Boston Bones

October 13, 2011 — The lessons that you’re supposed to take away from Boston’s historic cemeteries like the Old Granary Burying Ground are ones involving history, democracy, liberty, mortality. The only one I ever come away with, though, is that you can never have too many skulls and skeletons. Sure, every cemetery is brimming with bones, but the Old Granary is packed aboveground with these grisly bits of human framework…inscribed on just about every gravestone. I dig this and do not find it at all redundant.

Following Boston’s Freedom Trail is the most direct and efficient way to get to the Old Granary on Tremont Street, or you can ask anybody wearing a tri-corner hat or a bonnet. The graveyard was instituted in 1660, and even at that age is still the third oldest of the three historic burying grounds in downtown Boston, the other two being Copp’s Hill and King’s Chapel, with each one having their own fair amount of skull iconography, as well.

The Old Granary is filled with the august leftovers of famous historic personages, including John Hancock, the Boston Massacre victims, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, the parents of Benjamin Franklin, and more. But I like the engravings of skeletons in funny positions the best.

There are anthropological reasons why people adorned their dead with images of the hardened minerals of the human body (other than the fact that the smiley face icon hadn’t yet been created), but at some point, like everything else, it just boils down to being a pretty cool thing to do…at least, according to the most respected scholarly written books on the topic.

I wrote about the skull iconography of all three historic Boston cemeteries in (scarcely) more detail in the neither respected nor scholarly—and barely even written—New England Grimpendium, so I don’t have too much to add here for the Old Granary specifically. However, what’s not in the book is tons of pictures of these skeletors [sic]. And since I’m of the firm belief that a picture not posted is a picture not taken, and a picture not taken is a moment that didn’t happen, here are a bunch from the Old Granary.

You can almost hear the bones rattling on these Bostones.

Not to get too precise, but there are about a bazillion
variations on the winged skull motif at the Old Granary.
I captured just a few of the styles for this post.

Helpfully labeled Memento mori.
Again, I willfully don't find this redundant.

Even the grave erroneously fabled to be that
of the famous Mother Goose wants us to
remember her not as she was, but as she is.

Bravo, lawn personnel.


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