Concord’s only active public cemetery, Sleepy Hollow draws visitors from around the world searching out gravesites of famous Concordians. For locals, the landscaped grounds are a place to walk and a final resting spot for people they know. Photos by Anne O’Connor

Families come first at Sleepy Hollow

By Anne O’Connor
May 19, 2023

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery draws visitors from around the world, seeking to find the graves of their favorite authors and other Concord luminaries. 

“We get a lot of tourists,” said Cemetery Supervisor Tish Hopkins, “We always keep that in mind.”

“This is a mecca,” she added, “This is a lifetime commitment to get here.”

Cemetery Supervisor Tish Hopkins is behind the wheel of an excavator borrowed from another town department. She has worked at the cemetery since she graduated from high school. Photo by Anne O’Connor

For Hopkins, a third generation Concordian, the town-owned and -run cemetery is something much more personal. It is where her fellow townspeople come to rest.

“Taking care of the family, that’s our most important job,” she said.

She and one other town employee maintain the town cemeteries, contracting out mowing and seasonal services to Einstein. They try different grasses to grow in challenging spots and address erosion problems on the hilly grounds.

Being a tourist destination means there is a little more to do to keep the grounds in tip-top shape than in many cemeteries. Every so often, Hopkins walks past the graves of the authors, picking up pens, pencils and notes that visitors leave.

The day-to-day operations vary depending on the season and planned burials. One morning a couple of weeks before Memorial Day, she returned to the office after digging a grave. She borrowed an excavator from another town department.

She aims to make the hole neat and make sure the site looks good.

If it was for her own family, she said, “I’d want to know that some care was taken,” even though the family might not even realize the effort that went into the preparation.

Hopkins started working for the cemetery right out of high school. She loves the job, being outside and working with people, so much that in June, she will have been there 36 years.

Sleepy Hollow, now Concord’s only active public cemetery, opened in 1855. A garden cemetery, the park-like grounds were designed as beautiful places to be outside. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and Watertown, established in 1831, is the first garden cemetery in the country.

Memorial Day, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military, centers around the cemeteries.

The Maynard Elks put flags on each of the 1,634 veterans’ graves in the cemetery. Once they have completed their task, Hopkins goes through the grounds, just to make sure every grave that should have a flag has one. Sometimes the flag holders have broken and the club members miss a veteran.

A recently restored Civil War era cannon is located on the G.A.R. lot in the New Hill section of the cemetery. The Grand Army of the Republic was formed after the Civil War for Union veterans. Courtesy photo.

On Memorial Day, a cannon towed in a parade will fire at both Saint Bernard’s Catholic Cemetery and Sleepy Hollow in addition to Rideout Park in West Concord, Hopkins said.

A recently restored cannon sits at the top of the New Hill part of the cemetery in the G.A.R. lot but is not functional. The Grand Army of the Republic began after the Civil War as a fraternal organization for Union soldiers.

Sleepy Hollow continues to evolve. In the past century and a half, burials have changed. Now, around 70 percent of the interments are for cremated remains. 

Based on a survey taken to see what town residents want, the cemetery now allows family mausoleums and will build a columbarium for cremains.

Construction of a columbarium and the first family mausoleum will begin in the next year, Hopkins said.

The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery page on the website has tools for researchers and visitors. You can search for a specific grave or take a virtual tour.