Story and photos by Daniella Zelikman
Autumn, and October specifically, is my favorite time of year. Partially, it’s because of the cooling weather and the beauty of all the leaves changing colors, but what excites me most is Halloween and all the Gothic things that come along with it. Though we’re still weeks out from the holiday, my friend Sonia and I took a Saturday trip to Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn for a taste of that autumnal spirit.
Founded in the mid 19th century, Fort Hill is the resting place of many well-known historical figures and is still an active cemetery. As it’s so big, Sonia and I relied on a walking tour map available on the Fort Hill Cemetery website to navigate. We used the headstones and memorials of famous people to lead us up and down the cemetery’s hills and discover all it had to offer. In some ways, it was like taking a walk through time.
Sonia and I weren’t familiar with many of the cemetery’s notable residents so when we found a headstone marked out on our map, we stopped to examine it and learn more about the person’s life. This was how we learned about Thomas Mott Osborne, the warden of Sing Sing Prison turned prison reformer, and John Hardenbergh, a Revolutionary War captain and the founder of Auburn. Without a doubt, the most well-known person buried in Fort Hill is Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad and a Union spy during the Civil War. Her headstone is decorated with flowers, pennies, and other mementos left behind by visitors to honor her and the important work she did.
Fort Hill was a quiet place to wander through on a crisp fall day and forget about the outside world and the stresses of my midterms. Instead, I focused my attention on the old, weathered grave markers. I can’t help but marvel at the artistry and intricacy of some of them. There are Gothic headstones made of dark stone and stylized with reliefs, elaborate Celtic crosses carved with beautiful, flowering details, and massive Greek columns covered in green moss. I was most drawn to the memorials featuring statues. I spent a long time walking around the Corning memorial and taking in the woman triumphantly pointing upwards while her other arm supported a cross. Further inside the cemetery, I found a leaning statue of a veiled woman reading a book. Her serene expression was still visible beneath the patina of green moss while the writing on the plinth had long ago worn away.
Although Sonia and I explored for over an hour, we only saw a fraction of the cemetery. It’s a large and beautiful place and I wished I had more time to see everything it had to offer.
The Fort Hill Cemetery is located at 19 Fort Street in Auburn. To learn more before you visit, check out their website at forthillcemetery.net.