Shaw Monument, conserved 2012
The Shaw family Monument is one of Mount Auburn’s most significant and celebrated memorials. Robert Gould Shaw, a Boston merchant, China trader, and philanthropist commissioned architect and designer Hammatt Billings to design a monument carved by local stone carver Alpheus Cary on the family lot at Mount Auburn which was erected in 1848. As was typical during the nineteenth century, the lot is the final burial place for many members of the Shaw family and includes nine individual markers and an underground tomb. At the base of the front of the Monument is the bronze plaque that commemorates Shaw’s grandson, Col. Robert Gould Shaw.
Although cyclical maintenance was provided for in the original care agreement, over time extensive deterioration occurred with losses and cracks in the brownstone enclosure; crumbling slate, illegible inscriptions, and corrosion on the bronze plaque commemorating Col. Robert Gould Shaw. The original cast iron fence on the surrounding lot had deteriorated and portions of it had been removed.
A generous gift from a family descendant enabled the Cemetery to preserve the monument and lot. The complex project, which was completed in the summer of 2012, included reviewing existing documentation, including historic records and photographs in the Cemetery’s Historical Collections; documenting conservation treatment before, during, and after; washing the monument; filling cracks; repairing breaks; recreating areas of loss; treating friable and loose stone with consolidants; and putting in place recommendations for long-term care. Using nineteenth century photographs, conservators were able to replicate the missing cast iron fence panels so that the lot appears as it did 150 years ago. Additionally, horticultural improvements, as well as the stabilization of the underground tomb, will help to protect both the important monument and surrounding lot. With the support of skilled conservators and Mount Auburn’s dedicated staff, the Shaw Monument has been preserved and protected. The comprehensive conservation plan took a year to complete and included conserving the monument, treating the bronze plaque, replicating the original cast iron fence surrounding the lot, and creating a sustainable horticulture design. The lead conservator on the project was Ivan Myjer, principal, Building & Monument Conservation.
Robert Gould Shaw was an American Officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. An important figure in American history, the Colonel commanded the first Northern all-black Regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, which entered the Civil War in 1863. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw is commemorated, but not buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Following his death in 1863, the Colonel’s body was buried with his fallen men in a mass grave at Fort Wagner, an act intended as an insult by the victorious Confederate army. Although efforts were made to recover Shaw’s body, Shaw’s father publicly proclaimed that he was proud to know that his son was buried with his troops, befitting his role as a soldier and a crusader for social justice.
The plaque to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw preserves part of the rich history of the Civil War, and the African American experience in Massachusetts and our Nation. It was dedicated on September 27, 2012 by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick with a wreath-laying ceremony by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, Company A, the Colored Ladies Christian Relief Society, and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Honor Guard. Mount Auburn is a designated site on the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program; in February 2013, the Cemetery launched an African American Heritage Trail.