E vergreen Cemetery’s 85 sprawling, hilly acres provide the final resting spots to over 85,000 individuals, including a vast array of New Haven’s passed-away notables: politicians, military greats and one Mary Hart, the resident ghost famous for her supposed midnight hauntings.
Of course, this collection of local histories, located off Ella T. Grasso Boulevard just north of the Boston Post Road, is more than a reminder of the city’s storied past; it’s also a part of it. It was largely in response to the grim prospect of older, smaller burial grounds running out of space (New Haven’s first cemetery, located at the Green, stopped receiving new additions in 1821)—a pressing civic concern, to be sure—that Evergreen was established in 1848.
Walking around the place 165 years later, it seems like it would be a pretty good way to go. The grounds are peaceful and well-organized, replete with enchanting sculptures and impressive monuments.
It’s not New Haven’s only historically significant resting place, nor is it the oldest still in use. The Grove Street Cemetery, adjacent to Yale’s campus between York and High and founded in 1797, holds that latter distinction, boasting its own post-mortem roster of noteworthy figures like Eli Whitney.
Evergreen Cemetery is larger and more diverse, though, which gives you the sense that it really captures the various lives and times of New Haven (and beyond). Here’s a handful of the figures buried in Evergreen, many of whom are helpfully listed on the “map of notables” made available to visitors:
- Edward Bouchet, the first African-American in the country to receive a PhD and to graduate from Yale University, who died in 1918;
- Civil War General Edwin S. Greeley, 1920;
- Louis Lassen, 1935, the founder of New Haven’s famed Louis’ Lunch and reported creator of the first hamburger;
- Bronislaw Malinowski, 1942, one of the most influential anthropologists of the 20th century; and
- Connecticut State Representative and President of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators John Martinez, 2002.
Motivated cemetery visitors will find much of interest should they venture off-map, or perhaps use a different map: the New Haven Museum, for example, gave its own lantern-guided tour of the grounds last October, which will hopefully become a yearly tradition.
Speaking of eerie happenings at Evergreen, how about that ghost? Mary Hart, known as “Midnight Mary” to her giddy fans, was reportedly buried alive in Evergreen—at midnight, naturally—in 1872, and is said to haunt those who visit the graveyard at that witching hour. In fact, her pink granite gravestone is inscribed with these words, in menacing caps: “THE PEOPLE SHALL BE TROUBLED AT MIDNIGHT AND PASS AWAY.”
With appropriate respect for the tale, which leaves room for a healthy dose of good humor, General Manager Dale Fiore says he sometimes regales visiting schoolchildren with his own close call: reporting one night to Evergreen in response to a mysterious after-hours alarm, he started getting jumpy—indeed, on the way out, he jumped right into his car and careened out the main gate just before the clock struck 12.
For a place filled with so much legend (most of it very real), Evergreen Cemetery still manages to plan for the future, making major improvements every 50 years or so. In 1902, a memorial chapel, once used for services and now for storage (nonetheless a lovely building that enhances the landscape), was built. In 1956, the state’s second crematorium went up at Evergreen. 1999 saw new administrative offices, where the staff and board of the non-profit, non-sectarian organization do their work.
Those offices are also where amateur (or not) historians sometimes wander in, ready to begin their quest. “I like it when people come in looking for something, and they end up telling me their story,” Fiore says. “A cemetery is for the living.”
Evergreen Cemetery & Crematory
769 Ella T Grasso Boulevard, New Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.