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

1831
2017

Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide to Burial Hill Plymouth, MA

October 1, 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.

BURIAL HILL | PLYMOUTH, MA (1622)

COLE’S HILL & BURIAL HILL

It’s 1620, and a group of religious English radicals arrive on the shores of the New World in a small, smelly, wooden floating world. Or at least, it’s new to them. Having first docked across the bay in what would be known as Provincetown, now the LGBTQ+ capital of New England, these pilgrims of the Mayflower had finally arrived to create their own community as was foreseen and blessed by God. Or at least, according to them. The actual site of their landing in the harbor isn’t known for sure, and the sheltered monument commemorating the event was placed there 121 years later. Of the 102 passengers, only forty-five survived the first winter in their newly-christened Plymouth colony. The bodies were buried across the street from where Plymouth Rock stands in Cole’s Hill, now Pilgrim Memorial State Park,  a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Burials may have continued until 1637, approximately when Burial Hill was established on higher ground. The steep geography of Cole’s Hill made it untenable as a burial site; by 1735, erosion and weather exposed many graves, and their bones were lost to the sea. More grave sites would be discovered throughout the years as Plymouth developed into a bustling, modern town. Most of these remains were eventually housed in a monumental granite sarcophagus on Cole’s Hill, after some were interred in Burial Hill, disinterred to be placed in a (now-demolished) monument that once housed Plymouth Rock, then interred again, in a rather macabre game of musical tombs. Others were just handed over to existing relatives in the late nineteenth century, and their final resting places require more research. 

Burial Hill is perhaps not what those arriving in Plymouth from other parts of the world may expect when visiting one of the first major European settlements in North America. Set overlooking Plymouth harbor and its downtown area, Burial Hill is neither a common graveyard nor a grand garden cemetery. It’s not even hallowed ground. Plymouth’s first fort and meetinghouse were constructed atop the highest elevation point, and many of the colony’s settlers who survived are buried around the meetinghouse’s site, the brick fragments of the structure still emerge.

As facing east towards Jerusalem wasn’t required in a Puritan graveyard, the markers point in every direction, creating haphazard clusters of history containing many names of mythic proportion in the American ethos. William Bradford (1590 – 1657), one of the colony’s first governors and author of Of Plymouth Plantation (c. 1630 – 1651), is buried beneath a modest granite obelisk; Mary Allerton Cushman (1616 – 1699), the last surviving Mayflower passenger, lies somewhere beneath another, massive obelisk erected  by her descendants. The illustrious Warrens of Revolutionary War fame share the earth with the lesser known but no less dramatic Dr. Francis LeBaron (1668 – 1704) and his descendants. LeBaron, a French captive who became one of Plymouth’s first practicing surgeons, later died in a knife fight at a local alehouse. 


In addition to the visible stones that dot the landscape of Burial Hill there are also unmarked  mass graves located in the rear of the cemetery, toward which many other stones have slid due to erosion. There is some debate as to whether or not these pits contain remains of victims related to the General Arnold shipwreck tragedy of 1778.

It is known that Captain James Magee (1750 – 1801), commander of the ship, is not interred directly beneath the monument that bears his name. Having not perished with his crew, Magee is most likely buried in Roxbury, where he died at the age of 51. There is currently an initiative underway to provide a memorial for the nameless resting therein. Generations of Plymouth residents populate Burial Hill, with an estimated two thousand registered souls buried in its depths up until 1957.

PORTRAIT STONES

Many of us who are used to the stark, cramped, uncouth style of old New England burial grounds will find an interesting foil in Burial Hill. Surely enough, the repeated motifs are there along with families of stones obviously carved by the same person and perhaps selected by the customer out of a line-up of options. However, within these predictable boundaries, there is a creative and colorful undercurrent present throughout Burial Hill that provides evidence of a sentimentality surrounding death that has long since been lost on our culture. There is perhaps no finer example of this than Burial Hill’s large and diverse collection of portrait stones. 

Portrait Stones rose in popularity during the 18th century, and you can even find a few of them in Mount Auburn: Margaret Fuller’s grave is one of them. While easily overlooked pieces of ephemera, portrait stones offer a touching connection to the unfamiliar populations of a distant past. People who perhaps had no other physical representation of their appearances throughout their lives, may have a rudimentary portrait of themselves above their eternal resting place. The word “may” is used in the last sentence because, while occasionally portrait stones had some resemblance to the physical appearance of the subject, much of the time they did not. Instead, portrait stones were created to represent a vague idea of the individual buried. Were they a woman or a man? Adult or child? Answering these questions with a portrait gives us deeper insight into the identities of the deceased than an angel with wings or a skull and crossbones would, however, to call it a portrait in the artistic sense of the word would be an overstatement on the specificity that portrait stones offer. It is common to see portrait stones throughout New England seemingly depicting the same exact person with the same facial structure, same hair, same heart locket. This phenomenon can be explained by the demand and convenience of consistency among the stone-carvers of early New England.

BLACK & INDIGENOUS BURIALS

Up until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s it was common, especially in the southern United States to encounter cemeteries segregated by race and/or religion. Even now, consecrated ground can be exclusive to the specific congregation or religious denomination that oversees it. As mentioned above, Burial Hill in Plymouth is not consecrated by any one religion, and as an area of land, served more of a practical purpose as a place to cordon off the dead, than a statement on the hallowedness and sanctity of the ground itself. Early colonial settlers did not always have the luxury of choosing a time and a place when it came to handling the bodies of their community members. All of this is to say that sometimes racial animosity and structural racism did not prohibit the burial of Black or Indigenous people into majority-white Christian burial grounds. 

According to Cheryle Caputo of Friends of Burial Hill they know for certain that the Indigenous populations in and around Plymouth were sometimes buried in Burial Hill by white settlers. However, there is no record of any monument or location where they were buried. Burial Hill itself is located on Pauquunaukit (Wampanoag) Land, as is the rest of Plymouth. Caputo also notes that there are monuments for only two known Black people in Burial Hill. Likely, there are far more, but their locations and identities are lost to history. 

One of the two known Black people buried in Burial Hill is Charles B. Allen, a veteran of the Civil War and a member of the 5th Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry, which was the only Massachusetts cavalry regiment composed entirely of Black men. The regiment had early success in its efforts stationed around Washington D.C. sustaining no losses until June of 1864, where they ran into confederate troops at Baylor’s Farm on their way to Petersburg, Virginia. In the fight, three men were killed and nineteen officers and other men were injured. Eventually, the Massachusetts 5th was able to push the confederate soldiers to retreat. Allen survived the war and served in the regiment from 1863 to 1865 with distinction. 

Charles B. Allen’s Monument

The second known Black person buried in Burial Hill is located right across the path from Charles Allen. Her tombstone reads: “In memory of Nancy Williams a faithful (African) servant in the family of Rev. F. Freeman. Died Nov. 24 1831 Aged 25 years.” In our (very) cursory searches we have not been able to find any information on Williams’ life, but with poignancy, we do note her date of death is exactly 2 months after the consecration of Mount Auburn Cemetery on September 24th 1831.

Nancy Williams’ Monument

CONSERVATION

A special thanks to Cheryle Caputo, founder of Gravestone Conservation Services, Inc. and President of Friends of Burial Hill, who kindly gave us a guided tour of the graveyard on a chilly Autumn afternoon. GCSI and FoBH offer many cemetery preservation services, including but not limited to grave marker cleaning, repair, and resetting. We were delighted to hear about their subterranean findings using GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar), even more so to see the stunning transformations of Burial Hill’s ancient stones performed by Cheryle and other trained volunteers since 2010. Their Gravestone Surveys are particularly fascinating reading. We’re excited to participate in their next round of workshops, and look forward to future collaborations!

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

Introducing “Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide” Blog Series by Corinne Elicone and Zoë G. Burnett

October 1, 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. Inspired by Andrew Kull’s New England Cemeteries; a Collector’s Guide, 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. We began during a pandemic, when the need to social distance while experiencing the outdoors was (and still is) crucial. With this blog as a guide, visitors can experience cemeteries in a new way, perhaps learning something new about the roadside bone garden in their hometown or planning a roadtrip to other sites in the area. 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.

NEW ENGLAND CEMETERIES – A PRIMER

Mount Auburn, as old and foundational as it appears to us today, was actually formed in contrast to an even older era of burial grounds. Colonial Burial Grounds of the 17th and 18th centuries, similarly to Mount Auburn, had their own style, their own missions, and their own problems. When European settlers first landed in the New World in the early 1600s burial grounds were not sentimental places. In fact, the Pilgrims took little care to even mark the graves of the deceased, and it wasn’t until the 1650s that stone markers for graves would become the norm. Death in the time where Calvinism was the dominant religious belief amongst European settlers was a rather hopeless situation. The fate of your soul in the afterlife had already been pre-determined at birth. There was nothing that you or your family could do to change your fate, including having proper christian burial services and erecting a monument to your memory. It was simply superfluous. But yet, stone monuments did become common sights in New England Burial Grounds from the 1650’s until today.

EVOLUTION OF GRAVESTONE ICONOGRAPHY

In the later half of the 1600’s through the 1700’s Memento Mori would reign supreme in New England burial grounds pocked with slate tombstones. In Boston, The Granary and King’s Chapel burying grounds became gruesome and terrifying sights as they were filled to the brim with more and more dead New Englanders. In the early 1800s, concerned with the growing hazard of fetid “miasmas” wafting through the air from these sites of mass death and suffering, a group of amateur horticulturalists desperately sought a way out of this grim and detached tradition. Their proposed solution would become the meticulously manicured, delicate, and sentimental garden cemetery named Mount Auburn – placed deliberately away from the claustrophobia of industrializing Boston in the natural rolling farmlands of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To understand Mount Auburn Cemetery is to understand what came before it. To interpret the landscape as a deliberate response to the aching so many felt for collective mourning, remembrance, and preservation of legacy, not only as a rapidly developing new nation, but also as people rapidly developing medical science, and philosophical identities where death and grief did not have to be relegated to pits of mass despair.

We hope throughout this series you learn about the burial grounds that inspired Mount Auburn and even (in some cases) the burial grounds that were inspired by it.

BLOG POSTS

Check this page every so often for new entries!

A NOTE ON CEMETERY ETIQUETTE

Mount Auburn as the landmark and organization it is, has very clear expectations of the behavior of its visitors. There are no dogs allowed in the cemetery, no bike riding or picnicking, no climbing the trees, no touching the monuments – the list goes on. This is to say that some of the burial grounds we will explore in this series do not have clear guidelines for you and your friends and family to adhere to. However, this does not mean that all activities should be fair game. Burial Grounds, Cemeteries (ancient or new) are places of memory and emotion, unspeakable loss and tragedy and are, on-the-whole, fragile outdoor museums. If you decide to bring your dog to these places, please also think of where the dog will do its business, and whether that will be on someone’s grave – marked or unmarked. If you decide to bring a picnic, please carry in and carry out. If you decide to climb the trees also realize that if a branch breaks, you could not only hurt yourself, but also irrevocably damage a 400 year old stone that remains the only physical manifestation left of a person who lived and died centuries ago. This all being said, some cemeteries and burial grounds do have posted rules and guidelines. Be sure to check on their website or look around for a posted sign when you arrive. 

Many of the burial grounds we plan to feature will also be in more remote, rural areas. These sites are no less precious than their more prestigious peers, and should be treated just as delicately if not more so. You might be the first person in months to visit, and often that shows. Vandalism and litter are sad but common sights, dilapidated stones even more so. If the gates of a graveyard are locked, then visiting hours are indeed over. Fence-hopping is not only dangerous for you and the stones, but is also likely to get you in trouble for trespassing if spotted. Many cemeteries prohibit the practice of stone rubbing, Mount Auburn included, and in places that are less well-kept you must use your own best judgement. Although a harmless activity when done properly on an undamaged stone, it takes only seconds for the paper to tear and get wax on the stone, or even for the stone itself to break off. Markers covered in lichen or made of flaking slate should be avoided. Photography is an easy alternative in these cases, and upon later review you may find even more details that you hadn’t initially seen. Even in the tranquility of these places, you must also be aware and vigilant of your surroundings. Bring a friend along, or at least let someone know your activities and whereabouts for the day. There are many safe, fun ways to engage with these cultural landmarks. All that’s needed is curiosity, a bit of common sense, and sometimes a strong stomach.

Happy Exploring!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

CORINNE ELICONE

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.

ZOË G. BURNETT

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 series please email Corinne Elicone at celicone@mountauburn.org

A Bit of Ancient Europe, by Way of Vermont

January 27, 2019

By Volunteer Docent Robin Hazard Ray

In any season of the year, the serpent-green pillar mounted on the Bridge family lot at the corner of Fir and Spruce Avenues stands out. In summer, it towers over with the pale marble headstones of its neighbors. In winter, it provides a splendid color contrast to the snow and ice on the ground. Its unusual hue ranges from a dark pine green at the top, which is shaped in imitation of an urn, to a paler sea green toward the base.

Close examination of the pillar reveals it to be made from a rather messy metamorphic stone. Swirls of green serpentinite are shot through with white veins; this handsome combination is broken into chunks that swim in a finer gray-green matrix along with half-melted blobs of pale pinkish calcite. Here and there are flakes of a black mineral, identified as magnetite. This kind of rock is called “breccia” (Italian for “broken”) or breccia-conglomerate; breccias, which may be green, yellow, gray, or multicolored, are prized in the stone trade for their rough beauty and range of colors and textures. (more…)

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

September 1, 2018
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 Willard T. Sears was enlisted to design a plan to renovate the interior of the old chapel (now Bigelow Chapel) to accommodate a crematory, and “only the outer granite structure which it was deemed desirable to retain on account of its associations was preserved.

In 1899, the interior of the old chapel was renovated to accommodate the first crematory in a cemetery in Massachusetts. (The first cremation in Massachusetts – that of the well-known suffragist and social reformer, Lucy Blackwell Stone – took place in December of 1893 at a facility operated by the Massachusetts Cremation Society.) A basement was constructed and the floor was raised. Additionally, an elevator in front of the alter area was installed for lowering caskets to the retorts below. (more…)