Category: Preservation

Support Preservation at Mount Auburn

May 17, 2022

The William C. Clendaniel Preservation Fund supports the specialized care that keeps our unique collections in good condition for years to come.

Mount Auburn Cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark because of its exceptional historic landscape, which consists of both plants and built objects. When you visit, you are surrounded not only by nature but by the evolving history of funerary art in America – monuments, fences, stained glass, and other decorative items that families have chosen to remember their loved ones or that decorate our landscape and buildings.

Mount Auburn’s monuments feature the work of some of our country’s finest 19th-century sculptors, including Horatio Greenough, Edmonia Lewis, and Thomas Crawford. The stained glass in each of the chapels is the work of both Scottish and American craftsmen. More recent monuments reflect the work of contemporary artists and reflect the broadening demographics of the nation. Archival materials help tell the story of how these works of art were created. Taken together, all these elements document changes in commemorative art over the years, with evocative designs and inscriptions that help tell the stories of our residents and our national history. Made of marble, granite, slate, and even glass, this diverse collection is an essential part of our landscape’s beauty, educational value, and historical significance.

Because it is located outdoors, this collection of funerary art requires constant and specialized preservation to survive years of exposure to the elements. Acid rain and snow have already diminished many important details of marble monuments in particular, and high-level care is essential to protect all these items for future visitors.

To ensure that the Cemetery has the resources for this enormous but vital task, we have established the William C. Clendaniel Preservation Fund to support critical preservation work across the Cemetery. This endowed fund honors President Emeritus William C. (Bill) Clendaniel, who served as Mount Auburn’s President from 1988 until 2008.

Man in front of large window
Bill Clendaniel

Bill was a passionate advocate for preservation throughout his tenure. He recognized early on that Mount Auburn’s past approach of simply focusing on routine maintenance was not sufficient for the specialized needs of our collections. With that in mind, he worked to establish new policies that made preservation an essential part of the Cemetery’s mission, and increased the professionalism of the staff – as well as the budget – in the preservation department. His contributions continue to be felt throughout our landscape today.

Your gift to the William C. Clendaniel Preservation Fund gives our staff the resources they need to care for this vital collection for generations to come.

Our skilled preservation staff re-set, wash, repair, and repoint thousands of monuments and fences.

Our Curator of Historical Collections & Archives researches, provides documentation, and recommends preservation priorities.

Consulting sculpture conservators offer advanced expertise to preserve some of our most significant monuments.

Make a Gift Today!

Learn more about recent preservation highlights.

Whitney Monument, 2020

Fagnani Monument, 2020

Gardner Mausoleum, 2017 – 2020

Coppenhagen Monument, 2017

Harnden Monument, 2016

Learn more about Bill’s tenure at Mount Auburn.

Help us Preserve the Scots’ Charitable Fence

January 3, 2022

Mount Auburn has received a challenge grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a detailed assessment of our magnificent Scots’ Charitable Society lot fence. This will be the important first step towards preserving one of Mount Auburn’s most unique works of commemorative art.

Read on to learn more about the fence, and help us raise the funds that we need to unlock the grant and start this ambitious project!

Meaningful Design, Unique History

Cast iron fence gate
The gate of the Scots’ Charitable Society lot fence, featuring St. Andrew

The Scots’ Charitable Society Fence (Lot #816 at the intersection of Fir and Walnut Avenues) is one of the most ornate cast iron fences at Mount Auburn. It was designed by architect Theodore Voelckers circa 1847 and made by David Miller of Boston, a member of the Scots’ Charitable Society. The large fence is adorned with symbols of the Scottish heritage of the people buried in the lot, including the image of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, as well as thistles, battle axes, rampant lions, and crests.

Purchased in 1841 by the Scots’ Charitable Society for its members, this lot memorializes over 200 people. What makes it unusual is that there are no headstones or grave markers. Instead, the cast iron fence itself is the memorial. At the time, this was a creative exercise in economy. Many working-class people could not afford the high costs of individual lots at Mount Auburn, so the Scots’ Charitable Society lot was a resource for members in need.

Today, the Scots’ Charitable Society lot fence is one of our most beloved, from its remarkable design to the unique history it represents.

Critical Need for Preservation

Fence base with cracks forming
Cracks forming in one of the fence’s bases

After so many years of outdoor exposure, the fence needs substantial preservation. The granite bases – which hold up the heavy fence – have suffered severe deterioration, threatening the entire fence’s stability. The fence also has many broken spots that need repair. And its outer coat of paint – the essential layer that protects any cast iron from damage – is wearing thin, so the entire fence needs repainting. We anticipate that the fence will need to be fully dismantled for repair – a complex but essential project to ensure its future.

Before we can preserve the fence, our preservation team needs to determine what the most effective plan will be over the next several years. Hiring preservation architects to conduct an assessment – which we have done for other major projects like Washington Tower and the Egyptian Revival Gateway – is the first step needed.

You can help us preserve this iconic fence! Donate today to help us cover all of the assessment costs and unlock the $3,000 match required for our National Trust grant, and help us build momentum for this ambitious project over the next several years. Thank you for your support!

Learn More: Cast Iron Fences at Mount Auburn

In the early years at Mount Auburn, many proprietors enclosed their lots with iron fences – part of a trend of decorating family lots in a similar fashion to one’s home or front yard. By the 1860s, 1,700 of them dotted our grounds. But the trend of iron fence art was short-lived, and many people in the 1870s began to criticize it for making the Cemetery look too cluttered – like a “crazy quilt.” A movement to remove the existing fences began, and no new fences, granite curbing, or steps were permitted on newly-purchased lots for many decades to follow. Today, Mount Auburn has 62 fences remaining in our landscape – 60 historic and 2 new. Back in 1993, we developed a Master Plan that recognized the importance of preserving early ornamentation of the landscape, and as a result, Mount Auburn has been committed to caring for and preserving the remaining fences.

Ornamenting the Landscape: An Interview with Meg L. Winslow

History of Fence and Curb Removal at Mount Auburn

Donate Here:

Preserving Washington Tower

April 1, 2021

If there’s one spot people are most likely to remember about Mount Auburn, it’s Washington Tower. At 62-feet tall, the Tower provides a spectacular view of the Boston skyline, and has been one of the most beloved features in our landscape ever since it was built in 1854.

Today, the Tower is in need of preservation. If we want to guarantee that we can keep it open to the public for another century, it will require major work in the coming years.

Thanks to generous support from grants and individual gifts, we were able to complete a preservation assessment of the Tower in 2020. We now have a complete assessment, options for repair and improvements, and estimated budgets to support planning for restoration of this iconic structure.

Tower with heavy machinery in front
Preservation assessment, 2020

Further planning will be needed over the next few years before the full preservation begins. But already, the 2020 assessment has shown that there is significant work to be done on the Tower’s masonry. Fortunately, its large blocks of Quincy granite are extremely durable. However, as water has worked its way into the walls from upward-facing joints at the top of the Tower, the stones have shifted – creating opportunities for water to get in. Stopping this cycle of deterioration will require dismantling the top quarter of the Tower and rebuilding it using the existing granite. Additionally, the wood tracery windows will be repaired or reconstructed, new lighting installed, and safety improvements made to the stair rail. Finally, the architect presented potential plans for increasing the accessibility of the site, including a graded path and handicap parking along the road. Stay tuned for more updates on the launch of this multi-year preservation initiative!

New Conservation Treatment for the Magnificent Whitney Monument

December 3, 2020

On a beautiful October day, conservators completed treatment of the magnificent 1883 Whitney Monument on Oriole path in Mount Auburn. It was perfect timing. The twenty-two-foot-high monument created by Italian sculptor Nicola Cantalamessa-Papotti was set off by a background of vibrant orange and gold leaves of the nearby sugar maple.

Conservators from Daedalus Inc. had assessed the condition of the Whitney Monument, designated as one of Mount Auburn’s thirty most significant monuments, as a top priority for treatment. Viewed from a distance, the memorial appeared to be in better shape than it was, but closer inspection revealed an alarming degree of degradation.

Detail of the Whitney Monument After Conservation Treatment, October 2020.

The marble surface, once smooth and lustrous, contained an extensive network of fine cracks, larger fissures, and even deeper vertical cracks. In addition, the surface showed signs of disaggregation, the loss of cohesion between the grains of the stone that over time had created a highly eroded surface of dramatic bumps and ridges. Typical of monuments in an outdoor environment, the entire exposed surface was heavily soiled with areas of green algae and decayed lichen. Black crusts of gypsum leaching from the marble appeared in the recesses and protected areas of the white marble, especially in the deep folds of the drapery and in the flowers. Sadly, extensive losses dating from the early 20th century included the angel’s left wing and hand, and the little foot of the putto (cherub figure).

Daedalus Inc. conservator Joshua Craine, Mount Auburn’s Vice-President of Preservation and Facilities Gus Fraser, and Curator Meg Winslow had to determine the best method of treating the severely eroded marble. They made the decision to wash and stabilize the monument, but not to undertake additional restoration of elements such as the wing and the foot. Most significantly, the team chose to apply a shelter coat to protect the surface of the monument: the first time a treatment of this kind would be attempted at Mount Auburn.

The Whitney Monument After Conservation Treatment, October 2020.

The shelter coat is a mix of hydraulic lime mortar with very fine aggregate, diluted with water and tinted to match the marble color of the monument. The fine aggregate included in the mix binds with the lime, creating a matrix that enhances both permeability and durability. The mix is applied with a brush, and when cured, results in a breathable coating that is sacrificial in nature, meaning that over time it, and not the original surface of the monument, will erode. Mixing, applying, and curing the coating requires time and skill, but “as long as it’s done properly, it’s totally reversible and re-treatable,” explains Craine.

“The severely eroded condition of the monument prompted the team to consider a sacrificial shelter coat to protect the surface rather than a more invasive approach of a chemical consolidant,” says Fraser. “With Josh’s continued help, we will monitor the condition of the coating and retreat as necessary.”

Vice President of Preservation & Facilities Gus Fraser and Conservator Josh Craine Inspecting the Shelter Coat Mixture

Prior to applying the shelter coat, the entire monument was carefully washed to remove biological growth and atmospheric staining. Craine removed the areas of gypsum crust with a hand-held laser, instead of chemicals or brushing. After cleaning the monument, he applied the protective shelter coating with a thick, sash brush, daubing it on to fill the recesses of the sculpture and create an even coat. The grit included in the mixture helped the coating adhere to the surface and recede into the grooves of the carving.

Conservator Josh Craine Applying the Shelter Coat

The treatment required wrapping the monument in a layer of canvas and then in a sheet of plastic to protect the coating and ensure a proper cure. Once or twice a day, Craine removed the extensive wrapping to inspect the progress and fill areas that still needed coating. “The art,” explains Craine, “is knowing when to stop.” Coating the sculpture, touching it up, and keeping it wet proved time consuming and occurred over the course of five to six days. Fortunately, the work took place under clear skies and low humidity.

Whitney Monument, Ribbon Detail

The color now appears creamy and bright, especially when compared to the condition before treatment, but similar to other marble monuments at Mount Auburn that have recently been washed. “There’s trepidation with every conservation project, even when working with the most skilled conservator like Josh,” explains Winslow, “so you can imagine we’re thrilled to see the results of the project. In the early morning light, the Whitney monument just takes your breath away.” Craine concludes, “We’ve saved it to some degree and given it a bit more life.” Viewed from a distance, the spirit and uplifting movement of the monument remains intact.

Curator of Historical Collections & Archives Meg Winslow with Curator Josh Craine, October 2020

Learn more about the Whitney Monument, the artist Nicola Cantalamessa-Papotti, and the Whitney family.