We were fortunate to have John Hanson, expert on early New England epitaphs and bibliophile, give the lecture Reading the Gravestones of Old Cambridge. The talk, part of the Spring Lecture Series from the Cambridge Room, was recorded on June 8, 2022.
The following is a description of the workshop and a short bio of John Hanson:
The burial grounds of old New England hold a wonderful range of poetic messages in the epitaphs carved on their gravestones, each a profound expression of emotion, culture, religion, and literature. Too often dismissed as mere sentimental doggerel, these passages can be fascinating and well worth paying attention to. After all, every single epitaph was chosen, deliberately, on an occasion of the utmost gravity and importance, the death of a parent or child or spouse or neighbor. Join John Hanson, expert on early New England epitaphs, as he shares some outstanding verses on old stones in Cambridge’s Old Burying Ground. He will reveal their sources of inspiration, including Scripture, hymnody, poetry, and epitaphs made-to-order for a particular individual. We will consider what these very personal choices tell us about early New Englanders’ attitudes towards life, death, and eternity.
John Hanson has been collecting early New England epitaphs for years, examining where the verses originated, how their source texts were accessed, and the spiritual and commercial context in which they were chosen and carved on gravestones. He is the author of Reading the Gravestones of Old New England (McFarland, 2021), and has published and spoken extensively on his research. Hanson is a Massachusetts native, and lives in Cambridge and the Berkshires. His book, Reading the Gravestones of Old New England, can be ordered directly from the publisher or from Amazon.