It was an oversight on my part that led to how I came to experience Mountain View Cemetery a few weeks ago. I had been crossing my fingers for an overcast & foggy morning for my trip there. When I saw the forecast for an upcoming Saturday morning, I was up and out the door at 6:15am so I could get there right when they open the gates at 6:30am. What I failed to take into account was that the sun wouldn’t be up until after 7:00am.
I parked on the main avenue, drank my coffee, and pulled out the booklet that I had grabbed from the main office the afternoon before. I had popped in to grab a map, and had taken the “Intimate Portrait of Mountain View Cemetery” as well.
So many of us who grew up in Oakland have driven beside the wall that seems to stretch forever along Moraga Avenue. As we have gotten older, many of us have heard that Mountain View is actually quite well known, a landmark in the East Bay and beyond.
20 minutes spent reading the booklet I had picked up opened my eyes to Mountain View in a different way; actually, to the way it was intended to be viewed.
The landscape architect behind Mountain View is Frederick Law Olmsted. Ever heard of NYC’s Central Park? Capitol Grounds in Washington D.C.? Yosemite Park? The same gentleman who designed these landmark outdoor spaces brought his harmonious approach to man and nature to the grounds of Mountain View.
Inspired by a combination of the 19th Century shift towards “park-like” cemeteries, as well as the American Transcendentalism Movement which became popular at the time, Olmsted created a space where man not only coexists with nature, but where man IS nature; where man’s monuments could coexist beside the monuments of nature, those of oak, pine, and cedar. As urbanization and industrialization were taking hold, Olmsted held to the transcendental belief that nature is not something to be conquered and tamed. He believed that there was a way to allow mans industry and natures wildness to live together in harmony.
I kept this in mind as I wandered up and down the winding pathways and avenues. The beauty of the space he designed over 150 years ago is all the more inspiring today against the mature growth that has taken hold. It was hard to not focus on the juxtaposition of the majestic statues honoring the dead against the backdrop of nature in all its shades of brown and green.
Local history is buried and honored here. Figures such as Kaiser, Merritt & Ghirardelli are entombed in impressive monuments. It’s interesting to then take a turn and see the word “mother” or “soldier” on a simple marker just around the next corner. Maybe it’s a metaphor of what we all sometimes struggle to realize, that we are all of the same earth. We may occupy different places, be part of man and nature in our unique way; but in the end, we can rest together, share the same space, and be at peace.
I encourage you to take your own trip to Mountain View, in whatever manner or way you see fit. For me, it was a way to get away for a bit and spend some time in peace & quiet; to walk and to think. I think that is what Olmsted would have wanted.
“In the instant you leave far behind all human relations, wife, mother and child, and live only with the savages – water, air, light, carbon, lime, and granite. Nature grows over me. Frogs pipe; waters far off tinkle; dry leaves hiss; grass bends and rustles, and I have died out of the human world and come to feel a strange, cold, aqueous, terraqueous, aerial, ethereal sympathy and existence. I sow the sun and moon for seeds”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Mountain View Cemetery is located at 5000 Piedmont Avenue Oakland, CA 94611
The grounds are open daily from 6:30am – 7:30pm.
If you would like to pick up a map of the grounds as well as the booklet referenced above, their office is open M-F from 8:00am-4:30pm. Weekends & holidays from 10:00am – 4:00pm
More information is available at www.mountainviewcemetery.org
NOTE: Mountain View offers docent-led tours twice a month. They begin at 10:00am on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month and last approximately 2 hours. No RSVP is necessary.
In my research I came across this article about Olmsted’s design of the College of California (Berkeley) and Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley which I found interesting.
I would like to thank the Mountain View Cemetery Docents for the information supplied in “An Intimate View of Mountain View Cemetery”. While I did not quote directly, most information was pulled from or inspired by the wonderful booklet they worked hard to develop.
Photo Credits: All images taken by Adrienne Schell
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