Ghouls, Ghosts and Graveyards

Add a little spooky history to your Halloween fun by taking your kids to see the three oldest burial grounds in Boston, all located along Boston’s Freedom Trail. You’ll find plenty of skeletons, caskets and death’s heads carved on the gravestones of some of history’s most prominent characters – and you might even encounter a spirit or two.


Meet the Grim Reaper


Dating from 1630, King’s Chapel Burying Ground is the oldest cemetery in Boston. More than 1,000 people were buried here, although only 600 gravestones still exist. Look for one of the most popular mortuary icons, the death’s head with wings, carved on top of Samuel Hood’s marker (died 1733). There’s a good example of a skull and crossbones on Sarah Todd’s gravestone (died 1777). And don’t miss the elaborate memorial for Joseph Tapping, who died at age 23 in 1678; it features an hourglass, a death’s head, the Grim Reaper and a skeleton. King’s Chapel Burying Ground, near 58 Tremont St., by School Street in Boston.


Revolutionary Endings


Since 1660, more than 5,000 people have been buried at Granary Burying Ground, though less than half the graves are marked. That’s partly because early Boston residents carted off headstones for their own building projects, including the one marking John Hancock’s grave. Today, there’s an obelisk for this famous signer of the Declaration of Independence, near the side of the Park Street Church. Other revolutionaries, such as Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, are also buried here.


On the path to the right of the Hancock obelisk, you’ll find another much visited stone. Mary Goose, wife of Isaac, died in 1690 at age 42 after having 10 children. Although Mary’s headstone is frequently photographed, the name “Mother Goose” usually refers to Isaac’s second wife, Elizabeth Foster (1665-1758), who had six children. Both women deserve the moniker, even though the term mere l’oye (mother goose) was used in France before both their births. Granary Burying Ground, Tremont Street, between School and Park streets, Boston.


Ministering to Witches


Located in the North End, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground offers a commanding view of Boston Harbor and the U.S.S. Constitution in the Charlestown Navy shipyard. Since 1659, more than 10,000 people have been buried here, including close to 1,000 free African-Americans. Near the Charter Street gate, look for the brick vault holding three generations of Puritan ministers: Increase, Cotton and Samuel Mather. Both Increase Mather (1639-1723) and his son, Cotton Mather (1663-1728), were involved in the 17th-century hysteria over witchcraft.


Look for the grave of sextant Robert Newman, who hung the lanterns in the Old North Church on the night of Paul Revere’s famous ride. And don’t miss the gravestone of Daniel Malcolm, another patriot and activist who died in 1769 but managed to rile the Red Coats even after his demise. They used his marker for target practice; there’s a bull’s eye on the carved skull. Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Snowhill Street, between Hull and Charter streets, Boston.


Maintained by the city of Boston, all three of the burying grounds described above are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Gravestone rubbings are not allowed. For more information, visit


Robin Mason is a freelance writer in Bedford.

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25 Sep 2015

By Robin Mason