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Friday, September 6, 2013

Free Write: Mount Hope Cemetery, Beautiful & Historic

In high school, I took the crazy route and decided to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma student. IB is a rigorous academic program available in many schools in America and around the world. For those of you who have never heard of it, the best and simplest way I can describe it to you is Advanced Placement on drugs.
At the end of a long two years in this program, our school’s IB coordinator, and also the senior year history teacher, took me and the other five diploma students on a relaxed field trip. This field trip was to Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester. That might sound creepy to those of you who haven’t been there, but the place is full of history, which is appropriate for a field trip coordinated by a history teacher. Mount Hope is the resting place of Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Rochester, and Susan B. Anthony, to name a few. To see a more complete list of “notable burials,” click here.
 Frederick Douglass's grave

 Susan B. Anthony's resting place

The hill on which Nathaniel Rochester is buried

Buffalo Bill's foster son's gravestone
Mount Hope was dedicated in 1838 and is America's first municipal Victorian cemetery. The cemetery includes 196 acres and features eighty-two mausoleums, Egyptian obelisks, a Florentine cast-iron fountain, two Gothic stone chapels, a Moorish gazebo, and 350,000 graves marked with an impressive variety of tombstones.

My favorite picture of Mount Hope! :)

Beyond the history, I found the place to be strikingly beautiful, which was strange for me, because never before had I seen a cemetery that I would classify as beautiful. Glaciers shaped the landscape of Mount Hope’s domain, along with much of New York, and because of this, the cemetery isn’t a flat boring field with a few aesthetically-placed trees. Mount Hope Cemetery is infused with a forest, and is very hilly. Our field trip resulted in a lot of exercise, and I would actually suggest the place to hikers. As our tour guide led us through the winding pathways, we could look to our right and see down into a ravine, and to our left would be a staircase leading to the top of a hill we were walking beside. We saw many locals walking their dogs through the cemetery and enjoying the peace and quiet. While exploring, it was difficult to tell that Mount Hope is located in the midst of an urban area.  
A "kettle" filled with water provides water for wildlife

 An empty kettle
Mount Hope is a Certified Wildlife Habitat, as deemed by the National Wildlife Federation. Animal inhabitants and visitors at Mount Hope include, but are not limited to, deer, turkeys, red foxes, squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, owls (among dozens of other bird species), butterflies, amphibians, and even flying squirrels! Bluebird houses and owl nesting boxes are installed in the cemetery. While at the cemetery, we saw a few groundhogs digging near Frederick Douglass’s grave. 
Another notable environmental aspect of Mount Hope Cemetery is the Garden of Renewal. This section of the cemetery is reserved for “green” burials, which reduce the negative impact of traditional burials on the surrounding environment. People buried in this section cannot be embalmed with toxic chemicals (which can poison the earth), their caskets and shrouds must be biodegradable, and vaults and outer containers are prohibited. Essentially, the dead buried here are not being preserved in the traditional practice, and they will decompose naturally in the ground, their bodies returned to nature. Green burial sites and green cemeteries allow nature to take its course. Before I came here, I had never heard of green burials. To read more about green burials, check out this website.
 This gravestone is made of zinc, which although is an unconventional gravestone material, lasts for much longer.
The dates are still very readable, despite the age of the zinc stone.
After returning from the field trip, I did an online search of green burials and found an article about a particularly unique “eco-friendly” burial method. In this method, your cremated ashes are incorporated into concrete, which is then used to make a “reef burial ball”. These burial balls are hollow and filled with holes, like Swiss cheese. They are dropped into an ocean or a sea and sink down to be a part of a reef, providing habitats for marine wildlife. To view the whole article, click here. 
So, while a cemetery may not be your typical idea for a day-cation or a nature walk, I strongly encourage you to visit Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, especially if you are a local who has never been there. The cemetery is so beautiful that the creepiness is nonexistent, and if you take a tour, you will discover that there is much more to learn about Rochester’s history and burial methods than you ever expected. With or without a tour, Mount Hope is a wonderful place to find peace from your daily schedule and reconnect with nature.   
A strange but beautiful flower I found in the cemetery

I loved the style of these two stones, in particular. 

I took all the pictures in this post.


  1. Thanks for the info on "green burial". Sounds like a smart idea! By the way the interesting beautiful flower is from a tulip popular tree. Likely nipped off by a hungry squirrel getting nutrients from the flower stem. From RoseMarie - I sometimes write on my nephew's blog - hence the Aunt Rosie - sorry don't know how to update that.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! And thanks for the info on the flower :)