spirit of a rural cemetery.

While doing our site work, Tim and I got to have lunch with Winona Peterson, the park’s Cultural Resource Program Manager, and Kathy Harrison, retired park historian. They were able to lead us to this particularly difficult to find artifact: a boulder that had been carved with the name of a fallen soldier, Private Coble, shortly after the battle ended.

Until next week,

Angelina

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