Laurel Hill Cemetery, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a historic cemetery that was established in 1836. It is known for its beautiful and serene atmosphere, as well as its unique burial practices, such as the use of “cradle graves” for children. But what exactly are these cradle graves, and why were they used?
Cradle graves, also known as “bedstead graves,” were a type of burial practice that was popular in the 19th century. They consisted of a small, rectangular grave plot that was surrounded by a low stone or brick wall. Within this plot, a raised bed made of iron or wood was placed, resembling a miniature bed or cradle. The deceased child would be laid to rest in this bed, which was then covered with a lid or canopy to protect it from the elements.
One of the reasons for the popularity of cradle graves was the high infant mortality rate during the 19th century. Many families lost young children to diseases such as cholera, measles, and tuberculosis, and cradle graves provided a way for families to honor and remember their lost loved ones in a unique and personal way. The use of cradle graves also reflected the Victorian-era belief in the innocence and purity of children, as well as the idea of the “good death” – a peaceful passing surrounded by loved ones.
Cradle graves were not exclusive to Laurel Hill Cemetery, but they were particularly prevalent there. The cemetery was designed to be a peaceful retreat from the city, and the use of cradle graves added to the peaceful and tranquil atmosphere. Many of the cradle graves in Laurel Hill Cemetery are elaborately decorated with sculptures, flowers, and other adornments, reflecting the love and devotion of the families who placed their children there.
Today, the use of cradle graves has largely fallen out of favor and they are no longer a common burial practice. However, they remain an important part of the history and legacy of Laurel Hill Cemetery, providing a glimpse into a bygone era and a way to honor the memory of lost loved ones. When you visit Laurel Hill Cemetery, take some time to explore the cradle graves and reflect on the lives of the children buried there.
A notable feature of cradle graves is their size. Because they are designed for children, the graves are much smaller than traditional adult graves. This can make them difficult to spot in a cemetery, especially if they are not marked with a distinctive headstone or decoration.
Another interesting aspect of cradle graves is the materials used in their construction. The raised beds were typically made of iron or wood, which could be elaborately carved or decorated with intricate designs. Some cradle graves even had glass or metal covers to protect the child’s body from the elements.
The use of cradle graves was not limited to any one religious or cultural group. They were used by people of many different faiths and backgrounds, reflecting the universal experience of grief and loss.
Finally, it is worth noting that the use of cradle graves declined significantly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as advances in medicine and sanitation led to lower infant mortality rates. Today, they are a rare sight in cemeteries, although they can still be found in some historic cemeteries and burial grounds.
In conclusion, cradle graves are a unique and fascinating aspect of cemetery history, reflecting both the cultural beliefs and practical concerns of the Victorian era. While they may no longer be a common burial practice, they continue to hold a special place in the hearts of families who have lost young children and sought to honor their memory in a meaningful way.
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