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Playing Tourist: Cedar Hill Cemetery

2014 marks the 150th anniversary of Hartford's Cedar Hill Cemetery, constructed during the golden age of carefully landscaped "rural cemeteries." 19th Century Americans saw these tranquil burial grounds as a final resting place for the dead, but also as a physical and spiritual respite - and tourist attraction - for the living. These cemeteries were places to stroll, surrounded by art and natural beauty, as in a park.

They probably intended this strolling to be done in pleasant weather, but I have never let a little thing like appropriate timing get in the way of exploring new places, so I dragged a friend along to Cedar Hill on a deceptively "warm" winter day.

The cemetery is huge; its winding roads traverse 270 acres of rolling hills. The plan that began as an afternoon walk quickly transformed into a leisurely drive as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped and we realized that attempting to see the grounds as landscape artist Jacob Weidenmann (who also designed Bushnell Park) intended would be a miserable experience.

Aside from the guests gathered for a funeral (Cedar Hill is still an active cemetery) there were few cars on the roads, so we parked and got out for a better look at the monuments in some of the older sections. As I wandered along the paths seeking the most beautiful or strange of the mausoleums and statues, my friend struck out across the frozen snow in search of the grave of Katherine Hepburn.

Just when I had reached my limit of allegorical19th century funerary art and thought I'd lost my friend for good, she reappeared with a tale of nearly crashing through the ice as two older ladies looked on with worry, and a stone marked simply: HEPBURN.

We left Cedar Hill thinking it would be a good idea to return in the summer, when the trees and flowers would be in bloom and Llyn Mawr, the "Great Lake" beside the grand entryway, would not be frozen solid.

If you go: Cedar Hill Cemetery is located at 453 Fairfield Avenue. There are maps and guides to the cemetery's trees and "notable residents" available near the entrance. For information about tours and special anniversary events, visit cedarhillfoundation.org.

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