As Halloween approaches, we thought it appropriate to look at some of the most historic cemeteries in New England.
Cemeteries are almost by definition historic, because they reflect the history of the deceased within their grounds.
We tried to pick a cross-section of graveyards, choosing some well-known to New Englanders and others that remain obscure. We chose six, one in each New England state.
Grove Street Cemetery
The Yale University campus surrounds the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, and many Elis found their last home there. Such notables as Noah Webster, Eli Whitney, Walter Camp and Roger Sherman await their judgment under the turf of the historic cemetery.
Grove Street Cemetery started as the first nonprofit, private cemetery in the world in 1796. Previously, New Haven buried its dead on the New Haven Green. But the Green got too crowded during the yellow fever epidemic of 1794-95. So prominent New Haven families established the burial ground on farmland on the town’s border, just north of Grove Street. The first burial, of Martha Townsend, took place on Nov. 9, 1797.
It was an immediate hit, if that can be said of a cemetery.
The two men who designed the remarkable Egyptian Revival gateway — sculptor Hezekiah Augur and architect Henry Austin — are buried in the Grove Street Cemetery. The inscription on the stone gate reads, “The Dead Shall Be Raised.” A Yale president supposedly said, “They certainly will be, if Yale needs the property.”
Today, the 18-acre Grove Street Cemetery at provides a dignified resting place for many of New Haven’s elite as well as the indigent.
227 Grove St., New Haven, Conn.
Mount Hope Cemetery
Though Mount Auburn Cemetery in Greater Boston was the first cemetery designed as a park, Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor came a close second. Architect Charles Bryant designed it three years after Mount Auburn opened in 1831. The Bangor Horticultural Society formed to build the cemetery as a place where the dead and the living could contemplate nature peacefully.
Nearly 30,000 people re buried on its 264 acres, including Abe Lincoln’s Vice President Hannibal Hamlin and Public Enemy No. 1, Al Brady, shot to death on a Bangor street.
Two scenes from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary were filmed at Mount Hope. For one shot, the crew had to wait until 2 am to get the perfect moonlight.
The Bangor Historical Society offers a 90-minute tour of the cemetery on evenings before Halloween. They call it “The Darker Side of Mount Hope Cemetery: A visit to the graves of Bangorians who left this world before their time or under mysterious circumstances.” Click here for more information.
1048 State St., Bangor, Maine
Myles Standish Burying Ground
Massachusetts makes it hard to choose among its historic cemeteries. The commonwealth has the old Granary Burying Ground and Mount Auburn, for starters. We looked for a cemetery for the victims of the Salem witch trials, but part of their punishment was to be buried in unmarked, unsanctified graves.
In the end, we couldn’t resist including the Myles Standish Burial Ground in Duxbury, Mass. Several Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower rest in the cemetery with the captain. John Alden, Priscilla Alden and George Soule repose in what is said to be the oldest maintained cemetery in the United States.
Originally, the cemetery belonged to Duxbury’s first meeting house. When a new meeting house replaced the old, three-quarters of a mile down the road, the Myles Standish Burial Ground fell into disuse. But in 1887, the Duxbury Rural Society went about reclaiming the burying ground and has maintained it as a historic site ever since.
Four years after the Duxbury Rural Society took charge, a small team exhumed the body of an elderly male. They identified him as Myles Standish, along with his daughter Lora, his daughter-in-law and one of his sons who died young. Myles Standish was reburied in a pine box and a memorial erected above his grave.
However, Myles Standish’s descendants didn’t like that. So in 1931 they had their ancestor re-exhumed and re-buried in a copper box, then placed in a cement vault beneath the marker. The previous year, the descendants of John and Priscilla Alden placed slate markers near the spot believed to be their final resting place.
Chestnut Street, Duxbury, Mass.
Many residents of the historic city of Portsmouth, N.H., don’t even know about the famous people buried in tiny old North Cemetery.
The 1.5 acres of North Cemetery sitting on the banks of North Mill Pond get far less attention than some of the other historic cemeteries in New England. It has, however, a number of notable residents, including William Whipple, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Gov. John Langdon, signer of the U.S. Constitution.
Also buried in old North: Prince Whipple, who, according to legend, accompanied George Washington in his crossing of the Delaware. The cemetery also includes Portsmouth’s first known Catholic and Jewish residents, as well as Thomas L. Thompson. Thompson commanded the Raleigh, the first U.S. navy warship built at what is now the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (and depicted on the seal of the State of New Hampshire). Hall Jackson, a local doctor who attended the wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill, also rests in peace at North Cemetery.
Maplewood Avenue, Portsmouth, N.H.
There are probably more 17th-century grave markers in Newman Cemetery than in any other of Rhode Island’s historic cemeteries.
Newman Cemetery provides an encyclopedic history of style and fashion in funerary art. Part of Newman Congregational Church, it includes a remarkable number of 17th century gravestones.
The crude oldest stones often show only the deceased’s initials and year of death. Some, though, have decorative carvings.
The slate 18th-century markers include upright headstones with death heads and cherub heads. There are also portrait busts of the deceased and flat slabs decorated with coats-of-arms. Later markers include marble obelisks and slate stones with willow-and-urn motifs.
The 10.5-acre cemetery belongs to the Newman Congregational Church.
Corner of Newman St. and Pawtucket St. across from the Newman Congregational Church, 100 Newman Ave., Rumford, R.I.
Most of the people buried in Hope Cemetery carved their own memorials and tombstones. They were stonecutters who worked in the granite quarries of Barre, Vt., which calls itself the granite capital of the world.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, skilled stonecutters flocked to Barre from Europe. Many brought their radical political views with them, dividing into socialists and anarchists.
The outdoor gallery of granite artistry attracts tourists with its beautifully carved and sometimes unusual granite memorials. They include a soldier smoking a cigarette, a race car, a bored angel, a soccer ball and an 18-wheel truck.
One master stonecutter, Louis Brusa, discovered he had silicosis and commissioned a memorial of himself dying in the arms of a woman. It caused a local scandal because the woman looked like his mistress rather than his wife.
The 65-acre cemetery has more than 10,000 tombstones and memorials, all made from Barre Grey granite.
6 North Main St., Barre, Vt.
Images of historic cemeteries: Mount Hope Cemetery, Bangor, By Svetlana Miljkovic – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8042714. Myles Standish grave, By Swampyank me – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9030067. Old North Cemetery, By John Phelan – Own work, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/legalcodeCC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15202464.; Mount Hope Cemetery By Mfwills – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7614869. Newman Cemetery, By Kenneth C. Zirkel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21551196. Newman Congregational Church, By Kenneth C. Zirkel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21551148.
This story last updated in 2022.
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