Burlington's Burial Treasure | Tourism | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » Tourism

Burlington's Burial Treasure

Don't wait until you're dead to enjoy Lakeview Cemetery


Published July 11, 2007 at 2:54 p.m.
Updated October 26, 2017 at 3:07 a.m.

  • Myesha Gosselin

You never see Burlington’s Lakeview Cemetery ranked among the area’s tourist attractions, but this elegantly landscaped graveyard is an ideal place to take a meditative waterfront stroll — and get a free local history lesson.

Wander Lakeview’s winding roads, and you’ll see tombstones bearing the names of Queen City landmarks and streets, such as Billings, Flynn, Loomis, Isham, Willard and Blodgett. A U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is buried here, as is Civil War general George Stannard, who played a key role in the battle of Gettysburg. The cemetery’s tall, stately trees also shade the modest graves of paupers and children.

If you visit, don’t worry about intruding: Lakeview isn’t a private or religious place. It’s one of three municipal cemeteries managed by Burlington’s Department of Parks & Recreation. Established in 1871, it’s the youngest of the three — Greenmount and Elmwood are the others — and the only one where you can still buy a plot.

Lakeview is located beside Burlington High School on North Avenue and open year-round to visitors. Parks & Rec Director Wayne Gross insists it’s meant to be enjoyed by the public. He notes that Lakeview was founded before the city had parks; in the 19th century, people used it as one. The grounds once featured three working fountains and a wooden gazebo.

“People used to picnic here,” Gross says. “It was a place of solitude and quiet reflection.”

Since then, Lakeview has deteriorated somewhat — the fountains are in ruins, and the gazebo is barely standing — but a group of volunteers known as the Friends of Lakeview Cemetery is attempting to restore its grandeur. Its members raise money to supplement the city’s spending on the property. They recently renovated Lakeview’s Gothic chapel, which had been used as coffin storage. This summer, the group bought flowers and saplings for the main entrance, and paid for new granite curbs and a freshly painted sign.

The Friends are now fundraising to restore the gazebo — eventually they’ll tackle the fountains, too — and they’re working on a walking-tour brochure of the grounds. The guide isn’t finished, though, so Friends member Jane Ewing offers to show a reporter around.

Ewing is a disarmingly friendly 79-year-old Burlington resident who could easily pass for 65. “Age is nothing,” she confides, pointing to her head. “It’s all up here.”

Ewing joined the Friends four years ago, after retiring from her job as the medical coordinator of the Lund Family Center. She’s also a member of the city’s cemetery commission; her husband John is chair of the Parks & Rec commission.

One sunny weekday morning, Ewing ambles cheerfully about the graveyard as if she really were taking a walk in the park. “I don’t think cemeteries are creepy,” she offers. “I mean, this is absolutely a beautiful place. It’s just lovely.”

She likens Lakeview to other Victorian-era “garden cemeteries,” such as the renowned Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that have been landscaped for beauty and recreational use rather than ease of maintenance. Think small groupings of graves amid trees and shrubs, rather than open fields containing row after orderly row of headstones.

“I consider Lakeview the Mount Auburn of the North,” Ewing proclaims.

The first stop on her informal tour is the Louisa Howard Chapel, in the southeast corner of the property. According to Ewing, Howard was an Addison County native who moved to Burlington with her family; they lived in a hotel in what’s now the Leunig’s building on Church Street. Louisa’s brother, John Purple Howard, moved to New York City and worked in the hotel business. The Howard Opera House on Church Street is named for him — it currently houses offices and Urban Outfitters. Louisa Howard is the namesake of the Howard Center, a nonprofit mental health service provider.

John and Louisa both contributed to Lakeview: He built the fountains, while she commissioned the chapel.

The stone structure was completed in 1882. First used for memorial services, it was eventually converted to storage. A few years ago, the Friends — a group originally christened Friends of the Louisa Howard Chapel — began renovating it. They replaced the roof and did extensive work indoors, including installing radiant-floor heating.

The chapel is open to the public only during open houses, but Ewing offers an exclusive peek inside. The non-denominational sacred space retains its original stained-glass windows and ceiling, painted with a colorful star-and-flower pattern. The chapel seats 80 in its simple wooden pews. Ewing touts it as the perfect place to hold a memorial service — or a wedding.

The building sits on a ridge above the cemetery proper, along with the entrance and an office. From the chapel, Ewing walks down the road toward the graves.

North Avenue is a busy thoroughfare. But when you descend into the graveyard, the traffic noise gradually disappears, muffled by the hillside and lush greenery — including Colorado blue spruce and Japanese silk maple trees. In the summer, you can’t see the lake through the foliage until you’re practically on top of it.

Ewing stops near the bottom of the hill and points out a small granite marker on the right side of the road. It belongs to Vermont landscape artist Charles Louis Heyde, who died in 1892. He knew poet Walt Whitman, and married his sister.

“He has an interesting story,” Ewing confides. “He was an alcoholic. He lived on Pearl Street. And he ended up his days at the state hospital in Waterbury. When he died, his wife didn’t come to his funeral. Or so they said.” The Chittenden County Historical Society placed the marker in 1986.

Just beyond Heyde’s grave sit several rows of squat headstones, marked only with numbers. These are the paupers — Burlington’s unknown — too poor to afford burial.

Money does not seem to have been an object for the owners of Ewing’s next stop, a massive granite replica of a ski chalet, belonging to Charles Norman Perkins, Jr. and his wife, Janet Barbara Couture Perkins. Two bronze doors fitted with clear glass panels seal the mausoleum, one on either side of the little house. Above each door is a round stained-glass window, depicting a man and woman skiing a snowy slope.

More impressive still are the his-and-hers granite skis leaning against the house on either side of each door — labeled “Chuck” and “Jann” in stylish cursive. The detailing is so elaborate you can put your fingernail in the flathead screws on the bindings.

Who were these people, Chuck and Jann? A bronze plaque on one side of the house details their lives. Chuck, it says, was born in Burlington in 1932. He met Jann when she was summering with her family in Malletts Bay, and they married while Chuck was in the Army. Together they founded the Alpine Shop, which has retail stores in South Burlington and Middlebury. They erected this ski chalet in 2005.

When did they die? The marker doesn’t say . . . because they’re still alive. No doubt the couple is living by the words that appear on a bronze plaque adorning one of the chalet’s two polished granite benches: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.”

Farther toward the lake, near the center of the cemetery, rests another notable couple, Harold John Arthur and his wife, Mary Catherine Alafat. Arthur (1904-1971) was governor of Vermont, Grand Counselor of New England, State Grange Master and a major in the U.S. Army. His wife (1904-2004) was a lawyer, a grange official, president of the Women’s Relief Corps and secretary-treasurer of the Chittenden County Bar.

The front of their waist-high, polished-granite tomb is decorated with the American Legion seal, the grange seal, a cross and the scales of justice.

A wise inscription on the back reads, “Of all the sweeteners of human toil, of all the motive powers that give alacrity to the hand or foot, readiness to the will, and intelligence to the mind and purpose, the quickest and most enduring in results is the kind word spoken in season.” A Google search reveals its source to be the Manual of Subordinate Granges of the Patrons of Husbandry.

Beyond the Arthurs’ grave stands the cemetery’s peaked-roof gazebo. “Apparently in the 1800s, gazebos were very popular,” Ewing observes.

This one, however, is practically falling down; its concrete foundation is cracked, its benches marred by graffiti. It needs some love. “And $25,000,” quips Ewing.

Past the gazebo, on the way to the lake, lies Lakeview’s most famous resident. A statue of General George Jerrison Stannard stands on a stone base. He’s wearing a military uniform, a sword at his side. His gaze is resolute, though his right arm has been amputated at the elbow — his sleeve is pinned to the front of his tunic.

A plaque below tells how Stannard led his Vermont soldiers during the Civil War. “At Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, commanding the 2nd VT brigade in the crisis of the battle, he made the flank attack which decided the fate of Pickett’s charge and changed doubtful struggle into victory.” Stannard lost his arm later, leading an attack on Fort Harrison.

“Some people say he was responsible for winning the Civil War,” boasts Ewing, adding wryly, “Depends on who you talk to.”

Stannard was born in Georgia, Vermont, in 1820 and died in Washington, D.C., in 1886. Why is he buried in Burlington? “Well,” Ewing answers, “this was the in cemetery.”

In the final strip of grass, overlooking the Burlington Bike Path and Lake Champlain, there’s a row of tiny headstones covered with mold. The names have worn away, but some of the ages remain — one reads “9 years old.” A large marker behind the stones explains that Louisa Howard donated them, in memory of children who died in the city’s Home for Destitute Children.

A few steps from those graves stands a pair of fluted stone columns supporting a pediment bearing the name Austin. On the other side, a pair of oblong stones lying flat on the ground honors Warren Robinson Austin (1877-1962) and his wife. Austin was a lawyer who served as a U.S. Senator from Vermont from 1931 until 1946, when he resigned to become the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. His term ended in 1953.

Given the panoramic lake and mountain view, this is prime real estate. Ewing recalls that Austin occupied a similarly prominent location while alive. “They lived on Williams Street in an absolutely lovely house that became a fraternity,” she remembers. “It makes me sad when I go by and see it now.”

Ewing’s husband John, who’s also along for the tour, points out the next marker, a 6-foot-long, 3-foot-wide waist-high block of granite belonging to Edward Henry Powell, which sits near Lakeview’s southern fence. Powell served in the Army as lieutenant colonel from 1863 to 1866. The stone notes that he commanded the 10th U.S. Colored Troops.

It’s not as well marked, but a few hundred feet away, along the southern edge of the cemetery, is a tiny stone not quite a foot tall, covered in mold. It belongs to a black Union soldier, L.W. Freeman, who served as a private in the 54th regiment, the troops depicted in the Oscar-winning film Glory. In fact, Freeman is one of five African-American Civil War vets buried at Lakeview, according to James Fuller’s 2001 book Men of Color, To Arms!

Along those same lines, if you walk back toward the center of the cemetery, behind a large headstone for the Frederick S. Pease family you’ll find a small stone whose blocky letters spell the name of Major General Oliver Otis Howard, 1830-1909. “No relation to Louisa,” notes Ewing.

A bronze plaque reveals that General Howard won the Medal of Honor during the Civil War. What it doesn’t say is that after the war he was a commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau and helped found the traditionally black Howard University in Washington, D.C., which was named for him.

Louisa and John Purple Howard and their families are also buried here, beneath a tall stone obelisk near the center of the cemetery. Nearby is a cluster of seven Muslim graves — all of them less than a decade old.

A few steps away stands a circle of evergreens surrounding a stone pillar. Etched into the low stone wall around the site are the words “Howard Memorial Cremation Garden.”

Ewing walks up to the pillar, which is engraved with a list of names. She points out two — Jane Ewing and John Ewing. “This is us right here,” she says.

The couple paid for the spots years ago. “I’m glad that our children won’t have to be mucking around finding a place to put us,” Ewing says matter-of-factly. “It’s all going to be settled.”

Ewing seems pleased to have secured a spot in the place she calls “Burlington’s treasure.” She pats the stone and says proudly, “We have a view of the lake in the winter.”