Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord - "A Fit Garden" and Final Resting Place For Some of America's Most Beloved Authors

While you're day-tripping through the Town of Concord during your stay at the historic Hawthorne Hotel, you're going to want to make sure that you take the time for a stop at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  Not to be confused with the other Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York which is the final resting place of 40,000 souls including Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, and author Washington Irving, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord is the largest of the town's three cemeteries with over 10,000 souls and the final resting place of some of its own rather notable American figures - including the guy whose name graces this very blog!

The Gates to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Before the glacial kettle hole that makes up the original part of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was a cemetery, it was a very popular picnicking spot for the local townspeople. Two of those picnickers were Nathaniel and his wife Sophia who were among those who would enjoy the peace and beauty of the woods as they dreamed of building a castle at the spot. Even before the cemetery was founded and given its name, the area was called Sleepy Hollow, perhaps named so after Washington Irving's popular short story published in 1820, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

In 1855, the town purchased the 25 acres of farmland nearby Monument Square on Bedford Street from the heirs of Deacon Reuben Brown and then brought in the Boston-based American landscape architecture firm of Cleveland and Copeland to create one of the first cemeteries in the country in a "rural" or "garden" setting, a major feature of a widespread cultural phenomenon called the "rural cemetery movement" that swept over mid-nineteenth century America. Inspired by the English garden movement, romantic ideas about death, and new attitudes regarding the healing power of nature and the arts, the main focus was to incorporate the natural beauty of the landscape with carefully planned lots taking cemeteries out of the control of the church and their sterile churchyards by using an attractive park-like setting rather than a small urban plot. Rural cemeteries were of a grander architectural design requiring careful planting while utilizing the natural landscape features already in place and disturbing them as little as possible. Cemeteries would no longer be places of despair but places of hope and reflection, celebrating the lives of those who were buried there.

In 1854, Horace William Shaler Cleveland, who essentially wrote the book on natural landscape design for cemeteries - "A Few Words on the Arrangement of Rural Cemeteries" - and who has sometimes been considered second only to Frederick Law Olmsted as a landscape architect, created a partnership “in landscape and ornamental gardening” with Robert Morris Copeland, a native of Roxbury, Massachusetts and lifelong friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  When they were hired in 1855 to plan out Concord's third and largest cemetery it was Cleveland's first major design for which the town paid the firm $75.

In a dedication ceremony in September of 1855 which featured Ralph Waldo Emerson as the orator who extolled the beauty of the cemetery's natural landscape, Cleveland and Copeland's design was consecrated as Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Emerson was joined in the dedication by William Ellery Channing, the foremost Unitarian preacher in the United States in the early-nineteenth century as well as an important and influential member of the Transcendentalism movement, who read his poem, "Sleepy Hollow" in which he declared the new cemetery as a "fit garden for our tombs."

Over time the "fit garden" that Channing wrote of grew and grew as it was enlarged to accommodate more and more souls with expansions made in 1868, 1932, 1954, 1959, 1960, and again in 1975.  The last addition was made in 1998 when a section was opened for specially consecrated Jewish burials and named "The Knoll".

When visiting the cemetery, it's a bit easy to get turned around as there are four different gates upon which to enter the grounds but if your intent is to visit the more "popular plots" in Sleepy Hollow, you'll want to skip the first gate that you come to from Monument Square (New Hill Gate) and access the cemetery further down Bedford Street (aka Route 62) at either the Prichard, Wood, or Authors gates. Should you need some assistance finding your way around, The Friends of Sleepy Hollow offer a compact guide complete with a map entitled "The Legendary Sleepy Hollow Cemetery" which is available at the Concord Visitor Center, the Concord Museum Shop, Concord's Colonial Inn, or a number of other places listed on their website.

The photo at the top of this post is that of the Authors Gate which is the easternmost access point to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and will certainly lead you to where you want to go but if you want to start out by viewing "Mourning Victory", a memorial monument for three Concord brothers who died in the Civil War, your best access point is Prichard Gate which will put you on Upland Avenue where you will soon come directly upon the monument.

Also known as the Melvin Memorial, the monument had long been the dream James C. Melvin who wanted to honor this three brothers who had died during our Nation's Civil War but it wasn't until 1897 when the lone surviving Melvin brother was able to commission Daniel Chester French, well-known sculptor and James' boyhood friend, to create a memorial monument for Asa Heald Melvin, John Heald Melvin, and Samuel Melvin.

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A native of Concord himself, Daniel Chester French is best known as the sculptor who created the massive statue of Abraham Lincoln which sits in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC and the Concord Minute Man statue which stands at the western end of the Old North Bridge.

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One of French's most dramatic works of art that combines grief with triumph, the Melvin Memorial was created by French from 1906 - 1908 and commemorates the noble sacrifice of the three Melvin brothers, all of whom served as members of Company K, First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery.

Collaborating with architect Henry Bacon, French designed a memorial that would be crafted of pink marble from Knoxville, Tennessee in the Italian Renaissance style.  The monument consists of a central shaft approximately twenty feet in height resting on a platform twenty-five feet long by eight feet wide with retaining walls on the backs and sides. Above the inscription, standing 7-feet tall, is a female figure with billowing hair enveloped in the American flag representing "Victory". Her right hand lifts the folds of the flag while in her left, she carries a laurel branch while her eyes are downcast as she watches over the three tablets inserted in the floor of the monument. Benches were built in to the far ends of the structure so that visitors to the memorial could sit facing both "Victory" and the slate markers.

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The tablets are each 6-feet long by 3-feet wide and are made of dark slate with a musket and wreath of bronze inlaid in each tablet.  The tablets bear the names, dates of birth, and dates and locations of death of the three men that they commemorate.

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The original design of the memorial called for "Victory" to have her right arm outstretched holding the laurel branch and her left arm upraised however, upon seeing the location where the monument would stand in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, French altered the monument so the left arm was outstretched instead so that people coming along the path to view the monument would not have the face of "Victory" covered by her upraised elbow.

When French duplicated the sculpture in marble following a request for a copy of the sculpture by the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, he had it carved according to his original design with the right arm outstretched. The new monument, called "Mourning Victory", was worked on from 1912-1915 and upon completion was given to the Museum where it was installed on the second floor balcony overlooking the American Wing courtyard. In 2009, the Museum's copy of the Melvin Memorial was moved to the first floor of the newly renovated American Wing.

Should you be interested in reading more about the Melvin Memorial, including the Diary of Samuel Melvin who died in 1864 at the notorious Andersonville Cemetery, you can do so at The Melvin Memorial on OpenLibrary.org.  There's also a great presentation on the Melvin family, Daniel Chester French, and the monument on Bostonbits.com.

Behind the Melvin Memorial is a sweeping line of trees which rises to a knoll where Daniel Chester French reposes in his own grave.  If you've arrived by car, the easiest way to find French's grave is to drive around Upland Street to Chestnut Path where you'll come upon granite markers for "Authors Ridge" and "The Grave of Daniel Chester French". Below you lies the hollow for which Sleepy Hollow got its name.

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As you drive along Chestnut Path, keep your eyes peeled for the second granite marker which is going to be on your right just before the small parking area for Authors Ridge. It can be tricky and I have to profess to driving in circles for a little bit but perseverance paid off and soon we found the grave of Daniel Chester French and his wife Mary Adams French French (Daniel and Mary were first cousins).

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Compared to the sculptures that he created, French's grave is very plain in nature - a simple stone slab with a garland wreath at the head which he designed himself.  The stone is inscribed with simply French's name, years of birth and death as well as those of Mary, and the words "A Heritage of Beauty".

Visitors to the grave leave pennies in the center of the stone garland placing them reverse side up in memory of French's great "Seated Lincoln" sculpture because the Lincoln Memorial is depicted on the back of the penny. Apparently some folks have left the Massachusetts Commemorative quarters with a depiction of the Concord Minute Man but those seem to disappear pretty quickly. I wonder if whoever takes them leaves change in the form of pennies?

Nate on the Author's Ridge Sign at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Pathway to Author's Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Nearby French's grave is another granite marker pointing visitors to Authors Ridge, probably the most visited spot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, for its there that one can find the graves of Concord's most famous literary figures.

Thoreau Family Gravestone

Take a right at the top of the rather steep paved pathway and you'll soon find yourself facing the marker for the Thoreau family where the very small headstone for Henry David Thoreau can be found amid a circle of pine cones and other tokens including notes, letters, and coins which have been left by visitors to the grave of the man whose "Essay on Civil Disobedience" advocated individual resistance to unjust government. The author of "Walden", Henry David Thoreau was also a naturalist, Transcendentalist, environmentalist, surveyor, abolitionist, and pioneering conservationist as well as a schoolmaster, farmer, house painter, carpenter, mason, and day laborer. Whew!

Perhaps the size of the headstone on Authors Ridge for the man who was named David Henry before he changed it to Henry David after graduating from Harvard College, adheres to the words that he wrote during his lifetime, "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify."

A few yards east of the Thoreaus is the more elaborate marker for the Alcott family - Amos Bronson Alcott, Abigail May Alcott, Anna Bronson Alcott, Elizabeth Sewall Alcott, May Alcott Nieriker, and Louisa May Alcott who is buried across the foot of her parents graves, fulfilling her wish “to support them in death and life.”

Alcott Family Marker at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

The founder of the Transcendentalism movement in the United States, innovative educator, leading slavery abolitionist, women's rights advocate, founder of a vegan community, architect, artist, and author of several books, Bronson Alcott died on March 4th, 1888. Louisa May, best known as the author of "Little Women", a book that was based on her life experiences and whose family, the Marches, were based on her own family, died two days after her father as a result of mercury poisoning from a drug being used to treat her for typhoid.

Like others buried on Authors Ridge, Louisa's headstone is an inconspicuous marker, set flat on the ground, which reads only “Louisa M. Alcott”. A small American flag flies in honor of her service in the Civil War where she served as a nurse for the Union Army from 1862 to 1863 treating wounded and dying troops at Union Hotel Hospital near Washington DC.

Nearby the Alcotts and Thoreaus is the Hawthorne Family Plot - another simple plot with multiple stones that makes it a little bit confusing!

The Hawthorne Family Plot at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
The Hawthorne Family Plot in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Part of the reason for the confusion is probably due to the fact that after Nathaniel died in May of 1864 and was buried on this Concord hillside nearby the spot where he and Sophia used to dream of building a castle, in 1870 Sophia and their children moved to Dresden, Germany and then London, England the following year. When Sophia contracted typhoid pneumonia and died on February 26, 1871, she was buried in London at Kensal Green Cemetery, one of London’s oldest and most distinguished public burial grounds. Una was also buried there when she died in London in 1877 and though there were markers for them in the family plot in Concord, their remains remained in London until 2006 when an order of Catholic nursing nuns (which had been founded by daughter Rose who had converted to Catholicism), the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne (referring to Hawthorne, New York where they are located and not the family surname), arranged to have Sophia and Una's bones disinterred and returned to Concord to be reunited and rest along with those of Nathaniel in the family plot at Sleepy Hollow.

Gravemarker of Sophia Hawthorne in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Grave marker for Una Hawthorne at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Needless to say, when mini-Nate and I visited his graveside, it was kind of hard to decide which stone he should pose by so we decided we'd best take photos with both his headstone and footstone which simply bear the name "Hawthorne" and nothing more.

Mini-Nate by his gravesite in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Mini-Nate at his gravesite in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Gravestone of Nathaniel Hawthorne

The last time we visited (to be honest we made several trips to Sleepy Hollow in order to catch up with a few things we missed the first time plus I rather like it there!), Nathaniel was a bit flummoxed to find unsharpened pencils left on his stone among all of the other tokens and remembrances. Ideally the pencils should have been left on the headstone of Henry David Thoreau as he used to work in the pencil-making business of his father where he invented several machines and methods that significantly improved both the process of pencil-making and the pencils themselves.

Continuing down the path, visitors will soon come to a five-foot tall, rough-hewn chunk of rose quartz that has got to be the most unusual stone in all of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery but which is appropriate as it's the marker of Concord's beloved native son - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Flanked by the graves of his wife, Lydian, and daughter, Ellen, with that of his young son Waldo who died from scarlet fever at the young age of five behind it, the marker on Emerson's grave carries an epitaph taken from his poem, "The Problem":
"The passive Master lent his hand
To the vast soul that o'er him planned"
For a man of so many words during the course of his life, it seems rather ironic that his gravestone bears so few but perhaps he felt he'd said all there was to say while he was still above the ground rather than below it.

Nearby the Emerson Family Plot can be found the graves of publisher Daniel Lothrop and his wife, Harriett Mulford Stone Lothrop, who may be better known as her pseudonym, Margaret Sidney, author of the “Five Little Peppers” series of children's books.

Involved with the Daughters of the American Revolution, in 1895, Harriet presented the idea for a children's organization to the Daughters of the American Revolution Continental Congress. Still in existence today, the Children of the American Revolution is the nation's oldest, largest, patriotic youth organization focused on patriotism, service, and education about our American heritage. Membership is open to anyone under the age of 21, "lineally descended from someone who rendered material aid to the cause of American Independence as a soldier, sailor, civil officer, or recognized patriot in one of the several Colonies or States, or of the United States."

Coming down from Authors Ridge and into the hollow on lower Hillside Avenue, a visit to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery wouldn't be complete if you didn't stop by the plot of Ephraim W. Bull, the man who brought us the Concord grape - a big, early-ripening, black grape that I'm sure most of us have enjoyed coupled with peanut butter at some point in our lives!

I'm not sure if it was intended that Bull's gravestone look like a big stone grape but it rather does and his marker pretty much says it all:  "He sowed others reaped".  The epitaph refers to the fact that even though Ephraim Bull himself never saw financial gain through his Concord grapes due to poor marketing, by the mid-1870s more Concord grapes had been planted in the Northeast than all other varieties combined.

Welch's Grape Company of New Jersey, which entered the grape products market in 1869 when physician and dentist Thomas Bramwell Welch and his son Charles processed the first bottles of "unfermented wine" to use during their church's communion service, was one of those who reaped from what Ephraim Bull sowed. In the mid-1970s, the company moved its corporate headquarters to Concord and to this day one of Ephraim's Concord vines is still growing beside the driveway of their original Concord offices at 100 Main Street.

In addition to Authors Ridge, the Melvin Memorial, and the graves of Daniel Chester French and Ephraim Bull, there is much more to see in Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery which, if you've got the time, is a lovely place to walk around and read stones or simply enjoy the natural setting where so many of Concord's notable citizens have taken up their final resting places.  Perhaps a cemetery was never on your list of "Must See Places" but if ever there was one, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord should be on it.

All of the cemeteries in Concord are open to the public daily from 7:00 a.m. until dusk or 8:00 p.m., whichever is earlier, weather permitting. Please keep in mind that gravestone rubbings are not allowed and quiet, respectful behavior is expected while visitors are asked to stay on roads and paths and to refrain from trespassing upon grave lots wherever possible.

Copyright © - Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel is strictly prohibited.


  1. I don't ever visit cemeteries, but I might actually consider this one. In daylight. :)

    OK... just so ya know? I totally stole Henry David Thoreau's quote for BQ. Simplify, simply. Amen to that!

  2. When I was a small child growing up in Methuen, MA, my beloved grandfather would take me for long walks daily. Our favorite places were the historic cemeteries of the area. I have long loved cemeteries and find them be some of the most scenic and peaceful parts of our chaotic world. I have never visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (although I must say we have driven through the one in Tarrytown NY and that is definitely a must visit) in Concord, but it will be on my to-do list for this year.

  3. I was introduced to the beauty and quiet of cemeteries as a young child by my grandfather Frank, who would often take me for long walks and entire afternoons in the historic burial grounds around Methuen Massachusetts. I have never visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, but as someone with an advanced degree in literature (with an emphasis on American Literature), this is a place that will be on my to-do list for this coming year. Thank you for sharing such wonderful pictures.


Thank you for your feedback; it is greatly appreciated!
~ Nathaniel and Linda