Forest Hills Cemetery

Forest Hills Cemetery 95 Forest Hills Avenue Jamaica Plain

A Day in Jamaica Plain/Forest Hills Cemetery
City of Boston Arts
Written By City of Boston Arts

The Mayor's Office of Arts + Culture for Boston. We foster the growth of the cultural community in Boston and promote participation in the arts.

Forest Hills Cemetery, a 275-acre green space between Jamaica Plain and neighboring Mattapan, is not only a cemetery but a breathtaking sculpture garden, designed in 1848 for Bostonians who wished to remember their loved ones in a parklike environment. It is still an active cemetery but welcomes hikers, bikers, dog-walkers, and visitors interested in its art and history. 

The cemetery was part of a movement in 19th century America to create rural or gardenlike cemeteries. The movement was inspired in part by Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown, MA (also worth a visit.) It is one of Boston’s oldest public parks, predating most of Frederik Olmsted’s famous Emerald Necklace parks and is said to have influenced Olmsted. 

Soldier, writer and politician Henry A.S. Dearborn designed Forest Hills while serving as mayor of Roxbury (the municipality that included JP and surrounding neighborhoods before they were part of Boston). He hoped to give his citizens not only a cemetery but a place to connect with nature. 

Forest Hills became a showcase for art and architecture as Boston’s elite families commissioned elaborate monuments to commemorate their roles in the community. In addition to the countless fascinating shrines, the cemetery also includes more recent sculptures and installations. 

One unusual monument, a bronze image of a boy holding a bird, was designed by Boston expressionist sculptor Kahlil Gibran and marks the grave he will eventually share with his wife, Jean. This Kahlil Gibran was the nephew of the better-known Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, author of the extremely popular inspirational book “The Prophet,” who lived in Boston briefly in his teens and twenties. The younger Gibrans wrote a biography of the elder Gibran which revealed the formative influence of his 1890s Boston bohemian mentors, photographer F. Holland Day and poet Josephine Preston Peabody. 

A relatively simple monument in section 17 commemorates poet Anne Sexton, who grew up in Newton, MA. Sexton was well-known and influential in the 1960s-70s for her confessional style of poetry which drew on her most personal experience,s including her mental illness. One of her classmates at Boston University, Sylvia Plath, grew up here in Jamaica Plain and also became a well-known and influential poet of the period. 

A humble grave in section 6 commemorates poet and playwright e.e. cummings, who grew up in Cambridge, MA, the son of a Harvard professor. He is best known for his experimental poetry, though he also wrote in more traditional forms. Cummings was first published in the 1920s and was one of the most widely read poets in the US at the time of his death in the 1960s. 

Cover photo credit: @librarienne via Instagram

A Day in Jamaica Plain

Forest Hills Cemetery

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