CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – Originally called Newtowne, Cambridge was the first capital of Massachusetts.

In the 19th century it was the center of the literary revolution, homes to poets like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Homes. And while they were writing, others were building.

Positioned deep in the middle of the 175-acre Mount Auburn Cemetery is their masterpiece, Washington Tower. It was built in 1850 to honor President George Washington, but at 125 feet above the Charles River, it also had a mission.

Washington Tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery. (WBZ-TV)

“The tower was designed in 1850s as a place for the public to come and connect between Mount Auburn, which was envisioned as the city of the dead, with Boston, the city of the living,” said Bree Harvey, the vice president of cemetery and visitor services.

And connecting with Boston is easy with this view.

“There are, frankly, a lot of people who come to Mount Auburn not knowing what to expect when they get here, except they have been told they have to come and climb the tower. It’s not the typical panoramic view of the skyline that people are used to seeing and it’s really just an unexpected surprise in a cemetery,” Harvey told WBZ-TV.

It’s a long trek to the top of the steep spiral staircase, but even halfway up, the payoff is everything.

An unmatched 360-degree aerial experience nestled among 100,000 resting former residents. A special place for both the dead and the living.

Washington Tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery. (WBZ-TV)

“Our founders were visionary in all kinds of ways. It was envisioned to be a cemetery serving the end of life purposes, but at the same time be a place of inspiration for the living and this was part of that vision,” David Barnett, president and CEO of the cemetery, told WBZ.

The tower has been closed for the winter and since the start of the pandemic. They hope to open it soon, but the grounds are open to the public 365 days a year.

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Kate Merrill