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Grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson

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About This Place

Grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson
The most prominent marker on Author's Ridge, Emerson's grave consists of a large marble boulder surrounded by the headstones of his wife, daughter, five-year-old son, and other descendants.

On the Lokashakti Network since:
Monday, 01 August 2011

Location:
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Concord, Massachusetts
United States

Type of network resource:
  • Historical Marker

Issues addressed:
  • Peace / Nonviolence

Description

Grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson
The bronze plaque upon his headstone reads:

RALPH WALDO EMERSON
BORN IN BOSTON MAY 25 1803
DIED IN CONCORD APRIL 27 1882

THE PASSIVE MASTER LENT HIS HAND
TO THE VAST SOUL THAT O'ER HIM PLANNED

(A quote from his poem, The Problem)

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery has been in use ever since its opening ceremony on September 29, 1855, upon which Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a dedication speech. The two designers of the cemetery had decades-long friendships with many leaders of the Transcendentalism movement, which is reflected in their design.

"Sleepy Hollow was an early natural garden designed in keeping with Emerson's aesthetic principles," writes Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn in his Nature and Ideology. In 1855, landscape designer Robert Morris Copeland delivered an address he entitled "The Usefull and The Beautiful," tying his naturalistic, organic garden design to Emerson's Transcendentalist principles. Shortly, afterward, Copeland and his partner were retained by the Concord Cemetery Committee, of which Emerson was an active member, to design a cemetery for the growing community.

Known as Sleepy Hollow for some 20 years prior to its use as a cemetery, on September 29, 1855 it was finally dedicated, with Emerson delivering the opening address. In it he lauded the designers' work. "The garden of the living," said Emerson, was as much for the benefit for the living, to communicate their relationship to the natural world, as it was to honor the dead. By situating the monuments to the dead within a natural landscape, the architects conveyed their message, said Emerson. A cemetery could not "jealously guard a few atoms under immense marbles, selfishly and impossibly sequestering [them] from the vast circulations of nature [which] recompenses for new life [each decomposing] particle."

Emerson told his audience that September day in Concord, "When these acorns, that are falling at our feet, are oaks overshadowing our children in a remote century, this mute green bank will be full of history: the good, the wise, and the great will have left their names and virtues on the trees... will have made the air tuneable and articulate."

To realize their vision, Emerson noted that the cemetery's designers had fitted the walks and drives into the site's natural amphitheater. They also left much of the original natural vegetation in place, instead of removing it and replanting with ornamental shrubs, as was often the case. Several years after Emerson's address, a visitor to the new cemetery noted the abundance of wild plants such as woodbine, raspberry, and goldenrod, as well as the natural moss and roots of pine trees which were left in situ by the designers.

Grave of Ralph Waldo Emerson – Map View

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