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years in succession—from 1850 to 1854—he was chosen Mayor of New Haven, declining at last to be renominated a fifth time, and carrying with him into his retirement the almost unanimous respect and gratitude of the freemen of the city, of whatever party. In October, 1858, it became evident that his health, which had been gradually becoming infirm for some time, was at last breaking down wholly. Realizing the fact that his work was done, he calmly set his house in order. He closed his school, dismissing his young pupils to their homes, arranged his affairs, and surrendered, at the call of death, the declining strength of a manhood which had been always poble, and was now beginning to be venerable with the cares of nearly three-score years.
As we call attention to the various schemes for advancing public interests in New Haven, with which Mr. Skinner was connected, and to the valuable services which he rendered in connection with them, it will be noticed that all these were of a sort not very extraordinary, and the necessity for which is continually liable to arise in all communities. New Haven was certainly not singular in feeling the need of such public services, but was only most happy in the fact that there was found a citizen intelligent and generous enough to recognize and supply that need.
In the spring of 1540, a proposal was made that the New Haven burying.ground,—which, as the city increased in size and importance, was becoming correspondingly populous with the dead, and gathering about itself the memories and affections of more and more of the living,—should be safely protected from desecration, and should be liberally improved and ornamented. This proposed measure was one which was coinmended with great force to Mr. Skinner's favorable regard, not only by its own remarkable importance and worthiness, but also, no doubt, because the burying-ground itself was a most eloquent and memorable example of the generous public spirit of one, whose name and memory should be, always and to all citizens of New Haven, a sacred incentive to public dnty. Nearly half a century previous, the Honorable James Hillhouse had recognized the necessity that the city should
have a burial place ample, and fitted, “by its retired situation, to impress the mind with a solemnity becoming the repository of the dead.” Chiefly in consequence of his intelligent zeal for the public good, under his careful supervision, and largely at his personal expense, the ground had been purchased, laid out, and ornamented. In accordance with a plan which he originated, it was provided that this ground should be divided into family lots, and that these lots should be sacredly and inviolably secured forever to the families for which they were purchased. It ought to be remembered that the plan of public cemeteries with private lots, which now has become almost universal in America, and prevails also to a great extent beyond the water, was here, for the first time, conceived and executed. Under the liberal care which was bestowed upon it so long as Mr. Hillhouse lived, the New Haven burying-ground became an honor and an ornament to the city, and a model deemed by strangers worthy of their admiration and imitation. But it had fallen of late years into neglect; the fences were decayed or had been broken down; the ornamental trees and shrubbery had perished, or were insufficient to make it decent and pleasant. It lay
“With scanty grace from Nature's hand,
instead of being a place of sad but quiet beauty, it was coming to be dreary and repulsive. Its influence was tending not to soothe, but rather to make more bitter the grief with which the dead were held in memory, and to cast a chill upon the thoughts of those who otherwise might calmly look upon it as “God's acre," thinking with the poet,
“Into its furrows shall we all be cast,
In the sure faith that we shall rise again.”
To some among the citizens of New Haven it was a matter of conviction,-and to no one more deeply than to Mr. Skinner,—that the spirit which would neglect to honor and to guard the resting place of the dead, was a spirit unchristian and irreligious, a spirit unworthy of a civilized community.
Accordingly, the subject was publicly discussed and the obvious duty in the case insisted upon, with such success that a liberal appropriation was obtained from the city, which was largely increased by private subscriptions, and a committee, of which Mr. Skinner was a member, appointed to superintend the work of improving and protecting the burying-ground.
But in all such public works as this, there is to be encountered the obtuseness of those who fail to see any practical good resulting from the indulgence of such mere sentimentalism as would seek to plant the grave with flowers, or shade it with the willow or the cypress, or fence it carefully from profane intrusion. And there must also be expected the niggardliness of those who will not favor the expenditure of money, except where it will yield immediate and pecuniary interest. In singular contrast to such stingy dullness was the conduct of Mr. Skinner. To him it was not enough that the general plan of improvement had been determined upon,—that an appropriation had been made and a committee appointed. The work, if it was worth doing at all, was worth doing well. It demanded the constant supervision of a correct and cultivated taste. By errors in judgment or in taste, which might easily occur unless some one should faithfully give to the matter his time and attention, the expenditure of money and of labor might be worse than in vain. This constant and unwearied attention Mr. Skinner devoted to it; and to him, more than to any one else, do the people of New Haven owe it that their burial-place is a place of serious and holy beauty.
No one who has ever visited it can have failed to notice the singular appropriateness of the massive wall and heavy iron fencing which surrounds it, and of the grave Egyptian architecture of the imposing gateway. The foliage which darkens over it, the shady lines of young trees from our forests within it, the shrubbery and hedges, shut the place in from all the noise of life and business, and in their living silence guard the silence of the dead who sleep beneath them. The hand of Christian art, guided by refined and religious taste, has made of a place which had by nature no special beauty, a resting place for the dead most solemn, peaceful, and appropriate. We cannot for
bear especially to commend that singular discernment of pro. . priety and rare good taste which, from the beginning, never sought to make the burying-ground anything else than a place for burial; which never sought to turn it into a pleasure ground, with lakes, and woods, and rural drives that should become the resort of idle, or of wanton people; which never sought to hide the solemn sight of graves, nor to dissipate the serious lessons of mortality, and the sublime lessons of immortality, which their presence ought to teach. Surely, in this respect, the New Haven cemetery is most worthy to be admired. It is not, and was never meant to be, a place for gay resort, nor yet for trifling sentimentalism ; but it has become what Mr. Skinner and his fellow-laborers of the committee hoped it might be, a place of holy and of solemn influences. Surely, as the committee said in their report, “ he must have a bad heart who can visit such a spot without reflections calculated to make him a wiser and better man. That community must be far less moral and enlightened than ours, which will not be improved by the silent and impressive lessons taught in such a place.”
The invaluable services which Mr. Skinner rendered in connection with this great public improvement, were best appreciated by those who had the best opportunities of knowing them. His colleagues of the committee speak of them more than once in terms of earnest praise. Had it not been for his constant and gratuitous supervision of the whole work, the expense of it would unavoidably have been much greater. The chairman of the committee, the late Professor Olmsted, referred to Mr. Skinner in the following graceful tribute, which is taken from an address delivered at the laying of the corner stone of the burying-ground gateway:
“Although the direction of this enterprise has required of all and each of the committee much time and pains, yet it is due to truth and justice to state that to the cultivated taste, sound judgment and untiring assiduity of one of its members, (whose name needs no formal mention,) the accomplishment of the work is peculiarly and emphatically indebted. The onerous and indispensable duty of superintending its daily progress has been performed in a manner which no money could have secured, by one who has neither expected nor sought the least requital. Still his disinterested labors will have their reward: they will receive a requital the most consonant of all others to desert like this."
We have dwelt at some length on this particular undertaking, which owed its successful execution in such large degree to Mr. Skinner, because it illustrates very clearly not only his disinterested zeal for the public welfare, but also the refined and intelligent good taste, and high moral and religious sense by which that zeal was guided. A like earnestness, controlled and guided in like manner, was exhibited in his efforts for the improvement of the New Haven Green. To this subject he turned his thoughts as soon as his labors for the buryingground were ended. Here, too, as in almost all of those plans for the public good, which occupied his attention, he found himself following up and imitating the wise public spirit of former generations. It was a prudent and a generous foresight which our fathers showed when, in laying out the city which they founded in the wilderness, they reserved that central square to be at once a beautiful ornament and a healthful breathing place for the city, and to be the conspicuous and honored site of the house of God. Like theirs in generosity and thoughtful wisdom, but more than theirs in its clear perception of the refining and elevating influence of beauty, was the public spirit which led James Hillhouse to supplement and carry towards perfection the work which they began, which impelled him to set out those goodly lines of elms, in the rich beauty of whose shade, all men who pass beneath them, consciously or not, rejoice with natural and grateful joy. Of similar and perhaps equal value were the services that Mr. Skinner rendered. This beautiful Green of which the city was so proud was enclosed by a mean and insufficient wooden fence; and it was proposed to substitute for this, a fence more worthy of the place and more creditable to the city. A committee, of which Mr. Skinner was the chairman, and the hard work of which came in very large measure upon him, was appointed to consider and report upon the subject. The earnest and disin