Old Burial Hill in Marblehead, Massachusetts: Where Art, Nature, and Mortality Intertwine

Cemeteries hold so much more than mortal remains. They are the keepers of local history, a place to ponder our place in the universe. Marblehead Massachusetts, a coastal town some 16 miles north of Boston, has one of the more fascinating cemeteries in the region, Old Burial Hill. What might be meant as a brief visit in an itinerary can quickly become a sojourn of an hour or more here amongst this treasured landscape.

Getting there…

This seaside town is noted for maintaining an appearance much as how things would have looked in the late 1600s-early 1800s. Therefore, to reach the majestic Old Burial Hill means navigating through several narrow streets to find the main entrance of this jewel at the juncture of Orne Street and Pond Street. Parking nearby is available, but at a minimum.

If you’re up for a bit of walking, I highly recommend parking in Old Town and proceeding from there. It took me about 10-15 minutes to reach Old Burial Hill in this manner, with many charming stores and architectural wonders to gaze at along the way)!

Awareness upon arrival…

Although you can scale a more gradual, grassy incline around the corner, the main entrance requires a walk up a stone stairway to reach the pinnacle of Old Burial Hill. When I visited, people were using said stairway as part of their exercise routine, running up and down at a brisk pace and then crossing the street to do the same for the stairway at Fountain Park. There’s surely no more beautiful way to pair a bit of vigorous cardio with history and seaside sights!

Sturdy shoes are a must for this location; not only is the area quite rocky, with winding dirt pathways, but there are dips in front of some older stones where the wooden coffins of old have quite literally become one with the earth again. Proceed with a healthy bit of caution to prevent a tumble or two, and pace yourself – there are plenty of places to sit and rest, even a lovely pond to look out onto on one side, the ocean on another. I particularly recommend visiting during the autumn months for those glorious pops of color in the trees throughout the area.

Honoring history…

Established in 1638, this cemetery is among the best in New England for its mourning/funerary art. As such, it’s a favorite location for various gothic photo shoots. You might also notice Old Burial Hill in some scenes from the famous Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus.

On a more serious note, visiting Old Burial Hill is a very real window into the hardships of the past, many lost to sickness or the sea.

There are a number of memorials throughout the property, including one for Wilmott Redd. On September 22, 1692, he was executed for witchcraft, the only Marblehead resident to have fallen victim to that perilous time.

Yet, there is still so much that is unseen. This Old Burial Hill virtual walkthrough reveals that over 600 Revolutionary War soldiers are buried here, many of their graves unmarked.

There’s some question as to whether grave rubbings are allowed here, too. While I didn’t happen to see anything discouraging the practice, I would recommend photography instead, or perusing the Town of Marblehead’s Old Burial Hill Cemetery Archive. While some tombstones have been decidedly preserved, others are tucked away, becoming all the more worn with time, a very visceral reminder of how we must make the most of life while it’s ours.

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