Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Anthropology

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, 451 pages) : illustrations (some color), maps (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Sean M Rafferty

Committee Members

Walter E Little, Robert M Rosenswig


Archaeology, Historic Archaeology, Landscape Archaeology, New York, Rural Cemetery Movement, Cemeteries, Landscape architecture, Sepulchral monuments

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology


This dissertation investigates the leading causes behind mortuary behaviors in the Capital District of New York during the Rural Cemetery Movement. Four cemeteries were sampled: Oakwood Rural Cemetery, an established rural cemetery; Waterford Rural Cemetery and Blooming Grove Rural Cemetery, two smaller, non-sectarian cemeteries; and St. John’s Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery. The built and natural landscape was the focus during data collection and analysis, to reveal how the cemetery was experienced and how that experience was affected by and affected society. This study combines a quantitative statistical analysis and a qualitative phenomenological study of the cemeteries’ designs, gravestone data and historical context to determine if the overarching trends that characterized the Rural Cemetery Movement would supersede earlier mortuary traditions regardless of cemetery or population differences. Results from both analyses indicate that the Rural Cemetery Movement had some measure of influence on the popular mortuary aesthetics of the region, despite differences in cemetery location, cemetery size or individual traits of the population. Though always present, the degree of the impact was diminished by certain factors: strong religious connections took precedence over fashionable trends and lower socioeconomic positions of the general population also reduced participation in the movement. Oakwood Rural is a quintessential rural cemetery, in both design and monuments erected. Smaller private cemeteries that served a less affluent population lagged behind in displaying popular mortuary trends and exhibited them on a reduced scale when they did appear. The religiously affiliated St. John’s, despite serving a very similar population as Oakwood Rural, retained its shape as a traditional Catholic cemetery. During the Rural Cemetery movement, there was a new autonomy given to individuals to choose which cemetery and what monument they desired. Due to this, differences within and between populations are in fact emphasized at times due to the inability or lack of preference to participate in a widespread artistic, social and mortuary trend.