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The Otherworldly Charm of Grove Street Cemetery

September 27, 2022

On the hunt for your first spooky fix of the fall season? Kick-off Halloween month with a visit to one of New Haven’s treasured historical landmarks, Grove Street Cemetery. Neighbored by Yale University, the cemetery is the oldest planned cemetery in the nation. Designed as a “City of the Dead,” complete with avenues and cross streets, the Grove Street Cemetery boasts many firsts – from being the first private, nonprofit cemetery in the world to the first chartered burial ground in the United States, as well as being the first cemetery to be arranged in family lots.

Obviously, the Grove Street Cemetery is not your ordinary burial ground. Earning its title as a National Historic Landmark in 2000, the cemetery represents a milestone in the development of the cemetery as a distinct institution. One of Grove Street’s most defining features lies in its architectural design. Upon entering the hallowed ground, visitors will find themselves shrinking next to the commanding brownstone gateway, designed by local New Haven architect Henry Austin in 1845. Recognized as a leading example of the Egyptian Revival style in the nation, the gateway was built to resemble an Egyptian temple bedecked with cobras as a symbol of sovereignty and divine authority. The gateway, according to Henry Austin, linked the newly constructed cemetery to the ancient past.

A spooky fun fact? Dubbed the “Westminster Abbey of Connecticut,” the Grove Street Cemetery is the eternal resting place of many prominent historical figures and a number of notable tombstones dating back to the 1600s. Many of those that rest here include former Yale University presidents and professors, including 16 of Yale’s 22 presidents, as well as other notable politicians, military officers, educators, poets, and more. Allow us to name drop; Grove Street is home to inventors like Eli Whitney, the man behind the cotton gin, and Charles Goodyear, who gave the world vulcanized rubber. Noah Webster of the Webster Dictionary, abolitionist Lyman Beecher, and Roger Sherman, the only person to sign all four great state papers of the United States including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, are also buried here. In honor of these notable figures, every fourth of July, members of the greater New Haven community visit the Grove Street Cemetery to celebrate American independence. As one of the oldest cemeteries in the nation, it is home to thousands of stories and centuries of history waiting to be discovered by visitors every year.

Scribed across the walls of the chapel lies a guide to the graves of each eminent New Havener buried here as well as a schedule for occasional walking tours of the park. Interested in visiting and planning ahead for this autumn season? Join Grove Street Cemetery on a guided tour led by docent Darlene Casella or embark on a self-guided tour from now until November – a perfect time to surround yourself in some spooky New Haven history.

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