date published: October 29, 2001

—(top to bottom) The Civil War sphinx memorial sits at Mount Auburn Cemetery; King’s Chapel boast a wealth of colonial headstones; and an elaborate, Gothic memorial lies at Forest Hills Cemetery.

Explore Boston underground in our survey of the Hub’s historic cemeteries 
by Scott Roberto

As Halloween arrives, people’s thoughts are occupied with things that go bump in the night, as well as the places—like haunted houses and cemeteries—where spirits may lurk. Boston’s cemeteries are not merely shelters for supposed ghosts and ghouls, however; they are also reminders of the city’s rich, historic past. Boston boasts more cemeteries than any town in America, many of them historic, including the Phipps Street Burying Ground (1630) in Charlestown, the Eliot Burying Ground (1630) in Roxbury and the South End Burying Ground (1816) on Washington Street. Listed here are some of the more prominent sites in the area. Keep in mind when visiting these burying grounds that most of the monuments are hundreds of years old and should be treated with care and respect. Also, sites are usually open from dawn to dusk.

Central Burying Ground

Boylston Street near Tremont, Boston Common
Founded in 1756 on America’s oldest public park, this colonial-era graveyard was initially established to alleviate overcrowding at the Big Three cemeteries found on the Freedom Trail: King’s Chapel, Copp’s Hill and the Old Granary. Notables who rest here include soldiers from the Battle of Bunker Hill, participants in the Boston Tea Party and two prominent early American artists: painter Gilbert Stuart and composer William Billings. 

Hull Street, North End
Boston’s second oldest cemetery was established in 1660 and is one of the 16 stops along the Freedom Trail. So many souls are interred here that the ground rises several feet above the original street level. This was also the place from which the British destroyed Charlestown during the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. The Mathers, a family of prominent Puritan preachers, are buried here, including Cotton Mather, a key figure in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, and his father, Increase. 

95 Forest Hills Ave., 617-524-0128 ext. 22
Founded in 1848, this garden-style cemetery, which is still in active use, is known not just for its famous deceased, but its scenery as well. The centrally located Lake Hibiscus—complete with resident swans George and Gracie—is a relaxing spot, and the grounds feature many fine examples of Victorian-era sculpture as well as contemporary works. Buried here are American literary icons such as e.e. cummings, Eugene O’Neill, Anne Sexton and Edward Everett Hale; abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison; and former Celtics star Reggie Lewis, among others. Upcoming events include a lecture and remembrance service celebrating the life and work of Eugene O’Neill on October 20 at 2 p.m. Forest Hills is located near the Forest Hills stop at the end of the MBTA’s Orange Line.

Tremont Street, Downtown
Boston’s oldest cemetery, founded in 1630, is another prominent stop along the Freedom Trail. This Puritan depository for the dead boasts some of the finest examples of colonial funerary art around, including headstones marked with the ubiquitous winged death’s head and many cheery Puritan epitaphs. Denizens of note include John Winthrop, Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first governor; Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower; and William Dawes, the other midnight rider who accompanied Paul Revere on that famous night in 1775.


Making his Mark—The grave marker for patriot John Hancock is one of the many prominent monuments at the Old Granary Burying Ground.
580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, 617-547-7105
One of the most famous burial spots in the country, this 174-acre site was consecrated in 1831 as America’s first rural cemetery and served as a model for public parks across the U.S. Mount Auburn, besides being a final resting place for the deceased, also doubles as a botanical garden and a favorite bird watching area. Among the famous who made this their final resting place are poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and painter Winslow Homer. Prominent features include the Sphinx memorial commemorating the preservation of the Union and the end of slavery after the Civil War; the medieval-style Washington Tower, which offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding area; and the gothic Bigelow Chapel, which is adorned with stained glass imported from Scotland. Mount Auburn lies 1.5 miles west of Harvard Square. Audio tours for cars are available at the cemetery office.


Tremont Street, Downtown
Located next to Park Street Church and founded in 1660, this cemetery is perhaps the Hub’s most famous. It was so named because it sits on the former site of the town’s grain depository. Many figures from early American history rest here, including Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere. A headstone inscribed with the name Mary Goose is allegedly the final resting place of “Mother Goose.” As with King’s Chapel and Copp’s Hill, the Old Granary is also a popular stop on the Freedom Trail.

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