A Cemetery for Memorial Day

As Memorial Day approaches, my thoughts turn to a special form of non-residential architecture and landscape: the cemetery.

The garden cemetery was a 19th century invention, a response to the crowded urban cemeteries of the previous century. In 1804, Pere Lachaise in Paris was the first cemetery designed as a landscaped “garden” to soothe the soul and delight the eye.

The first American garden cemetery was Mount Auburn, near Boston, founded in 1830. Modeled on the “domesticated landscape” of English garden design, it combined natural features and careful plantings. In Victorian times, when most people suffered a loss through death, the cemetery was a place to remember the dead during a pleasant stroll through a lovely landscape.

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Summer

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Summer

The most famous garden cemeteries are elsewhere, but Minneapolis has a fine example in Lakewood Cemetery, founded in 1871, on land that was at the time in the countryside, far from the city’s center. Like Mount Auburn, it was carefully planned as a garden, with curving paths, attractive plantings, and memorials with classical, medieval, or natural motifs.

Exterior View of Lakewood Cemetery Chapel

Exterior View of Lakewood Cemetery Chapel


Lakewood Cemetery’s chapel is essential to the planned beauty of the cemetery as a whole. Designed by the well-known Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones, the exterior was modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The mosaics of the interior, designed by New Yorker Charles Lamb, were inspired by a design in the San Marco Cathedral in Venice. The domed ceiling is a striking example of the mosaicist’s art.

Even if your plans for Memorial Day include a parade or a picnic, not a visit to a cemetery, a look at Lakewood—even a virtual one—is a good way to celebrate the day. Life is fleeting, but architectural beauty can last a bit longer.

Mount Auburn image courtesy of Wikipedia; Lakewood image courtesy of Todd Murray via Wiki Commons.

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