Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

sleepypostcarddone1.jpg

 ("Authors Ridge at Sleepy Hollow" 1930's postcard from private collection of Tish Hopkins)

Concord's largest cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, can be found one block east of Monument Square, on Bedford Street. It has an estimated 10,000 gravesites, many of local, national, and international interest. It was one of the first cemeteries in the United States to be designed to have a sylvan character and has also been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Two highly visited areas are Authors Ridge, a measure of Concord’s dominance of 19th century American literature, and the Melvin Memorial. If coming on foot, enter at the first gate, and walk parallel to Bedford Street. If coming by car, use the second gate; there are parking spaces next to Authors Ridge.


Sleepy Hollow has grown "little by little, much by much" to its present status through 175 years of careful planning and strategic land purchases. In the early part of the 19th century, it had become clear that Concord needed a third burying ground. Therefore, in 1823 another hilly plot was purchased from land not far behind Old Hill, and was named, not surprisingly, "New Hill Cemetery". Its first tenant was Mrs. Anna Robbins who died the same year. Twenty-two years later in 1855, the Town bought 25 acres of nearby farmland, and consecrated it as Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in a dedication ceremony later that year. The ceremony featured Ralph Waldo Emerson, a member of the Cemetery Committee, as the orator. He was followed by William Ellery Channing reading his poem, "Sleepy Hollow" whose "fair pale asters of the season spread their plumes around this field, fit garden for our tombs." Channing’s "garden" was enlarged to make way for more and more souls in 1869, 1932, 1954, 1959, 1960, and 1975. In 1998, a new section called "The Knoll" was opened, which includes an area specially consecrated for Jewish burials. The Knoll has an entrance farther along Bedford Street, and also connects to the main part of the cemetery by a woodland path.

To the left of the central entrance to Sleepy Hollow is "Mourning Victory" commonly known as the Melvin Memorial. The sculpture, commissioned by James Melvin in memory of his three brothers who died during the Civil War, was created by his boyhood friend, Daniel Chester French. Mr. French who also designed the Minuteman Statue at Concord's North Bridge and the Lincoln Statue in Washington's D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial, is himself buried nearby, on the ridge directly behind the monument.

To the right of the Melvin Memorial, up a short stretch of road lies a hollow, on the far side of which is Authors Ridge. Perched on the top-most glacial hill in the cemetery, Authors Ridge gathers together, among others, the graves of Henry Thoreau (1862), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1864), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1882), Louisa May Alcott (1888) and her father, Bronson Alcott (1888). Each is buried in a family plot and marked with modest stones. Hawthorne's marker, in keeping with his personal reserve, bears only his last name, while Emerson created his own epitaph: "The passive master lent his hand to the vast soul which o'er him planned." (from his poem, The Problem). Emerson's stone faces a large boulder at the base of the hill, which covers the resting place of Ephraim Wales Bull, the originator of the celebrated Concord Grape. At the Alcott plot, Ms. Alcott is surrounded by her father, mother and sisters, whom she made famous in Little Women. Except for Louisa May, the Alcott stones bear only the occupants’ initials. Tragedy hovers here. Bronson Alcott died on March 4, 1888, and Louisa May, gravely ill with pneumonia and shaken by his passage, died two days later. Both were buried on the same day later in the spring when the ground had thawed sufficiently.

(from "Town of Concord and its Historic Cemeteries" brochure  - Concord Cemetery Committee/Concord Public Works - March 2001)