The Other Sleepy Hollow Cemetery: Authors Ridge

October 17, 2013 — I feel like I talk about New York’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery too much around this time of year. So let’s try something different and talk about…Massachusetts’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

The one in the Hudson Valley is famous for literary reasons, since it’s the site of Washington Irving’s grave, as well as the fictional grave of his headless specter. And so is the one in Massachusetts. But what it lacks in headless specters, it makes up for in dead writers.

Concord’s a pretty old town. And by that I mean both pretty and old. It dates back to 1635 and, along with its neighbor Lexington, was the starting point of the American Revolutionary War. It also has that historic-house feel that the best places in New England have.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, however, is not that old, comparatively anyway. It was established in the mid-1800s. And, even though it’s in a classic New England town, it’s not a classic New England cemetery. Walking around, I didn’t spot a single death’s head inscribed into any gravestone.

Instead, it’s reflective of a different part of Concord history…its literary history.

Concord was a hub of transcendentalism, and its residents included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, even Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott, both of whom had ties to the movement. Many of the houses they lived in are now historic sites, like the Old Manse, which was lived in at different times by both Emerson and Hawthorne. You can even still see word etchings that Hawthorne and his wife did in the windows of his study with Sophia’s diamond wedding ring.

And since all these writers lived in Concord, it makes sense that they would be buried there as well. And they're all in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

The cemetery is on Bedford Street and has a nice, naturalistic character that ebbs and flows, rises and falls with the natural contours of the land. It even backs up to a nature preserve. If cemeteries can be transcendentalist, I guess this one is. Emerson himself did give a speech at its dedication.

But the allure of the cemetery is more than just the fact of the author burials, it’s the arrangement of them. These famous New England writers are all buried in adjoining plots together with their families on a hill that overlooks the cemetery. It’s called Authors Ridge. It’s like a posthumous book club.

Signs point you in the direction of the funeral anomaly, and the author graves stick out because they’re usually covered in pencils and pens and paper and other symbols of the trade that have been offered by appreciators of their works. It’s kind of like Westminster Abbey, I guess, just on a smaller scale and you don’t have to take off your hat when you enter.

Even though Hawthorne is really the only writer of that group that I’ve ever gotten into, Authors Ridge is still a pretty cool place for anybody that digs literature. If I lived near it, I’d never read a book anywhere else but above these author bones.

Another Sleepy Hollow Cemetery grave that should be noted, and which is not too far away from Authors Ridge, is the grave of sculptor Daniel Chester French.

He’s the guy who pretty much sculpted the entire United States, and his centerpiece work is the Lincoln Memorial. One of his works is even in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a striking female figure embedded in a block of stone like she's passing between dimensions. It is a memorial to three brothers who were Civil War soldiers.

In general, cemeteries are already literary, artful places, being as they are full of epitaphs and statues. At Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, it just goes a little deeper. Like six  feet.

A swamp behind the cemetery visible from Authors Ridge.