Copp’s Hill Moment: Pandemics and Graveyards

The three-month closure of Boston’s parks and cemeteries during the covid-19 outbreak led to the remarkable reappearance of Copp‘s Hill in its natural state.

They’re gone now, likely never to reappear — wildflowers and meadow grass swaying gently in the harbor breezes on the lower slopes of an ancient graveyard. During the three-month shutdown of non-essential municipal services, 361-year-old Copp‘s Hill Burying Ground on Boston’s Freedom Trail morphed into a New England pasture.

You might have mistaken it for a pastoral setting in Vermont’s Northern Kingdom or New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley. Having lived above the crowns of elms and lindens for 46 years, we never could have imagined foot-high clover and coveys of wild rabbits.

He’s not dead — just a lazy summer afternoon lying in the sun.

During a time of pandemic, there has been nothing but peace and calm on the second highest elevation rising above downtown Boston’s asphalt, brick and mortar. Usually an oasis of tranquility, a place for quiet contemplation — encircled by the frenzy of traffic and commerce — Copp’s Hill has borne silent witness in a time of fear and isolation. It’s not such a strange place from which to contemplate mortality.

We knew that this apparition could not possibly last as the calendar slipped past  a twelfth week. And so, at 8 o’clock one sun-filled morning, the epiphany atop Copp’s Hill was swallowed up and chopped to shreds by the blades of lawnmowers and weed wackers of a parks department crew. 

It took three days to subdue a neighborhood’s pop-up wilderness, leaving behind enough hay to feed a herd of guernseys for a week. The burying ground was pacified, but not before we verified what a poet once observed — how “deep down there lives the dearest freshness in things.” And, no grounds crew can obliterate our collective memory nor suppress our wonderment of the startling appearance of green-growing hope even as sickness fell upon our beloved city. 

From Boston’s North End, Thomas F. Schiavoni writes about neighborhood life, city living, and urban epiphanies. Read more of his columns by searching the tag Copp’s Hill Moment.