Oakwood Cemetery, in Troy NY, is a Victorian rural garden cemetery and now a National Historic Landmark. As appropriate for a rural garden cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery offers beautiful trails, leading around several ponds and to and through the distinctive sculptures, stonework and mausoleums. The cemetery is famous because the original Uncle Sam is interred there.
A Short History of Oakwood Cemetery
Inspired by the rural garden cemetery movement, architect John C. Sidney designed Oakwood in the 1840s. This movement rejected the previous era of cemetery construction of straight rows of relatively plain gravestones. Instead, it encouraged the creation of cemeteries that were peaceful parks, refuges from the crowded cities, inviting contemplation of the mysteries of life and death and the glories to come in the hereafter.
Thus, many rural garden cemeteries held prized collections of rare and ornamental trees. Furthermore, these cemeteries invited families to mark their loved ones’ graves with sculptural stones reflecting the deceased’s personality, their corporal achievements and their expected place in heaven. Many rural garden cemeteries can boast significant sculpture by well known sculptors.
When local (and wealthy) Troy residents Hannah and William Gardner’s son tragically died at a young age, they built the Gardner Earl Memorial Chapel and Crematorium as a memorial.
Thus, like other rural garden cemeteries, Oakwood Cemetery became a place where families could escape the city. As intended, they often spent afternoons picnicking and walking amongst the graves. These places were built for the living to go to and enjoy — a tradition I enjoy upholding.
Even today, the cemetery’s several ponds lure local folks to go fishing — we encountered several small groups with fishing poles.
Uncle Sam’s Grave at Oakwood Cemetery
But who was Uncle Sam? Uncle Sam, the popular symbol of the U.S. government, rose in popularity during the War of 1812. Local Troy entrepreneur and resident Samuel Wilson possibly inspired the character. A meat packer and supplier for American troops during the War of 1812, he marked the boxes coming out of his facility with “U.S.” The “U.S.” stood for, of course, United States, the country of origin for the meat. But troops began identifying the U.S. as an abbreviation for “Uncle Sam.”
Know Before You Go
Getting there: 50 101st St, Troy, NY
Hours: daily, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Website: Oakwood Cemetery
Looking for other tombstone tourism? Check out other cemeteries MidAtlantic Daytrips has visited.