Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in the North End is the second oldest cemetery in Boston, dating back to 1659 when the city bought a plot of land that previously had a windmill used to grind grain and established the North Burying Ground, which would later be renamed for shoemaker William Copp. The cemetery was used during the Revolutionary War as a lookout point over the harbor and was where the British soldiers staged their artillery assault on Bunker Hill; supposedly the they also used the graves for target practice. It was also a burial site for over 1,000 freed Black slaves, artisans, tradesmen, and many Boston notables including Robert Newman and John Pulling, who were ordered by Paul Revere to set lighted lanterns in the belfry of the nearby Christ Church. It was extended in 1708 and 1809 with land that had been used as a pasture. By the mid-1800s the graveyard was badly neglected, and though it was not a part of the original Freedom Trail, it has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places and is well-kept and often visited now by tourists wishing to see a fascinating part of the city’s history.
Though it appears relatively small, remains of over 10,000 people are interred there. Though more than a few of the graves are illegible, many still bear unique carvings that give a sense of their age: visitors will find headstones engraved with winged cherub heads or skull and crossbones reminiscent of those in the movie Beetlejuice. It’s a somber and melancholy place, but unique in the glimpse it gives visitors into funerary art and customs centuries ago.
As an added bonus, across from the entrance to the cemetery is the Skinny House, which is Boston’s narrowest home. The Skinny House’s interior ranges from approximately 9.4 feet wide to 6.2 feet. The kitchen is 3 feet by 6 feet, and there are only 5 doors in the home, with different floors serving to separate rooms. Local legend has it that it is a “spite house” built when a soldier returned from the Civil War to find that his brother had constructed a large home on their shared inheritance, leaving him only a scrap of land. As the story goes, the soldier built the home to block his brother’s view. Though the tale is unconfirmed, it does leave on to contemplate the concessions one must make to live inside, and marvel at the fact that it has survived so many years despite its inherent impracticality.
Matthew Christopher MA Boston Jan 24, 2023 Architecture History Places to Visit
Location: Boston, MA
Matthew Christopher Jan 24, 2023
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