Legends of Sleepy Hollow
In 1855, a cemetery was configured on Bedford Street in Concord, Massachusetts, to conform to the aesthetics of the popular Transcendentalism movement, of which some of the area's favorite sons, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May) were followers. Transcendentalism typically rejects the emphasis placed on organized religion in order to attain an ideal state of spirituality, instead relying on one's personal intuition to achieve a spiritual state
one of the oaks to which Emerson referred in his speech below. He was absolutely right.
On September 29, 1855, Emerson delivered the consecration speech, stating that 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. . . . 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."
The result is as much a pineatum as a place to pine and ponder, holy ground in many ways.
House of three gables: graves of Nathaniel Hawthorne's family. The author's headstone is the most modest one on the far left.
My husband and I visited Concord on Columbus Day. Other than the fact that I'd mentioned to Scott a few days earlier that "they have a lot of great authors living there, particularly dead ones," we arrived with no preconceived notions of the legendary New England town where "the shot heard round the world" was fired on April 19, 1775. After fortifying ourselves with breakfast we began to wander wherever our souls and the soles of our shoes took us.
"I wonder what 'Authors Ridge' is," I mused, noticing a sign. "Let's explore."
Authors Ridge lies on a hilltop within Sleepy Hollow cemetery. There repose the Alcotts, the Thoreaus, the Hawthornes, and the Emersons, including Ralph Waldo, who was buried there in 1882, twenty-seven years after he delivered his consecration address.
Louisa May Alcott's grave in the foreground; her father, Amos Bronson Alcott's grave looms large to its right
Perhaps it was that Transcendentalist intuition that led us (or me, with Scott in tow) to Authors Ridge. I'd mentioned all those famous dead authors just days before but hadn't known they shared a final resting place that is the American equivalent of the Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey. By the time I realized where I was headed, a discovery had become a pilgrimage.
And as I wept, rather copiously I admit, over Louisa May Alcott's tombstone and placed three small stones (a Jewish tradition) on her gravesite, adding a penny and a pine cone (the penny, because other pilgrims had already done so; the pine cone for some instinctive reason; it helped complete a sort of memorial wreath), Scott jolted me back to reality -- and the 21st century.
"Remind me again who she is."
"She wrote Little Women," I said. "Among many other things." And I began to rattle off a bit of her biography. "Haven't you read Little Women?"
"Um ... guys don't read Little Women," he replied.
Has something in your heart or soul ever led you on an unusual visit like this? Did you ever begin the journey, as I did, completely ignorant, only to make your discovery on your arrival at the destination? Have you ever wept at an author's grave? Whose was it?