The Art of the Ancient Dead: Church Cemetery

September 23, 2021 — White church steeple. Skulls carved on the gravestones. Dates so old they look like house numbers. Everything you want in a New England graveyard. Church Cemetery was established in 1743 in Hollis, New Hampshire, and contains an amazing variety of tombstone iconography for such a small yard.

Of course, that’s because, like most old New England graveyards, it wasn’t always this small. Its topside has changed as much as the bodies below it. Some 900 early residents of Hollis are buried here, but there aren’t that many stones nor the room for that many bodies in the quaintly stone-fenced enclosure. I’m sure we parked on some bodies in the adjacent parking lot. Plus, also like most old New England graveyards, the stones have been moved into an artificial order not always corresponding to the human mulch beneath it. That’s fine. Graveyards are better as aesthetic installations, anyway.

We found this graveyard because it neighbors our library. Or maybe we joined the library because it neighbors this graveyard. Either way, when you can borrow a book and march right from the front door into a graveyard to read it, you’ve found a magical place. Even if you’re walking across bodies to get there.