Cities of the Dead for the Living in the Ohio Valley

Document Type


Publication Title

Ohio Valley History



"Morning dawned on July 25, 1848, as on any other Tuesday in Louisville, Kentucky. River levels were rising, steamboats came and went, news arrived via the “magnetic telegraph,” and businesses hummed along. At Cave Hill Cemetery on the far eastern outskirts of the city, people were making final preparations for the dedication ceremony at 5:00 p.m. The Morning Courier expressed its excitement on the front page: “We trust that the services for this occasion, with the interest that every citizen should feel in this most important subject, will draw a large assemblage of ladies and gentlemen to the groves of the Cemetery grounds this afternoon.”1 This was not to be just any graveyard, though, but a “rural cemetery,” a new breed of burial ground spreading across American cities. Less than two decades before, in September 1831, people had gathered for a similar dedication of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first of the rural cemeteries. More followed— Mount Hope in Bangor, Maine, in 1834, Laurel Hill in Philadelphia in 1836, Green Mount in Baltimore in 1838, Green-Wood in Brooklyn, New York, the following year, and a number of others in the next handful of years. By mid-century, cemeteries that stood on their design and business nomenclature became one of the defining characteristics of American cities. These cemeteries spread quickly in the Ohio Valley during those two decades, with cities and towns creating burial grounds on the rural cemetery model."

Publication Date

Winter 2020