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CEMETERY enthusiasts know that cemeteries are a vast treasure trove of art and architecture. The fact is, cemeteries are America’s most unspoiled resource of historic arcitecture. It would take many hours of strolling in a city’s downtown historic district to find the number of styles of architecture that one can find in a few minutes’ walk in most large historic cemeteries. Most cemetery architecture is a mirror of the urban architecture of the time. Gothic cathedrals, Classical Revival city halls, Art Deco theaters, and rustic cast-iron garden furniture can all find their counterpart in the cemetery. And there are some styles of architecture that can be found only in cemeteries; we’ll call this architecture “uniquely funerary.”
Up until the Reformation in the sixteenth century, most cemeteries consisted primarily of randomly placed headstones.Wealthy folks purchased their way into being buried within the walls and floors of their church. But a series of edicts and a slowdown of church construction during the Reformation essentially put an end to burial within the church. Moneyed types started looking outside the walls of the church to erect a suitable memorial to themselves and their families. Elaborate statuary, tombs, and monuments slowly began to find their way into formerly stark churchyards and city cemeteries.When garden cemeteries with vast landscaped expanses began to be developed in the early nineteenth century, they became a new architectural frontier for America’s architects, artists, designers, and builders.