Sunday, May 30, 2010, will mark the 150th anniversary of Lindenwood Cemetery. A special ceremony in observance will be held this Sunday at the cemetery. Lindenwood represents a part of the so-called "rural cemetery movement" that swept over America during the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century. The term "rural cemetery" does not mean "country cemetery." Rather, it means "cemetery in a park," and it changed the way Americans thought about the dead and the environment where they reposed.
Prior to the creation of rural cemeteries, the dead, especially in cities, were buried in small, compact town burial grounds, often laid out in squares or rectangles. Sometimes they ran out of space, and new bodies were buried on top of earlier graves. There were no funds for their perpetual care, and in some places they became unsightly withthe soot from factories located nearby. Earlier in the nineteenth century, Fort Wayne residents had buried their dead in a small cemetery near the present site of the Allen County Jail, and later, in Broadway Cemetery, now the site of McCulloch Park next to what is now the GE plant. By the 1850s, that cemetery, though only 20 years old, had become a dumping ground for the city. Headstones were overturned, weeds grew everywhere, the fences were broken, and animals sometimes grazed there. Some citizens, outraged at the state of disrepair, began demanding a better alternative for burying their loved ones.
The rural cemetery movement had begun on the east coast with the opening of Mount Auburn Cemetery at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1831. Other cities soon followed suit with such outstanding examples as Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn and Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh, among many others. These cemeteries were beautifully landscaped with trees, hills, and streams. Promoters boasted that they removed the unpleasantness of death, promoted civic pride, and became wholesome destinations for family outings.
Lindenwood came about through the vision of several local leaders who raised sufficient capital to form a corporation in the late 1850s. They found a patch of old-growth forest close to town and hired John Chislett, an English-born architect based in Pittsburgh, to lay out the cemetery plan. They also employed John Doswell, an English-born horticulturalist and landscape architect, to actually sculpt the land according to Chislett's design. The result was a spectacular cemetery - the first publicly landscaped ground in the city, established before there were yet any parks for city residents.
At the time of the dedication in May 1860, America stood on the verge of the Civil War, and among the first dead to be buried there would be fallen soldiers from that war. The cemetery was not developed all at once. Sections opened at various locations and were interspersed with patches of undeveloped woodland. A Victorian Gothic gatehouse and office designed by Wing & Mahurin opened in 1884, and a chapel, later known as the Chapel in the Woods, was dedicated in 1895.
Since its founding, Lindenwood has become a venerated spot for many local families. One finds there a curious blending of the past and present. The granite and marble markers bear the names of many of the city's founders and community leaders. So this week, think about Lindenwood as it observes its sesquicentennial. It remains a beautiful spot for commemorating our city's history.