Mt. Hope’s Subconscious Side: Symbolizing Life and Death in America’s Oldest Victorian Cemetery

Mt. Hope’s Subconscious Side: Symbolizing Life and Death in America’s Oldest Victorian Cemetery

Mt. Hope Cemetery. Most recent grave in the Spanish-American-War site. 1984, Catherine S Frenchman, aged 101 from On Spanish-American War monuments in Rochester.

Over the life of the magazine, Mt. Hope Cemetery has been a staple: for its history, its visual and architectural beauty, its poetic and spiritual inspiration and the site of a few adventures.

Yesterday, you read about the 7,000 people who trekked to Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite to pay an Election Day tribute. In one of many examples, preservationist James Caffrey taught us about Rochester’s famed poet Adelaide Crapsey and the unrequited love of famed architect Claude Bragdon.

Today, George Payne enriches our aesthetic, intellectual, religious and mystical understanding of America’s oldest Victorian cemetery.

Photos by George with links to Mt. Hope articles by George and others.

Mt. Hope’s Subconscious Side: Symbolizing Life and Death in America’s Oldest Victorian Cemetery by George Payne


Mount Hope Cemetery, one of the most remarkable Victorian cemeteries in America, is a magnificent 196 acres of lofty hills and picturesque valleys created by glaciers and transformed into a beautiful historic cemetery. A diversified forest of trees forms an arboretum shading thousands of marble, bronze, and granite monuments. The cemetery is a veritable museum of funerary sculpture and mausoleums spanning more than a century and a half.


Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. George Eliot

see Remembering General Elwell Otis on his Day, June 15th: Rochester’s imperial war hero


Obelisks symbolize God, creator, and lord of life

No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.



Tree trunks symbolize the cutoff of life


The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery is a non-profit organization of volunteers founded in 1980 to restore, preserve, and encourage public use and enjoyment of this unique historical treasure. We have a wealth of resources available to help you learn about our community as reflected in the lives of those who chose Mount Hope Cemetery as their final resting place. Susan B. Anthony and her family, Frederick Douglass and family, Isaac and Amy Post, John Jacob Bausch and Henry Lomb (of Bausch and Lomb eyewear fame), Emily Sibley Watson, Margaret Woodbury Strong, and Reverend Thomas James are all here (to name a few), and they have much to tell us about the growing pains our nation continues to experience: issues of human rights, commerce, the power of government and the responsibility of the governed.

The Friends have been instrumental in completing a number of improvements throughout the cemetery.  Projects such as the restoration of the 1872 Moorish gazebo, upgrades to the 1874 High Victorian Gothic gatehouse, repair of the Florentine fountain, and the restoration of the Charles Rau mausoleum have been completed.  Each year new historically important projects are organized.

Friends of Mount


Hands symbolize leaving and going to heaven

Founded in 1838, it was the first cemetery of its kind in the U.S. — municipally owned and built in the style of a Victorian garden.


Broken columns symbolize end of life and sorrow


Wreaths symbolize memory and victory

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Marcus Aurelius


The cemetery features more than 80 mausoleums, soaring Egyptian obelisks, winged angels of mercy, a Florentine cast-iron fountain, two stone chapels in Gothic Revival style, a Moorish gazebo, and infinitely varied tombstones marking 350,000 graves across 196 acres.


Angels symbolize messengers between God and man

City of Rochester Seeks to Place Mt. Hope on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator at the Landmark Society of Western New York, thinks that Mt. Hope has more than a good shot at earning a place on the national register, which is an official list of places deemed worthy of preservation.

“It has enormous cultural, social, architectural, artistic significance in all those categories,” Howk said. “Even if you’re not from Rochester and don’t necessarily have any family members there, it’s a place that really should be visited. It’s really quite beautiful and dramatic.”

It’s not that Mt. Hope has gone unacknowledged all these years.

The northern portion of the city-owned cemetery already is listed in the national register as part of the Mt. Hope/Highland Historic District. Established in 1974, the district also includes all of Highland Park, as well as the Ellwanger Estate and other historic homes along Mt. Hope Avenue.

But historians today might scratch their heads why the boundary lines were drawn as they were, Howk said, excluding roughly half the cemetery while looping in adjacent areas. Howk said she thinks it makes sense to now seek recognition for the entire cemetery as its own distinct site.

Recent D&C Article


Drapery symbolizes sorrow and mourning


Roughly 350,000 Rochesterians call Mt. Hope their final resting place. see Rapids Cemetery: A National Landmark Sinking in Time


Graves of 176 Spanish-American War veterans and 73 wives. Mt. Hope Cemetery. A rainy November 10th, 2015 [Photo: David Kramer]

 see On Spanish-American War monuments in Rochester. And remembering the Buffalo Soldiers on Veteran’s Day


The timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it.   Mary Catherine Bateson


Architectural flourishes include grand obelisks and columns, statues and an 1875 Florentine fountain made of cast iron.

The Mt. Hope site was formed by glaciers that left behind rolling hills and gullies. Departing from tradition, its designers chose to leave the landscape as it was instead of trying to level it. At the time, it was the closest that the city had to a public park, and many residents picnicked there, Howk said.

“The city of Rochester was very much on the cutting edge,” she said.

D&C Article


Crosses symbolize salvation


 For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.
                                                                                                        William Penn

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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