The more I travel, the more I become aware that it’s actually quite normal for tourists to visit graveyards, despite the fact that it jars with stereotypical Western attitudes to death (we tend to talk about the dead in hushed tones and use euphemisms such as ‘passed on’ and ‘no longer with us’, rather than confront the truth). Boston’s Granary Burial Ground is so embedded in the city’s Freedom Trail that it’s almost a travesty not to visit, so it’s the perfect place to test your tolerance for morbid thoughts. This is where I saw some very plain epitaphs for famous people and some very cool ones for the not-so-famous, amongst the estimated 5,000 bodies placed here.
Not only is this a pretty cool, old-fashion graveyard in its own right, but it’s also a major attraction as it’s the final resting place for both Paul Revere and Samuel Adams – two essential figures in Boston’s history, whose names you will hear about 2 million times on a short city break, whether you’re on a trolley tour, in a pub or just walking down the street. These guys have the kind of ubiquity that Kim Kardashian would kill for (if only she kould). For those of you not in the know, as I wasn’t until I went to Boston, Paul Revere wasn’t just the name of a horse in a song from Guys and Dolls; he was a patriot who warned Americans that the British were coming (thanks, Paul) and he also appears to have been a dab hand at engraving, thanks to his early career as a silversmith. Meanwhile, as well as giving his name to a lovely line of lager that’s been brewed in his honour since 1985, Sam Adams was one of the Founding Fathers and he was embroiled in the Boston Tea Party controversy. Talk about multi-tasking.
When I visited the Granary Burial Ground I didn’t actually take any photos of either Revere’s or Adams’ grave, simply because there were huge crowds around them, intently listening to talks from people dressed up as ye olde patriots. However, when I did get the chance to glimpse their epitaphs, I did think they were worth seeing, but you’ll probably be surprised by how unremarkable looking they are. There may be a lot of fuss about the people, and Sam Adams got his own giant slab of rock rather than your bog-standard tombstone, but I did sort of expect some kind of mausoleum-type thing, purely because of the amount of fuss generated by the endless Freedom Trail tours.
What I found much more poignant were the skull-covered tombstones of your average Bostonian, many of which were affectionately cartoon-like and made me stop in my tracks. I’m a sucker for memento mori and it’s great to see that these pieces of graveside art have stood the test of time. Here are my photos – I wish I’d taken more now!
Even if you’re not on the Freedom Trail (as I wasn’t), the Granary is definitely one place to tick off your list of things to see in Boston, especially because you can see these really sweet and personal engravings as a tribute to the city’s former residents. They might not have the reputation of Samuel Adams or Paul Revere, but they certainly made me stop and think.