History

Mount Auburn Consecrated

In 1831 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society purchased 72 acres of mature woodland situated in Watertown and Cambridge for the creation of a “rural cemetery” and experimental garden. On September 24, 1831, a crowd gathered in the Dell, the natural amphitheater located in the heart … Continue reading

St. James Lot, The First Public Lot, Is Created

“Not every good, nor every great man (or woman), has had a monument erected over his grave.” Wilson Flagg in 1861; Writing about unmarked graves in a Mount Auburn guide book At a November 3, 1831 meeting of the Garden … Continue reading

Boston Courier’s Account of the Consecration

The Boston Courier’s account of the public Consecration of Mount Auburn Cemetery, September 24, 1831. An unclouded sun and an atmosphere purified by the showers of the preceding night, combined to make the day one of the most delightful we … Continue reading

Mount Auburn’s Ice Age Legacy

by Robin Hazard Ray An Ice Age is any era in which the Earth is all or partly covered by ice. Though our planet has experienced a warming period recently (the last 11,000 years, with many ups and downs), it … Continue reading

Hymn Sung at Consecration

For the Consecration Ceremony for the Cemetery in 1831, Reverend John Pierpont, Unitarian minister and Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard,  wrote a new hymn just for the occasion.  The crowd of over 2,000 spectators joined him in singing it (to … Continue reading

Cemetery is named “Mount Auburn”

The seventy-two acres purchased from George Brimmer for the purpose of a cemetery was commonly known to locals and Harvard students by the name of “Sweet Auburn” after the fictitious town in Oliver Goldsmith’s 1770 poem “The Deserted Village.”  When deciding … Continue reading

Greenbrier Receiving Tomb Built

A practical need in the early years of Mount Auburn was a receiving tomb for temporary deposit of remains that awaited shipment elsewhere or could not be buried during the cold winter.  The available tools would not have been able to … Continue reading

First Interment made at Mount Auburn

On July 6, 1832 the first interment in Mount Auburn’s original 72 acres was made near the top of Mount Auburn’s peak (Lot 182 Mountain Avenue).  James and Margaret Boyd buried their stillborn son Charles in their family lot.  It … Continue reading

Stranger’s Tomb Erected

When it opened in 1829, the Tremont House was unique in the nation.  It was a hotel of many firsts, including the first to offer indoor plumbing. Wanting to be innovative in yet another way, they decided to erect a tomb … Continue reading

Harvard Hill

Within Mount Auburn Cemetery there are seven hills, a fact that at the time of Mount Auburn’s founding harkened back to the lore of ancient Rome that was so popular during the Victorian Era.  In 1833, one of Mount Auburn’s … Continue reading

Joseph Story elected first President of Mount Auburn

In 1835, four years after the founding of Mount Auburn Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story was elected the first President of the Cemetery.  He was a logical choice for the job as he had been greatly involved in the meetings … Continue reading

Rural Cemetery Movement Grows

As Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first rural cemetery in the United States, gained national and international attention, other cities began to plan their own rural cemeteries. The concept of permanent family lots in a setting of natural beauty was immensely … Continue reading

Scots’ Charitable Society Lot Purchased

In 1841, the Scots Charitable Society purchased a lot at Mount Auburn for its members. For the more than 200 people now buried here, it is the iron fence enclosing the lot that serves as their memorial. The Scots’ Charitable … Continue reading

Entrance Gate Rebuilt in Granite

In 1842 the Cemetery’s Egyptian Revival Gate, initially built in wood, was rebuilt in granite in the same architectural style. Two years later, the wooden fence running along Mount Auburn street was also replaced with a permanent iron fence.  Both … Continue reading

Construction of Chapel Begun

In 1844 Mount Auburn selected the hill overlooking Mount Auburn Street as the location for its chapel. Following a design competition to solicit plans for the building, the Cemetery’s trustees chose the anonymous design submitted by Dr. Jacob Bigelow as … Continue reading

Emily Dickinson visits Mount Auburn

A sixteen year old Emily Dickinson spent two weeks sightseeing in Boston in the fall of 1846 while staying with an aunt.  She wrote to a friend: “I have been to Mount Auburn, to the Chinese Museum, to Bunker hill.  … Continue reading

Washington Tower Constructed

A tower at the summit of Mount Auburn was proposed in 1831 and again in 1843 but construction was deferred until 1852.  Jacob Bigelow described its design and importance: “The tower is sixty-two feet in height above the summit of … Continue reading

Trustees Vote to Build Tower

At a July 6, 1852 meeting Mount Auburn President Jacob Bigelow exhibited a model he designed for a tower. The Trustees voted that the committee of Jacob Bigelow, Charles Little, and Mace Tisdale should go on and erect the Tower … Continue reading

Well House Constructed Near Entrance Gate

The 1885 edition of Moses King’s guide book, Mount Auburn Cemetery, notes that “on the left of Central Avenue, is a beautifully embellished octagonal building, with a stone platform and seats for visitors [containing] an excellent well of pure water.” … Continue reading

Development of Stone Farm

In 1854 over 18 acres of farmland known as Stone Farm (not to be confused with Stone Estate land) was acquired and held for 20 years while trees were planted and roads were laid out.  Stone Farm lay between the … Continue reading

Chapel Rebuilt and Statues Commissioned

In 1853, the Cemetery Trustees voted to take down the Chapel and rebuild it to correct the original structural deficiencies. In reconstructing the building about 200 blemished or defective stones were removed and replaced with others of proper size and character. … Continue reading

Granite Curbing Used to Edge Ponds and Ornamental Areas

“In 1855-56 the western end of Garden Pond (now Halcyon Lake) which extended nearly to the present site of Story Chapel was filled up. In the next few years granite curbings were placed around the edges of Consecration Dell Pond, … Continue reading

New Horse Railroad brings visitors to Mount Auburn’s gate

The following is an excerpt from Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery by Blanche M. G. Linden, pgs. 252- 253. Improvements in public transit brought visitors in greater numbers.  Initially, hourly runs … Continue reading

Garden Pond begins transformation into Halcyon Lake

Early maps of Mount Auburn (such as the 1831 map section seen above) show a large three-lobed pond in the northeast corner of the Cemetery. The pond was then labeled Garden Pond, and it covered much of what is now Ash Avenue … Continue reading

Construction of tombs permitted with approval of Trustees

The following is an excerpt from Silent City on a Hill: Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery by Blanche M. G. Linden. From Tombs to Mausoleums To maximize the use of all parts of the grounds and … Continue reading

Area North of Garden Pond Surveyed for Lots

“The tract of unoccupied ground in the front of the Cemetery, between Garden Pond [present day Halcyon Lake] and the road, constituting one of the most desirable parts of the Mount Auburn, is in the process of being surveyed, and the … Continue reading

Mount Auburn Memorial Published

Mount Auburn Memorial was a weekly newspaper that discussed many topics related to Mount Auburn. The first edition was published on Wednesday, June 15, 1859. The eight-page publication was produced by Mount Auburn’s gatekeeper, Truman Hopson (T.H.) Safford, and his … Continue reading

Receiving Tomb Built at Auburn Lake

Built between 1859 – 1876, demolished 1973; G. F. Bryant, architect. In 1859 a cut was made through Indian Ridge Path to run a drain between Bigelow Chapel Lawn and Auburn Lake.  A catacomb tomb was proposed along the sides … Continue reading

One Thousand Curbs Installed (1859 – 1875)

Throughout Mount Auburn’s historic core you will find ornate curbs, borders, buttresses and posts.  Over 1,000 family burial lots were enclosed in granite during the short period of 1859 – 1875.  By 1870 the ratio of enclosed lots (iron fences … Continue reading

Two Trees Planted By Prince of Wales

In 1860 the nineteen-year old Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria’s son who became King Edward VII, thrilled America with an extended visit  which included a stop at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  The Prince made his Mount Auburn stop in the late … Continue reading

Alice’s Fountain Commissioned

In November of 1862, Mrs. Mary (Augustus) Hemenway offered to pay Mount Auburn $6,000 if the Corporation would “construct a fountain opposite my lot in the low land between Thistle and Cowslip Paths equal to the fountains in the lawn, … Continue reading

First Corps of Cadets Memorial Dedicated

On November 16, 1867, the First Corps of Cadets memorial was dedicated.  At the ceremony Governor Alexander Bullock remarked, “There is something not altogether sorrowful in our assembling upon these sacred grounds…to pay the offering of our hearts to the … Continue reading

Reception House Built

Reception House, 583 Mount Auburn Street 1870 Nathaniel J. Bradlee, architect Extant with modifications The reception house was built in 1870 directly across from the main gate as part of a growing concern for visitor comfort in the mid-nineteenth century.  … Continue reading

Northwest Corner Developed

In the early 1870s the Cemetery acquired several parcels on its northwestern edge known as the Chant and Watriss properties. Up to this time the Cemetery’s edge lay at present day Excelsior Path. The Watriss property was purchased from the … Continue reading

Sphinx Donated by Dr. Jacob Bigelow

In March 1865, Bigelow first proposed that the Cemetery commission “a public monument in memory of the heroes who have fallen in the present war for the preservation of the Union.”  However, the trustees postponed making any decision.  Bigelow wanted … Continue reading

Swan House Constructed

In 1872 a Swan House was erected across from the southern end of Indian Ridge Path.  Its proximity to Auburn Lake provided suitable accommodations for waterfowl.  However, according to the Trustee Minutes of 1882, a special committee had to be … Continue reading

Freeland Mausoleum Constructed

Designed by noted Boston architects William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt, the Freeland mausoleum on Lawn Avenue was the first freestanding tomb constructed at the Cemetery, erected in 1874.   Ware and Van Brunt designed several other local landmarks, including … Continue reading

New Chapel and Office Building Built

A new chapel and office building were built between the years of 1896-1898.  the new chapel  holds its first funeral service in 1898. The Story Chapel and Administration Building complex was designed by architect Willard Sears and constructed of Potsdam … Continue reading

April 18, 1900: Mount Auburn’s first cremation performed

The trustees of Mount Auburn first started to consider establishing a crematorium in 1885 but awaited “the further development of public sentiment.” In 1897 the Cemetery applied to the state legislature for an act authorizing Mount Auburn Cemetery to establish a crematory. Architect … Continue reading

R. H. White Mausoleum erected in Stone Farm section

As the new Stone Farm area was laid out in the 1870’s the plans evolved from a rigid grid to a design of gently curving roads and paths.  The new plan provided for a few dramatic focal points.  The R.H. … Continue reading

Roadway Improvements for Automobiles

Automobiles, introduced into Mount Auburn in 1908, prompted a series of roadway improvements.  A steam roller and crusher were purchased the same year and the old roads were gradually replaced with a new tar macadam surface, which was far more … Continue reading

Superintendent issues permits for automobiles

After several decades of visitors arriving by carriage, omnibus, and on foot, Mount Auburn had to adapt to a new method of transportation that visitors were using. In the same way that carriage access to Mount Auburn Cemetery had to be … Continue reading

Stone Estate Acquired

In 1912 the Stone estate, located immediately to the south of Willow Pond, was acquired. This parcel lies at the corner of Coolidge Avenue and Grove Street. One of the motives of the purchase was to secure street protection, and it was … Continue reading

Mary Baker Eddy Memorial Completed

Image: March 12, 1917 – the Memorial nears completion. © The Mary Baker Eddy Collection. Used with permission. The Mary Baker Eddy monument, an anchor of the Halcyon Lake landscape, was designed by Egerton Swartwout in 1915 and completed in … Continue reading

Memorial park concept at Willow Pond designed to meet 20th-century needs

In the 20th century Mount Auburn moved into a landscape style influenced by Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale (outside of Los Angeles, CA).   Laurence Caldwell, a landscape architect active at Mount Auburn in the 1920s and 1930s wrote that older … Continue reading

Rest House Built Near South Entrance

In 1920 it was deemed necessary to build a rest house in the southern end of the Cemetery as a “Place where those visiting the cemetery can get rest and shelter and find suitable toilet facilities” (Annual Report, 1920). This small … Continue reading

Iron Fences and Granite Curbs Removed From Lots

For many years before 1922, no fences, granite curbing, or steps had been permitted on newly purchased lots.  But, throughout the Cemetery, evidence of the 19th-century trend of enclosing lots in iron fences and granite curbing remained. To simplify Cemetery maitenence and improve the … Continue reading

Willow Pond Area Developed

An additional 15 acres of land extending to Coolidge and Grove Streets were purchased in 1912. This purchase included the remainder of Willow Pond. The Cemetery anticipated that, as the parkways extended along the Charles River, this newly acquired land … Continue reading

Story Chapel Stained Glass Windows Installed

In 1929 architects Allen and Collens supervised the installation of richly colored stained glass in the windows of the nave and chancel of Story Chapel.

A Rose in Mineral Form

By Robin Hazard Ray Throughout Mount Auburn Cemetery and many other burial places in the United States, visitors come upon rough boulders of pink translucent stone bearing nameplates of bronze or slate. What are these stones, where did they come … Continue reading

Service Plant Built

The Service Plant and garages located in the Northwest Corner of the Cemetery were built in 1932, by architect Henry L. Kennedy, on the Bird lot previously occupied by the stone crushing plant. The Operations Center, as it is now … Continue reading

Oakes Ames Reinterprets Horticulture Mission

As president of Mount Auburn from 1934 – 1963 and 1967 – 1968, Oakes Ames made horticulture a high priority at the Cemetery once again.  Under Ames the horticulture infrastructure was greatly expanded in the 1930s with six new greenhouses and … Continue reading

Fourth Greenhouse is Built

In 1935, Mount Auburn built six new Lord and Burnham greenhouses on a piece of land that had been purchased Northwest of Willow Pond (between current day Meadow and Field Roads).  The greenhouses encompassed 23,200 square feet, which allowed enough space for the Cemetery … Continue reading

Executive Offices Moved to Mount Auburn Street

Until the 1930s, Mount Auburn’s executive offices were located in Boston. In 1935 the Cemetery decided to close its downtown offices and relocate all administrative functions to the recently designed building just inside its Mount Auburn Street entrance.  The Administration … Continue reading

Chapels Renamed in Honor of Founders

The “old chapel,” having never been properly named, was referred to as the “Chapel” until 1898, after which point it was then referred to as the “Crematory” or “Crematory Chapel.”  In 1936, the Cemetery’s trustees voted to name the old chapel “Bigelow Chapel” … Continue reading

Hurricane of 1938 Damages Cemetery

On September 21, 1938, the first major hurricane to hit New England since 1868 made landfall as a Category 3 storm.  The havoc that it wreaked was extensive and deadly.   It left a trail of damage that could still be seen in … Continue reading

New Columbarium built in Story Chapel

In 1941 a new columbarium was built in the basement of Story Chapel.  The design by Architect John Radford Abbott offered “a dignified and attractive resting place for cremated remains.” (Annual Report, 1941).  The first three alcoves constructed consisted of … Continue reading

The “Lawn” is Renamed

The center of Lawn Avenue, originally referred to as the “Lawn”, was developed by Alexander Wadsworth in the 1850s as an ornamental area that featured showy horticultural displays and an impressive fountain.  In the 1930s, the area was redesigned by landscape … Continue reading

Jefferson Lawn, Governor Bradford & Winthrop Lots Developed in the 1940s

Governor Bradford Lot 8299 Governor Winthrop Lot 8300 Jefferson Lawn Lot 8400 Landscape architect Arthur A. Shurcliff (Lot 6247 Orion Path) designed the Governor Bradford (1949) and Governor Winthrop (1944) lots during the 1940s. Shurcliff, best known for his work as chief landscape … Continue reading

The Meadow is developed

The Cemetery began to purchase land along Grove Street north of Willow Pond beginning in 1921 and completed acquisition of the land known as the Meadow in 1950. Although the southwest corner was not filled by that time there was … Continue reading

Mount Auburn Biographies published

In 1953 Mount Auburn Biographies by Foster W. Russell was published. “With the primary purpose of preserving a convenient record of the accomplishments of over five hundred of the more noted persons who have found lasting repose in the cemetery, … Continue reading

Alice Fountain is Redesigned

Alice Fountain, located on Spruce Avenue, was constructed in 1863 as a memorial to the daughter of Mary Porter Tileston Hemenway. Its original design included granite curbing, a tiled basin with a fountain jet. In 1959, the area was redesigned by Sidney … Continue reading

Gold Medal Awarded

In 1966 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society awarded Mount Auburn Cemetery with a Gold Medal in recognition of  “135 years of horticultural excellence.” Adapted from the 1966 Trustee Minutes

New Pump House and Wells Installed

In 1967, a badly needed upgrade was made to Mount Auburn’s aging water distribution system. Parts of the system, some laid as long ago as 1860, were beginning to fail. The first phase of the upgrade involved the construction of a large brick … Continue reading

Story Chapel Porte-Cochere Removed

The noted architect Willard T. Sears’ original 1896-1898 design of Story Chapel included an elaborate entrance “…through a large door, protected by a porte-cochere, which extends well over the driveway leading to the building from the main entrance to the … Continue reading

Fifth Greenhouse is Built

In 1971, the Cemetery demolished the existing greenhouses to make way for more burial space in conjunction with a smaller greenhouse complex.  Construction of smaller, more efficient greenhouses was started in early spring with the initial site grading.  The caretaker’s house was … Continue reading

Auburn Court Crypts Built

In 1973, the Victorian receiving tomb on Auburn Lake was demolished in order to make room for the newly commissioned Auburn Court Crypts.  The Canadian firm J.C. Milne Company designed the new crypts which were faced in rose granite and nestled … Continue reading

Demolition of Egyptian Cast-iron Perimeter Fence on Mount Auburn Street Halted Due to Public Outcry

On August 5, 1980 half of the circa 1844 cast iron fence along Mount Auburn Street was removed.  A storm of protest followed.  Objections came immediately from the Cambridge Historical Commission, SPNEA (Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), … Continue reading

Duca Sculpture Installed

In 1981, Richard Duca’s untitled abstract sculpture of ductal iron was installed on Willow Pond Knoll between Bigelow Avenue  and Bradlee Road.  The low spiraling walls that now surround it, along with the plantings, were added by designer Julie Messervy … Continue reading

Willow Court Crypts Built

Willow Court Crypts consists of several postmodern but neoclassically inspired community crypt structures with exterior access only for entombment located on the Cemetery’s southern periphery. Sasakai Associates designed the area and J.C. Milne Company began construction in 1984. Willow Court Crypts was dedicated in … Continue reading

Friends of Mount Auburn Established

The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery was established in 1986 to promote the appreciation and preservation of this important cultural and natural resource. In 1990 it was designated as a non-profit educational trust. Since its founding the Friends has provided … Continue reading

Mount Auburn’s Administration Building Restored

In 1990 a major rehabilitation of the Administration Building was completed by Architect Ann Beha.  The Administration Building was designed in 1896 by Willard T. Sears in the “English Perpendicular Style.”  Over the years, it has undergone many changes  to … Continue reading

Willow Pond Relandscaped

In 1992, a major landscaping and replanting initiative developed by the Halvorson Company for the Willow Pond area was implemented to enhance the beauty of the Pond while improving habitat for birds and other wildlife.  A new irrigation system and … Continue reading

Mount Auburn Awarded Gold Medal

At the 1993 The New England Flower Show, hosted by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the Gold Medal was awarded to William C. Clendaniel, President, “for his skill in horticulture and arboriculture, maintaining the highest standards at Mount Auburn Cemetery.”

Vesper Path Developed

The low granite curbed area on the Eastern part of Vesper Path was developed as new interment space in 1994 by Halvorson Co.  A road was removed to create memorialization around the corridor. This area is based on principles from the … Continue reading

Spruce Knoll Developed

Spruce Knoll was completed in 1996 as a woodland garden intended for those who wish to cherish the natural world while at the same time choosing a burial site that will provide perpetual beauty for the living as well as the … Continue reading

April 1 Snowstorm Causes Enormous Tree and Shrub Damage

On April 1, 1997 a cruel April Fools joke was played on the northeast region.  Twenty-five inches of heavy snow damaged and destroyed Mount Auburn’s treasured trees.  An outpouring of financial and moral support from hundreds of visitors, lot owners … Continue reading

Japanese Maples transplanted to Asa Gray Garden

After a large snowstorm in 1997, which caused the destruction of several large ornamental trees as well as damaging other trees and shrubs, Asa Gray Garden needed refurbishment.  An unexpected opportunity, seized by former Mount Auburn president Bill Clendaniel in … Continue reading

Binney Monument Designated A National Treasure

In 1999, the Binney monument, the only realized funerary sculpture by noted American sculptor Thomas Crawford ( c.1813-1857) was designated an “American Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the White House Millennium Committee chaired by Hillary Rodham Clinton.   … Continue reading

Halcyon Garden is developed

Completed in 2001, Halcyon Garden became the Mount Auburn’s newest innovative burial area.  The architectural firm of Reed Hilderbrand Associates received a Design Merit Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2003 for the design of Halcyon Garden.

Cemetery Designated an Important Bird Area

In 2002, Mount Auburn lived up to its reputation as one of the premier spots to witness the spring Gulf migration when it was recognized as one of 79 Important Bird Areas (IBA) in Massachusetts by Mass Audubon.  An IBA is a site that … Continue reading

National Historic Landmark Status Granted

On May 27, 2003 Mount Auburn Cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior, recognizing its importance as one of the country’s most significant designed landscapes. “We are delighted to have received this honor,” said William … Continue reading

Preservation Services Building Constructed

In 2000, the Sawin property was purchased for the purpose of creating a new workspace for the Preservation department.  In 2003, the Preservation Services Building (PSB) was built to house the Preservation workshop, offices and an apartment for a staff person to live on … Continue reading

Nyssa Path is Developed

Nyssa Path was designed by Wellington Reiter of Urban Instruments. This contemporary memorial connects numerous historical elements found within Mount Auburn while providing a modern-day setting for the memory of loved ones.  Evoking other linear landscape installations by contemporary artists, … Continue reading

Feature Films set at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery has been a setting for scenes in several recent feature films including: Gone Baby Gone (2007) Gone Baby Gone is a mystery film directed by Ben Affleck and starring Casey Affleck. It is based on the novel … Continue reading

175th Anniversary

Mount Auburn celebrated its 175th Anniversary with a year-long celebration beginning in September 2006.  Sponsored by the Friends of Mount Auburn, the yearlong 175th anniversary celebration featured public programs that highlighted the Cemetery’s cultural, historic, and natural resources.  A lecture … Continue reading

Bigelow Chapel Restored

In celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery’s 175th anniversary, the Cemetery decided to mark its commitment as stewards of this National Historic Landmark by undertaking the rehabilitation of Bigelow Chapel. Originally constructed in 1846, the chapel is named after Jacob Bigelow, the building’s designer, … Continue reading

Gone Baby Gone scene filmed at Mount Auburn

Mount Auburn Cemetery has been a setting for scenes in several recent feature films including: Gone Baby Gone (2007) Gone Baby Gone is a mystery film directed by Ben Affleck and starring Casey Affleck. It is based on the novel … Continue reading

Washington Tower Wildflower Meadow Created

In 2007, Mount Auburn dedicated more than an acre of land surrounding Washington Tower to establish a wildflower meadow.  This project was part of a comprehensive and ongoing program of improving the natural vegetation and wildlife habitat at Mount Auburn. … Continue reading

Birch Gardens Developed

“A garden woodland weaves through the space, blending classic Mount Auburn forms and surfaces: lawns, shrubs, groves of trees, granite and water… trees herald the entrances to the space and clusters of elegant, spring-flowering amelanchier trees—used for centuries in New … Continue reading

Prince of Wales Beech Tree Removed

In 1860, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) embarked on a three month tour of North America which included a three-day stay in Boston. On Friday, October 19, the Prince visited Mount Auburn where he had the opportunity to … Continue reading

Greenhouses Turn 40 Years Old

This year (2011) our current greenhouses turned 40 years old! On-site greenhouses have long been an important part of Mount Auburn’s operations, starting at a location between Mount Auburn and Brattle Streets.  After several additions at that site, the need … Continue reading

Bowditch Statue Conserved

In 2011 Mount Auburn began conservation treatment on the statue commemorating Nathaniel Bowditch to remove corrosion and clean the bronze; fill in cracks and pits; and to repatinate the sculpture so that it matches its original historic patina. In 1847, the … Continue reading

Rose Window Restoration Begins

Historic restoration of Bigelow Chapel’s Great Rose Window began this week as part of the larger Bigelow Chapel revitalization project. Located over the entrance door to the Chapel, the large window is an important example of early stained glass in … Continue reading

Cemetery reaches 100,000 interments

In March 2017, Mount Auburn Cemetery reached the 100,000 interment milestone. In 1993 the Cemetery published a ground-breaking Master Plan to shape how the Cemetery was managed and developed.  In it was a startling revelation “If the Cemetery continues to … Continue reading

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2017

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide to the Old Burying Ground of Groton, MA

December 30, 2020

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide is a blog hosted by The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery written and researched by Corinne Elicone and Zoë G. Burnett. Our intention for this blog is to rediscover the out of the way and obscure graveyards that surround us, as well as to uncover new histories among the more well-trod grounds of prominent burial places. With this blog as a guide, visitors can experience cemeteries in a new way. As important landmarks of cultural heritage, our hope is that interest in these quiet places will help to preserve and educate us about our past and, ultimately, everyone’s shared future.

OLD BURYING GROUND | GROTON, MA (1678)

Just off the main road going through Groton’s historic town center is the Old Burying Ground, where its citizens were buried since 1678, a period from which wooden markers sadly do not survive. In 1694, twenty colonists that perished during an Abeknaki raid on Groton were also interred somewhere in the four acres of hilly, bumpy land that now hosts about three thousand mortal remains.

The earliest death date is 1704, belonging to blacksmith James Prescott (b. 1684) on a stone so repaired and small that it’s quite easy to miss. Please note that a permit is required for grave rubbings, and the uneven ground is perilous to those prone to twisted ankles.

Mary Prescott

The graveyard is, in truth, a veritable candy shop for strange kids who love gravestones. Every socioeconomic class is present in abundance, with so many different types of decoration clustered together, it can at first be difficult to know where to look. Many early examples of the Worcester family style survive, including large format stones nearly two feet tall. Indeed, many examples of tall stones endure, including a four foot tall double headstone of John and Hannah Holdin, both of whom died in 1753. This example is festooned with winged hourglasses, skulls and crossbones, and many figural hearts.

More delicate designs survive alongside their hard, menacing forebears. The stone of Joshua Richardson (1772 – 1773) shows the skillful rendering of a charming bird and willow tree, and the swag of John Sheple (1757 – 1809) bears the interestingly abbreviated inscription, “MemeoMori.”

Masonic iconography appears, as do wistful cherubim with painstakingly fine feathers that are often flanked by deep-socketed skulls and crossbones.

The gigantic stone of Colonel John Bulkley (1703 – 1772) accommodates his long epitaph, which is in good company amongst other Harvard alumni and prominent citizens. His remains rest  atop one of the graveyard’s highest points, as though placing himself above the bones of others would make him any less dead.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Z.G. Burnett is a writer and editor with a background in early American history and material culture. She has been published by The Attic on Eighth, Ivy-Style, and The Vintage Woman Magazine. Combining her passion for the paranormal and everything pink, Z.G. is currently working on her first personal style guide.

If you are a representative of a cemetery or a cemetery historian and would like to see your cemetery featured in this blog please email Corinne Elicone at celicone@mountauburn.org

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide to Life Forest Conservation Cemetery

December 17, 2020

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide is a blog hosted by The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery written and researched by Corinne Elicone and Zoë G. Burnett. Our intention for this blog is to rediscover the out of the way and obscure graveyards that surround us, as well as to uncover new histories among the more well-trod grounds of prominent burial places. With this blog as a guide, visitors can experience cemeteries in a new way. As important landmarks of cultural heritage, our hope is that interest in these quiet places will help to preserve and educate us about our past and, ultimately, everyone’s shared future.

LIFE FOREST | HILLSBOROUGH, NH (2020)

Reader, today we have something a little different for you. Over the course of this blog series we’ve explored historic Puritan and Colonial burial grounds with stark slate tombstones as well as the sentimental garden cemeteries of the Victorian era with elegant marble monuments. Our introduction page for the blog gives a little primer on the history of New England burial grounds and their unique evolution from colonial to victorian to the 20th century. Just as Mount Auburn rose to the occasion of solving both the philosophical and logistical issues of burying the dead in the early 1800s, some new cemeteries created in the past 20 years are solving our newer problems; mainly climate change and the lack of autonomy many feel when a loved one dies. With the rise of natural burial and cremation, we are witnessing another evolution in how our mortal remains are laid to rest: conservation cemeteries, high tech urban towers of columbaria, and even entirely new processes like aquamation and recomposition. It truly is quite a time to be alive (or dead).

Today we’re exploring a cemetery that’s about as new as you can get. Life Forest Cemetery in Hillsborough, New Hampshire started burying in April of 2020 and is a new type of cemetery– a conservation cemetery that inters cremated remains beneath a tree of your choice. In short, conservation cemeteries solve a relatively new problem with new ideas: how can we protect conservation land from development? How can we fund this protection? Well, you can bury people there! The deeds of the burials are a private agreement to restrict the use/development of the land, and the money made from selling burial space goes directly to the upkeep of the land, just like a regular cemetery. But generally, these conservation cemeteries also aim to remedy a spiritual disconnection as well; how we remember our loved ones should be more than just a thought in passing in the days or years after their death. Sadly, for many, our relationship to them stops growing after their funeral. It’s clear to me upon arriving at Life Forest that this dedication to growth is the priority: whether it’s the baby tree “monuments” just out of the nursery or the evidence of visitors walking the trails leaving little stone towers–mementos to their loved ones.

Mel Bennett, one of the co-founders of Life Forest, and my tour guide for the day tells me the story of a young woman who purchased a plot at the cemetery, despite hopefully not needing to use it for many years. She brings her young daughter there to picnic, go on hikes, play in the stream–building a connection to this land where one day she will be buried. She hopes that when the day comes that she dies, her daughter will be comforted by the fond memories of her at Life Forest and that she will visit her often–filled with a heart-warming nostalgia instead of a weighty grief. Throughout the 20th century cemeteries have become delegated spaces for sadness that exist in a vacuum. They are where one visits on the worst days of one’s life and rarely at any other time. In general, cemetery visitation is at an all time low. The associations of tragedy, guilt, and grief are difficult to overcome and are the reasons why many feel so uncomfortable visiting cemeteries – Mel herself being one of those people. Could we socialize a more positive relationship with death? Can we foster cemeteries as places for living as much as for the dead? Many cultures have proven this to be possible, and at Life Forest in New Hampshire it begins with a tree. 

Mel Bennett Co-Founder of Life Forest

THE PROCESS

I know I should be practicing what I preach, but the reality is it is extremely difficult to cultivate a positive relationship with death. Even being in the business myself didn’t save me from the emotional rollercoaster that is grief. A few years ago I lost my aunt, Juliette to cancer. Our relationship had been rocky the past few years and I hadn’t spoken to her much due to a political disagreement, which appears unbelievably petty to me now–of course any dispute that ends in an unfriending on Facebook is bound to be. But for all my life we had been extremely close. She was a painter and a piano player, and was the biggest supporter of my music. She was the one who taught me how to read chords and play from my first Beatles sheet music, she was the person I would watch the Wizard of Oz twice in a row with, the person who would take me to vintage stores to model those elegant 1940s hats.  

My Aunt “Julie”

I was with her in the hospital as she was dying, which (despite the cancer) was a rather sudden and steep decline that took us by surprise. For me, first came the anger, mostly at myself. And then the deep existential sadness that comes with the loss of an artist compounded by the loss of their art. It was too much, so I did what most people do and built a wall. I’m ashamed to admit it, but writing this is the most thinking I’ve done on the topic since she died. No matter which way you cut it, being aware of unhealthy relationships with death doesn’t save you from one. That requires work. My story is not unlike the ones our clients visit us with at Mount Auburn, and it’s not unlike the ones that Mel encounters at Life Forest either.

Mel had sent me an email suggesting that we take a first person approach for the tour of Life Forest. In other words, I select a loved one that I’ve lost that I would like “buried” at Life Forest and Mel will take me through the motions that all of her families go through. Although it took a little courage, I selected my aunt Juliette who had told me she wanted a conservation burial but never received one. I sent Mel some information, and was off to New Hampshire the next day to begin the process.

THE TREE

Clients at Life Forest Cemetery start their journey by choosing a tree just like a family would choose a stone monument. Life Forest has the pleasure of partnering with Darrin and Kim Black of StoneFalls Gardens in Henniker, New Hampshire as the supplier of trees. It’s late November so the leaves and flowers are all gone, but I relish the New England woods in the fall and the beautiful architecture of all the tree branches. StoneFalls Gardens is preparing for winter, and it’s clear they take their operation as stewards of the environment very seriously. I stand with Darrin and Mel in front of three piles of dirt probably as large as my house, this is StoneFalls Gardens’ compost area. Darrin collects the compost from the community, as well as from the brush on his own grounds and uses a rotating system to age the compost and then filter it. He’s created a self-sustaining process as he’s able to grow all of his plants using his own compost that he creates every year.     

Compost Piles

I meandered around the nursery with the trio of my guides waiting at the top of the hill, patiently giving me space while I made my choice. Gentle, kind, and knowledgeable are the words that come to mind to describe the StoneFalls Gardens crew. They truly possess the demeanor required to comfort grief-stricken families, as they open up their nursery to receive individuals as they navigate this deeply emotional choice. I “selected” a dogwood tree for my aunt, I know she would appreciate the early spring flowers and could easily imagine them appearing in one of her paintings.

THE LAND

Life Forest is located on land that had been cleared by a logging company in the past and has a number of little alcoves where clients can select their locations. Life Forest land hosts a conservation easement from the Hillsborough Conservation Commission, who’s walking trails are located all around the burial area. Having just started out, Mel makes it clear to me that the landscape is still very much a work in progress. She and her co-founder John are often clearing brush, forging paths, and removing tree stumps– remnants from the loggers. 

Stone circles surround mulched saplings that dot the cleared area of Life Forest. Tiny metal markers created by a local artist denote family names and dates for each plot. Life Forest has even invented a way to inter cremated remains without jeopardizing the tree’s roots for future burials. When a plot is purchased the owners are given GPS Coordinates to the site of the grave, as well as a QR Code to an online memorial page for a lost loved one. There families can upload pictures, videos, and type stories to populate the page. This is what the cemeteries of the future will look like.

MEMENTOS

Upon hopping out of the car on Life Forest’s grounds Mel hands me a bag. Inside is a painted rock of a sunset (or sunrise) with a music staff. Mel’s daughter had painted the rock for me to honor my aunt. A small, but immensely meaningful tribute from someone who has never met me but recognizes the importance of losing someone. I place the stone on a nearby boulder that Mel says will eventually become a memory wall for visitors.

Also in the bag a locket with the Life Forest tree on it. Inside is a small scroll with sheet music of Blackbird by the Beatles.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night

Take these broken wings and learn to fly

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Despite being brand new and navigating the uncertain waters of the pandemic, Life Forest has already demonstrated they excel at the most important part of being a cemetery-keeper: holding the space and holding the bereaved.

A big thank you to Darrin and Kim Black of StoneFalls Gardens and Mel Bennett, her wonderful family, and the rest of the Life Forest team for making me feel so welcome miles away from home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Corinne Elicone is the Events & Outreach Coordinator at Mount Auburn Cemetery. She curates Mount Auburn’s “death positive” programming, online video content, and historic walking tours of the grounds. She is also Mount Auburn’s first female crematory operator in their near 190 year history.

If you are a representative of a cemetery or a cemetery historian and would like to see your cemetery featured in this blog please email Corinne Elicone at celicone@mountauburn.org

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide to Walton Cemetery in Pepperell, Massachusetts

December 7, 2020

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide is a blog hosted by The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery written and researched by Corinne Elicone and Zoë G. Burnett. Our intention for this blog is to rediscover the out of the way and obscure graveyards that surround us, as well as to uncover new histories among the more well-trod grounds of prominent burial places. With this blog as a guide, visitors can experience cemeteries in a new way. As important landmarks of cultural heritage, our hope is that interest in these quiet places will help to preserve and educate us about our past and, ultimately, everyone’s shared future.

WALTON CEMETERY | PEPPERELL, MA (1746)

Next to the expanded Pepperell Cemetery is the first burial ground of Pepperell, Massachusetts, known as Walton Cemetery. North of the original Parish Meetinghouse, facing private homes from the period and the local Odd Fellows’ Lodge, it was established in 1746 with the earliest death date in 1750. Just off the main road, on a quiet day it’s possible to imagine how the town used to look, freed of telephone wires and traffic lights.

Familiar surnames such as Shattuck and the ubiquitous Blood family can be found amongst the graves, with lunette styles varying often in the same decade. The earliest graves show fearsome skulls with eye sockets bored deep, and soon ornate winged skulls give way to infant-like craniums flanked with crossbones and odd, swaddled faces. Many are ornate, bearing references to citizens who had relocated from Boston and its environs.

Andrew Kull noted the “vogue for the graphic description of accidental death” in his Collector’s Guide (1975), including Deacon David Blood, “who was struck dead in the 70th year of his age, by an overturn of his cart” in 1787. Kull did not mention or did not notice, which is easy enough to do amongst moss and deterioration, the stone of Blood’s son Jonathan. In 1763, he “received a Wound by a Cart Wheels going over him at Concord… of which he died in a few hours in the 21st year of his age.” Not an odd coincidence or uncommon occurrence for the time, but still sad.

“Here lies the Body of Jonathan Blood the Son of Deacon David and Mrs. Abigail Blood who received a Wound by a Cart Wheels going over him at Concord July 10th 1763 of which he died in a few Hours in the 21st Year of his age.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Z.G. Burnett is a writer and editor with a background in early American history and material culture. She has been published by The Attic on Eighth, Ivy-Style, and The Vintage Woman Magazine. Combining her passion for the paranormal and everything pink, Z.G. is currently working on her first personal style guide.

If you are a representative of a cemetery or a cemetery historian and would like to see your cemetery featured in this blog please email Corinne Elicone at celicone@mountauburn.org

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide to Rumney Marsh Burial Ground Revere, MA

November 23, 2020

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide is a blog hosted by The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery written and researched by Corinne Elicone and Zoë G. Burnett. Our intention for this blog is to rediscover the out of the way and obscure graveyards that surround us, as well as to uncover new histories among the more well-trod grounds of prominent burial places. With this blog as a guide, visitors can experience cemeteries in a new way. As important landmarks of cultural heritage, our hope is that interest in these quiet places will help to preserve and educate us about our past and, ultimately, everyone’s shared future.

RUMNEY MARSH BURIAL GROUND | REVERE, MA (1693)

Revere Massachusetts, often overlooked by the metropolis of Boston, has a removed nostalgic flavor for me – An area important to my upbringing, that I seldom visited. My grandmother grew up working class in Everett (the town that borders Revere) in the 50’s with her Swedish mother– both of them tough as nails through and through. When my grandmother married and had kids of her own, and then her kids had kids, well, that’s where I come into the picture. Far removed from her stories of the suburbs (if you can call it that) of East Boston, but captivated by her descriptions of 50’s highschool fashion, the corner stores, the rivalry between Somerville, and (most disappointingly) the sewing kit neatly hidden in a tin of Danish cookies –regrettably a phenomenon that appears to be universal across generations. One of the only times in my memory that I can recall actually laying my eyes on these locations of legend, I was driving through Everett and Revere with her soon after my grandfather died. I was 19. She pointed out everything as we drove by, “there’s the dry-cleaning place my mother used to send me”, “I met your grandfather on that beach” pointing to Revere Beach dotted with sandcastles. We were on our way to Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett to purchase a plot for my grandfather who passed away suddenly just days before. I could tell it was emotional for her driving through these old neighborhoods–so much of it exactly how she left it, but a lifetime and a life-ended in between. 

I mention this story because upon arriving at the Rumney Marsh Burial Ground it is immediately clear to me that this cemetery has been and continues to be the object of genuine care and affection from the Revere community. Between the friendly abutters waving at me as I trudge through the burial ground with my camera and the newly installed memorial bench, plaque, and entry sign, – a glimpse of the community that I had been so far removed from comes into clearer focus.

I introduce myself to Brendan O’Brien, in that kind of awkward way that the pandemic has everyone enduring: standing 10 feet away, muffled by a KN95 mask, and noticeably lacking in a handshake and a visible smile. O’Brien got in touch with me via email after being a reader of this blog series, generously hoping to share this little colonial burial ground with me. As I understand it, O’Brien is part of a larger group of stewards of this place called The Rumney Marsh Burial Ground Renovation Committee. With a background in preservation and a flair for history O’Brien begins his tour, something it’s very clear he missed hosting during the pandemic.

Rumney Marsh’s first recorded burial was in 1693. William Hasey, not the recipient of the first burial, but owner of the oldest remaining gravestone, also owned the land at the time of Rumney Marsh’s founding as a burial ground. The Hasey family became concerned for their legacy when a smallpox outbreak in the 1690’s prohibited the return of infected corpses to Boston for burial. Anyone discovered in a plot to sneak a body into Boston would be fined 5 pounds. In response to this new policy, the Hasey’s set aside some of their land for a new burial ground that became Rumney Marsh officially in the 1740s. Boasting notable figures from Revere, East Boston, Chelsea, and Winthrop (amongst others) Rumney Marsh is the connection point of the community’s earliest settlers, up until its last burial in 1929. 

Lewis Bullard was the last burial in Rumney Marsh (1929)

Why did the burial ground close in the 20s? Was it full?” I asked O’Brien, who was quick to point out that burial tastes had changed-even long before the 20th century. With the creation of Woodlawn in Everett and even Mount Auburn in Cambridge these colonial burial grounds had gone out of style. “Even in the late 1800’s burials here were rare.” He said. O’Brien tells me that he came across a hidden gem when researching the burials here. The Rosetta Stone of Rumney Marsh (if you will) is an 1897 map of the grounds (currently rolled up in a closet of a Boston archive) with inexplicable specificity on who is buried where in the cemetery–marked or unmarked. O’Brien and the committee have sought to digitize this map for quite some time, but have had trouble getting their hands on it. “Based on the 1897 map” he says, “it doesn’t appear as though Rumney Marsh is completely full”. Also a rarity when it comes to burial grounds this old, Rumney Marsh doesn’t appear to have been rearranged over the years. 

Along the north wall by the entrance to the burial ground are two recently installed plaques to commemorate the enslaved and free men, women, and children who are buried in unmarked graves beneath. “Never forget that they were human beings who contributed to our community’s history”, the plaque reads.

According to research done by the committee, a 1938 book called “The History of Revere” by Benjamin Shurtleff indicated that three Black individuals, two free: Job and Betty Worrow and one enslaved: Fanny Fairweather are actually buried in the south-east corner of the burial ground, and not with the others by the entrance to the cemetery.

The Resting Place of Job and Betty Worrow and Fanny Fairweather (unmarked)

Shurtleff’s book alludes to the fact that Fairweather’s monument is long gone at the time of the writing his book. Shurtleff goes even further to say that the inscription on Fairweather’s monument read “ Fanny Fairweather, died 1845, age 80, a native of Africa.” How Shurtleff would have any idea what is inscribed on a disappeared stone is still in question. 

Of all the Black individuals buried at Rumney Marsh, the most information exists on Job Worrow, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Worrow served under Captain Samuel Sprague (also buried at Rumney Marsh) at Pullen Point in Winthrop. Early in his life Worrow lived on Deer Island, later he would move to Shirley with his wife, Anna Sennie who was half Black and half Indigenous. It is recorded that he died in a poorhouse in Chelsea at 100 years old. 

ICONOGRAPHY

At Rumney Marsh there are many great examples of work by the early New England stone carvers such as Robert Fowle and Richard Adams, but what stood out to me most of all was the charming little imps accompanying many a winged skull on numerous stones. Too small to catch from afar, I hadn’t even noticed them until O’Brien pointed them out to me: rotund and surreptitiously holding banners sculpted in stone.

Little precious details appear to be the reward of curious cemetery sleuths meandering the grounds at Rumney Marsh: tiny skulls, little imps, mysterious circles, a broken stem of a flower, it left me wondering what else I hadn’t captured on my short 40 minute stint there.

The most in-your-face monument I encountered was a rather striking stone with an individual portrayed as a portrait bust sculpture, smiling innocently. Unbeknownst to the smiling subject of art-within-art… there is a skeleton aiming directly at their head with a massive arrow. I mean, the questions I have are endless. Are we team skeleton? Why is it flashing me that Mona Lisa smile? Is this really a meta-commentary on the clash between colonial and neoclassical art? Probably.

PRESERVATION

Just like most New England colonial burial grounds, Rumney Marsh struggles against the tides of time and the disintegration of its precious gravestones. Trees and their roots make worthy adversaries as preservationists wrestle the stones out of tree trunks in an attempt to save them from a certain, woody demise.  

Additionally, cordoned off by the entrance to the burial ground are fragments of stones found by O’Brien and other volunteers awaiting preservation. O’Brien told me that he found three fragments of the same stone scattered across the entire cemetery–how one broken stone was able to cover that amount of ground is a mystery to us both.

A big thank you to Brendan O’Brien and the whole Rumney Marsh Burial Ground Renovation Committee for inviting me to cherish this plot of land. I hope to stop by often when visiting my grandfather at Woodlawn Cemetery. 

Make sure to check out the RMBGRC’s website for more information on notable burials and other topics here: http://rmbgrc.org/ and follow their amazing work on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rumney_marsh_burial_ground/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Corinne Elicone is the Events & Outreach Coordinator at Mount Auburn Cemetery. She curates Mount Auburn’s “death positive” programming, online video content, and historic walking tours of the grounds. She is also Mount Auburn’s first female crematory operator in their near 190 year history.

If you are a representative of a cemetery or a cemetery historian and would like to see your cemetery featured in this blog please email Corinne Elicone at celicone@mountauburn.org