If your idea of a good time is a pilgrimage to a favorite author’s final resting place (and there are plenty of you out there), you are utterly spoiled for choice in New England.
The gravesites below are often festooned with offerings — notes, pens and pencils, stones, coins, flowers, candles, poems, books, figurines, crystals, pumpkins, you name it — left by visitors as touching tributes to the authors whose work enriched their lives.
Edson Cemetery in Lowell
Jack Kerouac was the central figure of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the author of the modern classic novel “On the Road.” His grave is in the Edson Cemetery in his hometown of Lowell. According to Jade Oxton of the cemetery, visitors of all ages make the journey every year, depositing “booze, cigarettes, guitar picks, slippers to ‘warm his feet should he come out to smoke a cigarette.’” One famous visitor was guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, who paid his respects with no fanfare; while Bob Dylan and Kerouac contemporary Allen Ginsburg arrived with a film crew that captured the encounter in 1975.
Authors’ Ridge in Concord
If you fancy something more pastoral, try the Authors’ Ridge at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. There lie Louisa May Alcott (“Little Women”), key transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson (“Self-Reliance”) and Henry David Thoreau (“Walden”), as well as Transcendental-adjacent novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne (“The Scarlet Letter”). According to Patricia Hopkins of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Authors’ Ridge is, understandably, “a mecca for tourists, researchers, families, and book lovers from all over the country.”
Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge
Mount Auburn Cemetery is the bucolic final choice of an abundance of distinguished New England writers in a magnificent garden setting. It’s a lovely place to take a walk as well as pay your respects. There lies jurist and author Oliver Wendell Holmes; John Bartlett of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”; activist and author Julia Ward Howe (“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”); poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Ciardi, and Robert Creeley; journalist and feminist Margaret Fuller; behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner; author Frank Conroy; and a passel of literary Lowells, all poets: Amy, James Russell, and Maria White. Fannie Farmer, author of her classic eponymous cookbook, is buried there, along with children’s poet David McCord and novelists Eleanor Porter (“Pollyanna”) and Jean Lee Latham (“Carry On, Mr. Bowditch”). On the headstone of novelist and short story writer Bernard Malamud is an inscription of his own words: “Art celebrates life and gives us our measure.”
Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain
This location is the final resting place of two well-known 20th-century poets, e.e. cummings and Anne Sexton, as well as playwright Eugene O’Neill. Janice Stetz of the cemetery points out that visitors are often surprised to see the headstone of e.e. cummings, the famously lower-case poet, which says simply “E.E. CUMMINGS” in all capital letters.
West Cemetery in Amherst
Innovative poet Emily Dickinson was laid to rest close to the home where she spent most of her cloistered life. Her grave is prominent and once a year on the anniversary of her death, a Poetry Walk around town culminates at West Cemetery. Despite writing several well-known poems about death (including “Because I could not stop for Death — He kindly stopped for me —”), her tombstone reads simply “Called Back,” which, according to Jane Wald, the executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum, is a quote from the last letter Dickinson wrote before she died. If you visit West Cemetery, you can’t miss a very large and colorful mural by Cambridge artist David Fichter commemorating the history of Amherst, with Emily Dickinson front and center.
In New Hampshire and Vermont
Willa Cather, the important early 20th-century novelist, was born in Virginia, raised in Nebraska, and lived most of her adult life in New York City. Her work is closely identified with the Nebraska prairie, but she’s buried in the Old Burial Ground in Jaffrey, N.H. She lived in Jaffrey for several months of each year for decades and, according to Bruce Hill of the Jaffrey Historical Society, felt it was where she did her best writing. Cather’s headstone includes a lovely quote from her most famous novel, “My Antonia”: “That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.”
Also in New Hampshire is Donald Hall, US poet laureate and prize-winning man of letters. He’s buried alongside his beloved second wife, poet Jane Kenyon, in Proctor Academy Cemetery in Andover, N.H. Their joint tombstone carries a poignant line from one of Kenyon’s poems, “Afternoon at MacDowell”: “I believe in the miracles of art, but what prodigy will keep you beside me.”
A decidedly nontraditional graveside in the Nelson Cemetery in Nelson, N.H., belongs to poet Eleanore Marie Sarton, who wrote as May Sarton. It’s a sculpture of a phoenix rising from the flames that she commissioned from her friend Barbara Barton long before her death. Of this sculpture, Sarton remarked, “it does just what I wanted, gives a sense of an uprush of flight.”
Finally, you can pay your respects to four-time Pulitzer-prize-winner and quintessential New England poet Robert Frost by visiting the Old Bennington Cemetery in Bennington, Vt. The plaintive epitaph on his tombstone reads, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world,” taken from his poem “The Lesson for Today.”
Betsy Groban writes a column on reading for Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf and is the book review editor of the Jane Austen Society of North America.