We are enamored with cradle graves!
We are so excited about this new initiative that we often neglect to define “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 2019 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 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.
In our second year 2020, and 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 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.
Under the leadership of Chair Robbie Dreeson, our program had expanded considerably. Robbie explored numerous sections in the cemetery since 2020 finding obscure cradle graves. Now in 2022 over 125 volunteers planted 225 cradle grave gardens. Some of these grave gardens were repaired by volunteers, and some more challenging gardens were professionally repaired.
We have applied for grants and encouraged donors to pay for repairs. Robbie has a committee of industrious volunteers who continue to clean out buried cradle graves and repair them for planting. They have been working diligently all over the cemetery – David Krotz, Chris Petote, and Tom Jones.
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.
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!