Monday, November 25, 2013

Sculpture Gardens

During the nineteenth century, there was a national movement to plan park-like cemeteries with curving driveways and landscaped grounds outside urban areas. The idea took hold in Montana. Our major cities have beautiful park-like cemeteries where turn-of-the-century residents went not only to visit graves but also to picnic and enjoy nature. Missoula’s City Cemetery, Kalispell’s Conrad Cemetery, and Billings's Mountview  are a few examples. Cemeteries were usually located out of town for aesthetic reasons, but planning cemeteries out of town in Butte was a necessity because of health and sanitation. Urban mining everywhere created ground disturbance, and early burials in city churchyards or on private property did not always remain underground. Bodies turned up in odd locations, and exposed burials, especially during epidemics, were a serious health hazard. Keenly aware of this grisly problem, fraternal organizations established Mount Moriah Cemetery in 1877. Rather than curving driveways, it was laid out in simple blocks since there was no landscape to accommodate curving driveways. As much as the community wanted a beautiful cemetery, in nineteenth-century Butte this was impossible. Open hearth smelting polluted the area and prevented anything from growing. The cemetery was bleak and ugly. Butte’s citizens, however, made up for the lack of landscaping by placing fanciful and lovely tombstones on their loved ones’ graves. Butte has the most unique and attractive cemetery art of any in Montana. The desire to create “a spot of beauty” was at first far-fetched. But by 1905, as smelting centralized in Anaconda, trees and shrubs did begin to grow. Today Mount Moriah and Butte’s other sculpture garden cemeteries rival any in Montana.

Mount Moriah has many beautiful sculpture tombstones like this tree stump, which symbolizes a life cut short.
Photo from Buried in Butte by Zena Beth McGlashan

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