It is 2021, and we at Mount Hope are enraptured with cradle graves!
- A cradle grave consists of a gravestone, a footstone, and two low stone walls connecting them, creating a rectangle designed to hold plantings to memorialize the person buried below. It resembles a bed, with a headboard and footboard, and flowers planted resemble a lovely blanket of color and texture.
- Cradle graves can be for people of any age, although many are for children.
- Cradle Graves were popular in the Victorian era. At Mount Hope we have cradle graves built as early as the 1840’s, and as recent in the 1930’s. Most of our cradle graves were erected by people of German descent, our largest immigrant group, who brought this custom from their country of birth.
- Originally most of these gardens would have been planted and maintained by the family of the deceased, but over the last several decades they have been abandoned as families moved away.
It was not until three years ago that we started paying attention to the presence of cradle graves at Mount Hope. Often they were difficult to recognize. Many were broken, in disarray, or partially buried. Often the gravestones had fallen into the cradle grave rectangle. We initially focused on the area around the Susan B. Anthony area where we were repairing gravestones. We began with twenty-five cradle graves up for adoption. The first gardeners who adopted a cradle grave were true pioneers – families repaired the graves, planted them, and became curious about their “person” or “family.” We realized that we had stumbled upon a fascinating long-term project.
Our second year, because of the pandemic and necessity for people socially distancing, we identified new cradle grave areas and many people volunteered to join the project. We welcomed a wide diversity of volunteers – many young people and families joined older gardeners and this resulted in a cadre of people with outstanding gardening expertise and lots of enthusiasm.
Our cradle grave program is different from those of other cemeteries of the same vintage. Our volunteers are free to design their own gardens. They generously pay for their own plants and soil. They commit to planting and caring for their garden throughout the gardening season. This includes regular watering and weeding. We all are gaining expertise in discovering which plants are not attractive to our ever-present deer and groundhog population.
We cradle gravers communicate via email and we started a newsletter. Because of the pandemic we were unable to meet as a group last year. However, this season we are definitely planning a picnic to meet each other and share ideas.
Under the leadership of our chair Robbie Dreeson, our program had expanded considerably. Robbie has a “gift” for finding obscure cradle graves hidden in all areas of the cemetery. Last year over 100 volunteers planted 80 of these graves. Another 70 cradle graves were discovered last summer in various sections of the cemetery. Some of these grave gardens were repaired by volunteers, and some more challenging gardens are being professionally repaired. We have been applying for grants and encouraging donors to pay for these repairs.
Robbie has a committee of industrious volunteers who are actively digging out buried cradle graves and preparing repaired cradles graves for planting. You will see them working diligently all over the cemetery – David Krotz, Chris Petote, Tom Jones, and Tony Filer.
All garden volunteers are willing to literally get their hands dirty in an effort to help beautify the landscape for visitors to enjoy. Many cradle gardeners are also researching the decedents of their assigned graves, discovering fascinating stories and information about 18th and 19th century Rochesterians and their lives. We will be presenting this research on our new website.
When you share your passion for gardening by adopting a cradle grave, you not only help beautify historic Mount Hope Cemetery, but also bring honor to those who rest there.
If you are interested in adopting a cradle grave, please contact Robbie Dreeson at [email protected] We welcome new gardeners!