Longfellow and the Jewish Cemetery at Newport
Author: Leigh Hallett, Humanities and ESL Depts., Maine Central Institute, Maine
Suggested Grade Level: 5-12
Subject Areas: History
Learning Objectives: This exhibit is designed to teach students about the oldest American Jewish cemetery, about Longfellow's own experiences there, and provide ideas for local cemetery projects.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited the Jewish cemetery in Newport, RI on July 9, 1852. His popular poem about the site, published two years later, was certainly a sympathetic portrayal of the place and its people. In addition to Victorian romantic musings about the "Hebrews in their graves ", Longfellow includes in this poem references to the historic persecution of the Jews, as well as very specific references to their religious practices.
Since the cemetery and the nearby synagogue were restored and protected with an infusion of funding just a couple years after Longfellow's visit, and later a congregation again assembled, his gloomy predictions about the place proved false (never mind the conclusion of the poem, "And the dead nations never rise again!"). Nevertheless, it is a fascinating poem, and an interesting window into the history of the nations oldest extant synagogue.
Historical Source Items to Accompany This Project