White Lions and Witches: Lowell Cemetery

October 17, 2012 — Lowell Cemetery isn’t quite one of Massachusetts’s top-tier cemeteries. There are at least a half dozen or so that I’d recommend visiting over it, but it’s so close. It’s only like two dead authors and a mausoleum section away.

I’m also not sure if I’m allowed to group cemeteries by tiers. But I do. And to be an elite cemetery in my view you need four things: 1) Famous corpses 2) Impressive and varied funerary art 3) An immersive natural setting, and 4) A sense of atmosphere (which often comes from age). More or less, anyway. I’m still kind of working out the system.

Located at 77 Knapp Avenue, the 170-year-old cemetery is well-treed and sprawls pleasantly on 85 acres above the Concord River. So that’s two out of four criteria. However, it doesn’t really have any famous interments, unless you count the guy who invented Moxie, a brigadier general in the Civil War, and a bunch of congressmen. Actually, you get negative points for congressmen. So that's what it's like to tell a political joke.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a wide range of interesting funeral art. There are plenty of beautiful old tombstones, of course, and a few of the expected angel statues and ornate crosses, but there are only a couple of surprises.

But that might be enough, because those two surprise make it a worthwhile destination, top-tier or not: a massive white lion and a spooky witch.

So Lowell Cemetery is Narnia. Let’s start with Aslan.

James Cook Ayer (1818-1878) made his fortune patenting and manufacturing medicinal products. That’s why he could afford to decay under a massive white lion carved out of 20 tons of Italian marble. I’ve never been up close to a real lion before, but this 12-foot-long beast with its gigantic head is at least life-sized, but only because there exist record-breaking-sized lions in the wild.

Certainly, lion statues are a dime a pride, but there’s something about the size and color combined with the fact that it’s a corpse weight that really make this piece remarkable. The cemetery has even adopted the sculpture as their symbol.

Of course, that’ because their other notable piece of funerary art is simply terrifying.

Dubbed Witch Bonney, it’s a bronze statue of a woman with outstretched arms holding some kind of flowing cape or long shawl or such above her head. It’s basically the Dracula pose. Its spookiness mainly comes from the green and black patina earned by a century or so of guarding the family plot, especially around her eyes, which are a soulless black (I looked in my Crayola box. That’s actually a color). It also sits prominently—or looms, I guess—on a hill in front of a white columned structure, further emphasizing the statue.

When we visited her there were pennies left at her feet, and a slim length of pink ribbon had been tied around one of her fingers. Offerings, I suppose.

Bonney gets her name from the family entombed on her plot. She gets her legend just because she’s a spooky old statue that stands out in a cemetery without any other spooky old statues.

The legend is the same you hear for any other spooky female-shaped grave statuary: Disrespect it and harm will befall you. One unique wrinkle in Witch Bonney’s story, though, centers around her blouse. It’s draped pretty low and looks like it’s only held up by her nipples. The story goes that it falls farther down every year, and that when it finally drops to her waist, the witch will rise again to wreak half-naked havoc on the town.

It’s a silly legend, especially since it’s obvious that she’s only kept at bay by Aslan.

I don't know what this means, but it scares me
more than Witch Bonney.

Not a grave marker.

Ok. Obviously there is more to see
than a white lion and a dark witch.
Note the dog head arms.


  1. While it may be lacking in celebrities, there is an Edgar Allan Poe connection to Lowell Cemetery. Annie Richmond, the subject of his poem "For Annie," is buried there.

    Here's a photo of her gravestone:


  2. That's awesome. I didn't know that at all. Makes me want to rewrite that entire intro...

  3. While in Lowell you didn't go over to Edson Cemetery to see Kerouac? That really is the place to be.

  4. Add this cemetery to my list. I have to see Witch Bonney now, before her blouse falls off!

  5. I live in lowell, and witch bonnie is definitely a big local legend around here. its great you added our cemetary on here. beautiful during the fall. also there's a dunkin donuts on the corner of church and central street that stands on th site of an old tavern Edgar Allen Poe frequented. its rumored to be the location where he wrote " For Annie". There is a stone marker that stands out front explaining it.

  6. Saw the article in the Globe today so had to stop by (also the paper version and also was eating a Boston Scream at the time; weird!). I have actually photographed that memorial a couple times but never knew the "legend" behind it. I will have to go back and give it a second look with my new found knowledge (which I chalk up as nonsense but fun never the less).

  7. The legend says she will be reborn from a tree and kill the members of the family that condemned her as a witch she doesn't get her name from the family burried on her plot it is her family

  8. No reason to be afraid of the pictured quotation. It's from sometime Lowell resident John Greenleaf Whittier's _Snow-Bound_ (1865):

    Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
    The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
    That Life is ever lord of Death,
    And Love can never lose its own!