Literary Pilgrimages: Willa Cather’s grave site

Posted December 10, 2014 by Lory in places / 23 Comments

On a bleak winter afternoon in early December, I set out to find Willa Cather’s grave at the Old Meeting House in Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire. By her own wish, the author was laid to rest near the site where she had often spent the autumn months and worked on many of her novels, including My Antonia.

After a few mishaps due to my confusion of the towns of Jaffrey and Jaffrey Center, and the total lack of signage identifying the Meeting House (yes, this is New England — if you don’t already know where you’re going, you shouldn’t be here), I found the magnificent old building and its small burying ground that looks out onto a view of Mount Monadnock.

The oldest marked grave on this site dates from 1777, and many of the stones are centuries old. Often tall and narrow, they lean at odd angles in the frost-humped ground.

Willa Cather’s grave stands alone in a corner, facing away from the meeting house and toward the mountain (as most of the gravestones do). The stone has weathered quite a bit in the past sixty-odd years, and the inscription was not easy to read in the dim light.

According to a sign near the entrance, the grave of Cather’s companion Edith Lewis was very nearby, but I didn’t see a stone. I took a guess at the location and scraped away some snow, and there it was.

Just as I was about to leave, a ray of sun broke through the clouds as the Meeting House clock tolled two, and the words on the stone were illuminated.

 

WILLA CATHER
December 7, 1876-April 24, 1947
The truth and charity of her great
spirit will live on in the work
which is her enduring gift to her
country and her people.
“…that is happiness, to be dissolved
into something complete and great.”
From My Antonia

 

This still-unspoiled spot seems an appropriate resting place for Willa Cather, surrounded as it is by great natural beauty while also bearing witness to centuries of human striving and endeavor. I’m so glad that I finally made the pilgrimage to view it, and hope to return again to experience its peaceful spirit through the changing seasons.

Posted in honor of Willa Cather Reading Week, hosted by Heavenali 

Click here to view images of Cather in Jaffrey from the Willa Cather Archive
More information on Cather in Jaffrey, from the Willa Cather Archive 

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23 responses to “Literary Pilgrimages: Willa Cather’s grave site

    • It's amazing what can be done with an iPod! (My "real" camera battery died just as I was going out the door.) And I'm so glad I finally made the effort to visit, after 18 months of living in New Hampshire. I definitely want to go back to look around more, as it was too slippery to do much exploring in the snow.

  1. Found this post on the Spread the Linky Party. Very cool visit and love the pictures. It does seem very appropriate she rests in such beauty and nature.

  2. I had no idea where Willa Cather was buried. This was a lovely and moving post to one of America's great voices. Thanks so much for the photos and notes–so interesting that most of the graves face the mountains. As a Coloradoan, I can understand that impulse.

    I really like to make literary pilgrimages myself, and I'll have to put this on the list for a New England visit.

  3. There is a lot of literary history in the area, partly because of the Macdowell Colony in Peterborough (where Cather spent some of her time). I'm still discovering it myself.

  4. What a lovely post, Lory! The day I went (in March) the snow was up to my knees in some areas as I trudged around looking for her stone, which was wonderful as I got to see all the very old headstones. I, too, look forward to going back during different seasons.

  5. Barb Hall

    Lory, Thank you for this. Were you able to return in other seasons? What is the type used on her stone? Looks like Goudy. Did she worship in that church?

    • I have been back in the fall — it is very beautiful at that time of year. When the snow was gone, I realized that Willa Cather has a matching stone next to Edith Lewis’s, as well as the standing headstone. Perhaps that is the actual burial place.

      I don’t know what the typeface is, but it has a lovely classic look. And I’m not sure whether she worshiped in that church, but she spent summers in Jaffrey and it is quite likely she was inside the building at some point. She requested to be buried there.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for commenting.

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