Resting Place On the memorial bench.

Resting Place On the memorial bench.

  • Words George Upton
  • Photograph Simon Bajada

There are more than 7,000 memorial benches in Central Park, each bearing a plaque dedicated to a loved one dearly departed. These small, discreet public memorials have been a feature of New York’s most famous park since 1986, and reflect our changing relationship with death. 

In the 18th century, when mortality rates were high, the dead were remembered with austere gravestones decorated with skulls and hourglasses—memento mori—to symbolize how much death was a part of everyday life. Today, as life spans increase, these morbid Victorian totems have decreased; there is more emphasis on celebrating someone’s life and achievements, rather than just marking the fact they are gone. 

Perhaps this is why benches have become such a popular form of remembrance. More than trees planted in ...

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