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| Prior to the building
of Lowell Cemetery, the dead were buried in two older graveyards, one on
School Street and the other on Gorham Street. Reverend Amos
Blanchard of the First Congregational Church referred to them as bleak,
barren, bare graveyards and crypts ... the New England village graveyard!
The need for open space, coupled with a widespread contemporary movement in Romanticism and Scientific Naturalism, led a group of prominent Lowell businessmen to embark on an unusual venture. Oliver Whipple, a gunpowder manufacturer, purchased forty-five acres of open space. A committee was formed which bought the land from Whipple for $5,000 (the price he had paid) and then elected him president of the Proprietors of Lowell Cemetery.
In 1841, the cemetery site, on Fort Hill, was quite removed from the city. Reverend Blanchard applauded the location and praised the virtues that a romantically designed cemetery generated in a city marked by visual monotony and social chaos. He characterized places like Lowell as cities of strangers, comparing urban living to hotel life rather than traditional communities of fond memory. Blanchard shocked his audience in one address when he informed them that a tombstone in one of our large cities, was lately seen covered with garish handbills, announcing schemes of business and of the idlest of fashionable amusements and follies.
Doctors, having discovered that cholera and other deadly ailments were not punishments thrust down from God but the result of unsanitary conditions, were now concerned about the present practice of burying the dead so close to the living. Science was rationalizing and removing fear from many aspects of society. This outlook affected views of death and dying as well; a sanitization of sorts.
Whipple and his peers felt that the new cemetery would serve as a place for citizens to stroll and enjoy the serenity of nature. They envisioned it as much a park as a cemetery. It would be some time before city leaders would be able to focus on developing other open spaces or commons in the city for the pleasure of its inhabitants.
The Proprietors hired civil engineer George Worcester to draft a plan for the cemetery. Worcester was influenced by the picturesque Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in France. The Lowell site was swathed in natural beauty, formed from the southeastern slope of Fort Hill and sloping to the bank of the Concord River. The Lowell Telegram described the site in 1906 "The hill is dotted with oaks and elms, Norway and sugar maples, ever-greens and poplars."
Lowell Cemetery was to be the fourth in a string of new American cemeteries. Mount Auburn, the nation's oldest was consecrated in 1831. Laurel Hill, near Philadelphia, was incorporated in 1836, and New York's Green-Wood Cemetery in 1837.
An important distinction between the American Rural Cemetery and European models like Pere-Lachaise was that the later was an old garden
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