Concord, MA

5 Lesser Known Facts About Concord's Sleepy Hollow

Rene Cizio

You’ve heard of Sleepy Hollow and the headless horseman, but do you know about the other Sleepy Hollow Cemetery? This one is in Concord, Massachusetts and there are so many famous authors buried there they named a section “Author’s Ridge.” As a taphophile, I had to visit.
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I recently visited Concord while traveling in my van on a two-year nomadic road trip, hiking, visiting historic sites, and staying in short-term rentals. I stopped at the homes and locations made famous by many writers. In this case, Henry David Thoreau drew me to Massachusetts and led me to Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Not only did I find Thoreau’s grave, but all around him, I found many others like Emerson, Alcott and Hawthorne. But how did they all end up there?


In the 1800s, when transcendentalists walked the woods and lived alongside ponds in Concord, they also authored books of poetry, memoir and fiction. Many of the books written here are among the most famous of our time. They include “Walden,” “Little Women” “The Scarlett Letter,” “Self-Reliance” and more.
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Its location in the rural outskirts of Boston drew many of the elite and educated. Many still rest in the cemetery they created.

Fun Fact: Transcendentalists believe in individual thought and independence from political parties and other groups, such as organized religion. They embrace the idealism of the self and the importance of nature and oppose materialism.

In Concord, there was a place on the edge of town, filled with trees, ponds and hilly landscape, that many visited to picnic, go on an afternoon walk, or meet with friends. It was idyllic, peaceful and perfect for a cemetery.


The site, overlooking the town center, includes over 100 acres where Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and his wife Sophia used to take their evening walks.

Horace Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmsted were the key architects of the cemetery. They were the main influences credited with developing “garden cemeteries” that adapted to the land’s natural contours and naturalistic plantings.

Fun Fact: Olmsted helped design many of the country’s most famous urban parks, including Central Park in New York City and Belle Isle in Detroit.

Using their ideas about landscape architecture, Cleveland and Olmsted designed the 17-acre core of the cemetery. It includes winding roads, hilly expanses, mossy ponds and picturesque overlooks. Today, Sleepy Hollow is a prime example of a 19th-century rural New England cemetery that is part of the National Park Service. Thirty-two acres are on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s Concord’s largest and only still active cemetery.
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Fun Fact: Near the apex of the cemetery is Cat’s Pond, a manmade pond Henry David Thoreau as a land surveyor, laid out. In 1860, a year after the pond’s completion, Thoreau, noticing lilies and other plants growing in the pond, observed that even “in the midst of death we are in life.”


You may be confused by the name of this cemetery and a famous story with the same title. The story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” written by Washington Irving, is early American fiction that is still popular today, especially during Halloween. In the story, the “Headless Horseman,” believed to be a decapitated soldier, stalks the town at night. The tall, skinny schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane, tries to solve the mystery.

Fun Fact: Washington Irving is buried in Sleepy Hallow Cemetery, but not this one. He’s in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
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In Concord’s Sleepy Hollow, there aren’t any headless horsemen, but there are many literary lights. Since it was where many Concord residents spent much of their time, it stands to reason they’d take up residence there in death too.

When I visited Sleep Hallow Cemetery, I parked my van and walked around reading the old stones with their often lengthy and poetic inscriptions. After some time, out of breath and beginning to sweat, I could see how it would have been a popular place for residents to get their evening exercise. Eventually, signs let me to a hilltop and a shady trail with names I knew at first sight.
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The naturalistic beauty of Sleepy Hollow inspired many residents. Those buried on Author’s Ridge include:

  • Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women and others) The Alcott family
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (American Transcendentalist, essayist, lecturer, and poet)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (author of The Scarlet Letter and others)
  • Henry David Thoreau (American Transcendentalist, philosopher, essayist, and lecturer)
  • William Ellery Channing’s “Poet, of the poem “Sleepy Hollow”)

Each of their luminaires is buried with their family in small plots alongside each other. Visitor’s have covered their headstones in coins, pencils and other tributes. I’ve been to many famous graves and cemeteries worldwide, but it’s rare to see so many famous names right next to each other. Even more so, they were in the same trade and singularly influential to American literature.
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Fun Fact: You’ll notice another stone next to Thoreau’s headstone. The “Final Point” marker is the official survey point of Thoreau’s grave. The coordinates are Latitude 42:27:2.945 and Longitude 71:20:32.691.
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Ralph Waldo Emerson gave the dedication speech for Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. In it, he talked about the beauty of the land, the trees, and the roots. He spoke of a future when “children in a remote century” would visit this hilly place filled with history.
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“… there is no ornament, no architecture alone, so sumptuous as well disposed woods and waters, I n this quiet valley, as in the palm of Nature’s hand, we shall sleep well when we have finished our day.
…when these acorns that are falling at our feet, are oaks overshadowing our children in a remote century, this mute green bank will be full of history: the good, the wise, and the great will have left their names and virtues on the trees; heroes, poets, beauties, sanctities, benefactors, will have made the air timeable and articulate.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson


I walked around Sleepy Hollow Cemetery as those literary greats used to do so many years ago. Many of the roads are narrow and one-way only, so walking is best. The main parts of the cemetery are easy enough to traverse for a few hours of outdoor exercise. I highly recommend obtaining a map from the Friends of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a non-profit organization that preserves the cemetery and its history. The friends publish several booklets and a map listing all the notable sites and famous graves with explanations.
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Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is located at 24 Court Lane and Bedford St., one block east of Monument Square in Concord, MA. They lock the gates at dusk.

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