Quiet Spaces, Green Oasis
Although these garden spots are the abodes of the deceased, cemeteries also serve as destinations for those among the living who seek peace, quiet and natural beauty. Come touch the green, green grass of Jefferson Memorial Park and the Homewood and Allegheny cemeteries.
A cutleaf Japanese maple displays the first signs of autumn.
Photos by John Totten
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In a place where you’d least expect a glorious garden experience, there are three historic cemeteries with fascinating stories to tell. The cemeteries offer soothing foliage, wide-open vistas and a gentle respite from the congestion of life in the city or in the suburbs. Each commandeers vast expanses of some valuable real estate, which can be enjoyed while gates are open during daylight and early evening hours. Escape and explore these lovely landmarks and their gorgeous landscapes.
The Thomas Jefferson Mausoleum serves as the magnificent centerpiece of Jefferson Memorial Park.
Jefferson Memorial Park
Both religious and secular symbols offer families a personal choice of resting places at Jefferson Memorial Park, located in the South Hills suburb of Pleasant Hills. Taking in the lovely view from a vantage point near the entrance, it seems appropriate that the sections of this beautifully landscaped cemetery are referred to as “gardens” rather than by numbers. St. John the Baptist features are as prominent as those of Thomas Jefferson, with almost as much space devoted to liberty and country (Garden of Freedom) as to faith (Garden of Devotion).
Because the cemetery is relatively young—by cemetery standards—families can still select almost any garden they wish for interment. What they cannot choose is an upright headstone or monument to bear the family name.
In keeping with the vision of founder Harry Neel, Jefferson Memorial looks and feels more like a serene park than a cemetery. On crystal-clear days in autumn, everything looks green except the changing leaves. All grave markers are hidden in plain sight, cast in bronze and lying level with the ground.
Families whose loved ones are buried here obviously embrace the founder’s philosophy, for the integrity of this verdant landscape is virtually uninterrupted by bouquets, wreaths or ornaments of any kind—other than the sculptures, ponds, hedges and plantings that were carefully planned and placed. During a recent stroll, I did spot the reverent placement of a Terrible Towel over one of the bronze plaques, although I’m sure the young man seated nearby planned to take it with him when he left.