Category: News

Veterans’ Monument Preservation Underway

May 24, 2019

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in the years following the Civil War. With military and non-military deaths totaling an estimated 750,000 people, Americans had to contend with death on a larger scale than ever before. As people across the country sought ways to honor those who died in the conflict, the decoration of soldiers’ graves became a frequent form of commemoration.

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Digitization Days: Revealing the Individuals in our Past

March 3, 2019
Shipping receipt for the body of Nathaniel P. Harris who died in the Civil War to be returned to Boston. He is buried on Lot 1544.

With over 100,000 people commemorated here, Mount Auburn Cemetery has served as a record for countless memories and historical periods ever since its founding. Our goal is to offer a deeper look at these diverse individuals whenever possible, with the stories and personalities beyond the monuments that represent them today. Thanks to a 2017 Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, we have had the opportunity to celebrate the lives and preserve the memories of our “residents” in new ways, through a series of digitization days that we began hosting in 2018. On the first Friday of each month, anyone with loved ones or ancestors buried at Mount Auburn can sign up to bring in family materials such as photographs and letters to have them digitized, free of charge. Not only are these documents preserved for the future, but they can help us tell a deeper story of the people buried at Mount Auburn through our new Online Memorial Pages feature on our website at www.mountauburn.org/OnlineMemorialPages.

Nathaniel P. Harris, died in the Civil War 1863, he is buried on Lot 1544, Hibiscus Path.

So far, we have had participants bring materials of many ages, from more recently-deceased loved ones to ancestors from generations past, to take advantage of the opportunity to preserve these records of their family’s history. One recent highlight from last month’s Digitization Day was a selection of items related to Sgt. Nathaniel Preston Harris of Brookline (1841- 1863), who died of disease while serving in the Civil War. Digitizing the records of his life and service – including his photograph and the shipping papers to have his remains transported home for his funeral in Boston and burial at Mount Auburn – was a poignant reminder of the many individuals who were part of this larger story, and the countless families impacted by the war. Family archival materials can add personal context and depth to not only Mount Auburn’s own records, but the larger narrative of our nation’s history, and we welcome the opportunity to continue preserving these stories for the years to come.

To take part in one of our free Digitization Days, please sign up at https://mountauburn.org/events/ (select the first Friday of the month you wish to attend). Participants can bring in three-to-five documents, photographs, or small objects illustrating a person’s life. After we scan or photograph these materials, we will return them to you along with a flash drive of your digitized files and instructions on how to add these images to Mount Auburn’s Online Memorial Pages.

Farewell to a Beech Beauty

February 1, 2019
For well over a century a beautiful Purple-leaf Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropunicea’) has graced the front entrance to the Cemetery and greeted visitors.  Beloved by staff and visitors alike, its large wrinkled trunk and vast canopy delighted and impressed all who enter the gates.  A fungal disease that has plagued this tree for more than 10 years has now compromised the Beech’s health to the point where it is no longer safe to leave standing.  It is with a heavy heart that Mount Auburn will remove the tree the week of February 4th.

The Cemetery’s collection of trees is one of its most prized collections and one that our horticulture staff goes to great lengths to preserve. But, as with all living things, they also have a natural life cycle. Some of our trees can live a very long time, if the conditions are right.  We do have many trees that are now more than a hundred years old. A few dozen oaks on the grounds are believed to even predate the founding of the Cemetery in 1831. Other trees, like our large European Beeches, become susceptible to disease and pests as they mature in age.

During the past two decades, mature beech trees up and down the east coast have suffered significantly from a disease that is highly specific to that species alone, known as “beech tree decline” or “bleeding canker disease”. It is caused by a Phytophthora fungus.  Larger Beech trees (those with a trunk diameter 36” or larger) are most susceptible to this pathogen. Our arborists actively monitor and treat the infected trees in our collection with a spray of Agri-Fos and Pentra-bark, which is only somewhat effective at control, working only when the infection is small and in a relatively young tree. Stress, particularly through drought, likely predisposes beech trees to infection. Our control efforts have focused on maintaining low-stress environments for the trees removing grass growing beneath them and replacing with organic mulch and providing irrigation during droughts.

Mount Auburn makes decisions to remove trees very carefully, with public safety one of our primary concerns. Our arborists use a scientific approach to hazardous tree assessments, and trees are removed when they pose a serious threat to visitors or structures, including monuments.  With the exception of severe storms, most tree removals at Mount Auburn are the result of trees dying from natural causes (e.g., environmental stress from drought and cold temperatures, competition with other trees, a general decline from advanced age). Disease and insect outbreaks have periodically caused numerous removals as well. When a decision to remove a tree is made, it almost always comes after monitoring the condition of that tree for many years.

Stewardship of this landscape means we must also anticipate change. Extreme weather events like hurricanes and ice storms seem to happen all too often. Sudden outbreaks of insects or disease can have a dramatic impact on trees, but the slow and subtle decline of trees in old age is harder to notice. Maintaining this “arboretum” of over 5,000 trees requires us to adapt quickly to the unexpected.  Years of strategic planning has given us new planting initiatives for the next 10 years that will allow future generations to enjoy this landscape as much as we do today.  While we cannot keep any individual tree alive forever, we can and do continue to plant new trees every year to take the place of those we have lost.  We strive to add horticultural diversity while respecting the character of our historic landscape.

The grand Purple-leaf Beech at our entrance has been one of our most iconic trees for decades, but it was a row of graceful American Elms lining Central Avenue that once filled that “first impression” role.  Starting in the 1960s, the Cemetery’s collection of American Elms was severely impacted by Dutch-elm disease.  As reported in the 1981 Annual Report, “the loss of one particularly stately elm near the main entrance was felt by employees and visitors alike.”  Just as we mourned the loss of the elms, we will mourn the loss of this beloved Beech.

We are currently searching for the best possible tree to replace this magnificent specimen and hope to plant a new signature tree this spring that we will love and cherish for the next several decades.

We will be compiling a digital scrapbook in memory of this beloved tree.  To contribute, please send your memories and photos to friends@mountauburn.org.

The Transformation of Asa Gray Garden

January 15, 2019

After years of planning and a full year of construction, we officially re-opened Asa Gray Garden with a ribbon-cutting celebration last summer. We are deeply grateful to the generous supporters who made this project possible. The Loughlin family provided the lead gift, in memory of beloved Mount Auburn trustee Caroline Loughlin, which enabled us to initiate construction. A generous grant from the Harold Whitworth Pierce Charitable Trust to name “The Pierce Fountain” was facilitated by Harold I. Pratt, and many other individuals and foundations contributed to the garden renovation. A full list of donors will be available in our 186th Annual Report. The Friends of Mount Auburn continues to welcome donations to the renovation of Asa Gray Garden to ensure that it thrives in the coming years!

With the celebration now behind us, we look forward to maintaining this horticultural showpiece that will welcome and inspire all who visit Mount Auburn through all the seasons of the year.