Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor was the second garden cemetery created in this country, beginning just after Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.

“Mount Hope Cemetery of Bangor, Maine: The Complete History” by Trudy Irene Scee, describes how the cemetery came into being and grew over the years to become one of the top cemeteries in the country.

But interwoven with the tale of the cemetery is a tale of how people lived and what they thought from the time the cemetery was created in 1833 to the present time. It describes how they dealt with fences and added ponds, how the wives of the early superintendents were praised for helping their husbands with their jobs, and only after many years of assistance were they given a gift — not a salary.

Scee came to Maine to study for her doctorate at the University of Maine, and stayed. 

“Mount Hope Cemetery” is her third book published by The History Press in Charleston, S.C., the others being a history of Bangor and “Tragedy in the Maine Woods,” about serial killer James Hicks, and she has written several other books, as well. The book is 286 pages and is priced at $26.99. 

Q: You wrote this originally as a freelance job for the cemetery. So how did it end up with the History Press?

A: I’ve done a few books before. I did a book about a serial killer, James Hicks, incarcerated for killing three women (“Tragedy in the North Woods”) and “City on the Penobscot,” a history of Bangor, for History Press. So when I started working on this, they were interested, and picked it up as a regular book offering.

Q: You mention Mount Auburn as the first garden cemetery and Mount Hope as the second. But what makes a cemetery a garden cemetery?

A: I see myself quoted on this from time to time, but basically garden cemeteries started with the idea that the place you are buried is a place that the people who come to visit you there can enjoy as well.

In 1833 Bangor was running out of cemetery space, and the citizens had the foresight to try to create something new and wonderful, and they had the opportunity to purchase land on the Penobscot River. My house is actually right across the river from Mount Hope, and when I got this assignment I thought it would inspire me to get to work, or I would just sit there and look at the wonderful spot.

Bangor was a booming city, and people from all over came to be buried there, and they wanted to create a space the living would enjoy as well. It sort ties into Central Park in New York. (Frederick Law) Olmsted realized that people need green space around them.

Q: I have been to Mount Hope, and it is a beautiful cemetery — great location, well designed and well maintained. But the cemetery was run by good businessmen, making sure that it did not lose money. Tell me about that aspect of it.

A: Right from the beginning there were local community leaders involved, and it is still true. The Bragg family has been involved right to this day, from the time the Braggs first came to Bangor.  Superintendent Burrill’s family has a long history, too.

Mount Hope is a nonprofit, but it is run by very savvy business people. There were a lot of lawyers and politicians on the board, and they often overlap. So it has been able to thrive even in down periods of the economy.

Q: People use the cemetery for recreation all the time.

A: Yes. It is a beautiful place to go, and fun. Some people walk there every day or jog.  

I think that putting in so many monuments to soldiers and veterans increases the connection to the community.

I think that many of the board members are aware that they are carrying on a connection to the past.

Q: You mentioned Hannibal Hamlin and such as famous people buried in the cemetery, And more recently (UMaine hockey coach) Shawn Walsh is there. But are there some famous people.

A: I’d say that as far as local the community goes, Al Brady (an FBI Public Enemy No. 1 who, with some is his gang, was killed in 1937 by federal authorities in Bangor) is the most famous, although I don’t like to glamorize him. A lot of people know about him. Then some people in the city did a r-eenactment of the shooting and put up a stone for him. The cemetery wasn’t going to do that. Their attitude was that we will put you here, but there will be no extras.

Q: I have heard that Martha Stewart has bought a plot there. And maybe Dick Wolf? Do you know if that is true, and are there any other living people who have purchased space?

A: I don’t know about that. You can find out about who is buried there, but the cemetery staff is not going to talk about who might be in the future.

Q: For a garden lover, what is the best time to visit the cemetery?

A: It kind of depends on what you are looking for . Ducks and geese are there in the spring, and they come back in the fall. There are a variety of trees and bushes with great color in the fall.

Q: What kind of activities are allowed?

A: They used to allow rollerskating, but that stopped when some rollerbladers went right through a funeral procession. They used to allow dogs, but they no longer do. People go cross-country skiing.

The board wants the public to make respectful use of the cemetery.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a couple of projects, but I don’t want to talk about them much. One is based in Portland as much as this area.

I want to switch genres in a little way, so I am looking for an agent, which is a little different after all these years of writing. I have a story, sort of a memoir of something that happened to a friend, and I have to find it a home.

Q: Do you have a job besides writing?

A: I work with the Bangor School District with at-risk kids, tutoring to keep them in school or get them back in school. I have been a professor at various times. I love writing and I love to teach kids, with “kids” being anywhere up to 45.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]