Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Sleepy Hollow in Concord, Massachusetts is considered one the most beautiful cemeteries in the United States. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was buried here, some 27 years after its completion, was instrumental in ensuring its beauty. A member of the Concord Cemetery Committee he collaborated with landscape architects Cleveland and Copeland throughout the project until the Dedication in 1855. A public garden for decades before becoming a cemetery, the goal was to retain the natural beauty of the landscape by incorporating headstones among winding paths, existing trees and wild plants. It was important to Emerson and the architects that the space benefit the living as well as honor those who had passed on. It succeeds in doing both.
Winding paths cut through the park-like setting
Author’s Ridge, as it is aptly named, is a section of Sleepy Hollow. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott are all buried here. Thousands of visitors come here each year, many leaving behind various writing instruments, some gently pushed into the soil in a symbolic gesture to connect spiritually – hoping perhaps to find inspiration. Others leave feathers, stones or pine cones, even library cards and handwritten notes.
Leaving a pencil at the grave of Henry David Thoreau
Normally I wouldn’t choose to spend a family vacation day hanging out in a cemetery. But I’d been hearing a lot about this place from other family members and I was on a mission. In our attempts to find our great grandfather’s burial place our family has made some interesting discoveries. “And don’t forget about Concord,” Aunt Bess often repeated when we would speak of family history. At the time, her comment didn’t mean much to me. I only knew of my Garfield relatives being buried in Sudbury where most of them had lived. I filed away her advice and forgot about it. It wasn’t until years later, while I was writing a book about my parents, that I became interested in our family history. A lot of what has been uncovered since is thanks to my niece, Kelly, who has become our family’s ancestry sleuth.
I recently learned that some of my relatives are buried among the literary giants at Sleepy Hollow, just a short walk from the famous Author’s Ridge. Sleepy Hollow is a huge place. Encompassing some 119 acres, it is easy to get lost here. Trip Advisor (which rates Sleepy Hollow at a 4.7) advises getting a map before visiting. If you do get lost, no worries, it is as described – a beautiful park. And there are many other graves here to provide hours of interest. Among those buried here: the first woman to be issued a driver’s license; the composer of the Christmas song “The Little Drummer Boy”; the first manufacturer of pencils in the United States; the inventor of the Concord grape; Dr. Seuss; and famed sculptor Daniel Chester French, responsible for the first Minute Man Statue in Concord and the monumental statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.
As one might expect in a town like Concord there are many soldiers buried here. And then there are just ordinary folk like members of my family – the Garfield’s. John W. Garfield, Sr.; his two wives; and a daughter who died at age 5 years and 11 months; Enoch and Frank R. Garfield and each of their 2 wives – they are all buried here. Many other Garfield headstones dot the knoll.
Noticeably absent from our family plot is John W. Garfield Jr., my great grandfather. Why is he not buried here with the rest of the family members; or his wife, Martha Ella Sanford, mother of my Grampy Garfield, grandmother to my mom, Marion Garfield Paton, and her two siblings, Bess and Bill Garfield. Was he for some reason ostracized from the rest of the family? He would die fairly young, at age 55. John’s wife was just 42 when he passed. According to the town records, Martha would remain in Sudbury for the next 15-20 years. Then we discovered her again having moved to Wakefield.
“She is in the Sudbury directory in 1920, 1926, and 1930. After that, it is unclear to me where she went. I found one possible lead with a widowed Martha Garfield living in Wakefield, MA as a “servant” in 1935/40. The birth year for this Martha was right, but I hadn’t found any definitive clues to confirm it was really her or not. Until JUST NOW when I was able to dig a little more into the man for whom Martha was a “servant”- someone named Albert Cummings. He was also widowed and upon further searching I came to realize that they actually got married and she is buried with him up in Wakefield. She outlived the new guy by several (9) years as well and died at the ripe old age of 88 in 1961.” Kelly Paton Fitzgerald
According to Kelly, when you enter John W. Garfield in “Find a Grave” only John Sr. comes up as being buried at Sleepy Hollow. But just a few weeks ago Kelly uncovered a copy of John Jr.’s death certificate which clearly states that he is buried in Concord – exactly where that might be remains a mystery, but there is no physical indication that he is here among those in the Garfield plot at Sleepy Hollow.
… The mystery hunt for John Jr. continues!” Kelly
Gravesite of John W. Garfield Sr. and his two wives. There is no indication that John Jr.is buried here
John W. Garfield Jr. my grandfather, Sherrold, in the center, Martha Ella Sanford Garfield on right holding Sherrold’s brother, Babe