Celebrating Dave Barnett

April 30, 2021

2021 is a bittersweet year for all of us at Mount Auburn as we look ahead to the retirement of President & CEO Dave Barnett in September. Over the past 28 years since he first arrived as Director of Horticulture, his impact has been profound – both as an advocate and innovator for horticulture throughout our landscape and as a leader who has inspired and mentored a passionate, talented staff working together to bring Mount Auburn to new levels of excellence.

Rethinking Mount Auburn’s Landscape

Dave arrived at a pivotal turning point in Mount Auburn’s recent history, and has played a crucial role its evolution since then. When Dave was hired in 1993, the Cemetery had recently completed a master plan to tackle concerns that it would run out of burial space within a decade if it didn’t change its operations – a predicament that had to be balanced with preserving the nationally significant landscape. After several years of studying the site and working closely with Trustees and staff, a consulting team from Halvorson Design recommended a set of strategies for Mount Auburn to approach its future more creatively, with new models for incorporating burial space while simultaneously enhancing the historic landscape and recapturing its early design principles and founding values.

One recommendation that quickly got implemented was to restructure the horticulture program to reimagine the landscape and already-strong collection of plants and trees. This was what brought Dave here as the Cemetery’s first Director of Horticulture, inspired by the opportunity to bring an already beautiful place to new levels. “What drew me was the trees and landscape when I first came in the gate – it was phenomenal,” Dave recalls. “I was here in the middle of May that year, and just saw the sheer beauty of the place, and I was excited about the possibilities of building on that landscape and making it even better.”

That visit inspired Dave to take a closer look at the master plan, which confirmed for him that Mount Auburn was moving forward in a direction he wanted to be part of. And he has been implementing these strategies ever since, managing a growing number of landscape redesign projects over the years. In the process, Mount Auburn became what we see today – widely regarded as a leader in horticulture, and sustainable, habitat-friendly landscape design, and predicted to remain an active cemetery with burial space well into the future.

“In all my years of working with institutions and public agencies on preserving and developing cultural landscapes throughout the Boston metropolitan area and beyond, Dave stands out. Whenever he spoke about projects and plans for the Cemetery, he would quote from the Master Plan. It didn’t just sit on his shelf…It has stood the test of time not just because of what was in it but because of Dave’s commitment to honoring the principles that Mount Auburn was founded on and how they were manifested in the landscape to comfort and inspire.”

Liz Vizza, Former Senior Associate at Halvorson Design, now President of the Friends of the Public Garden

Highlights of Dave’s Tenure

Dave is the first to admit that he never could have predicted he would spend the rest of his career at Mount Auburn (or any cemetery), let alone become President & CEO. “But what I did know, and had long been sure of, was that I wanted a career in public horticulture. And that’s what I’m still doing – it just happens to have the very important cemetery side of it as well. I should also say that the cemetery side was something I had to get used to, but as it turns out, it’s probably the most compelling and satisfying part.”

“Dave doesn’t just work at Mount Auburn, he lives Mount Auburn. He epitomizes the values that we came up with during the Vision and Values process. The Statement of Vision and Values talks about welcome, compassion, dignity, stewardship, sustainability, and integrity: all of which Dave stands for as a person.”

Pat Jacoby, Chair of Mount Auburn Cemetery Board of Trustees

Reflecting on his tenure, certain highlights stand out for Dave today. One of the first major projects inspired by the master plan that he helped implement was restoring the natural woodland habitat around Consecration Dell in the heart of the Cemetery – an ambitious initiative that began in 1997 and has continued in stages ever since. And more recently, the 2018 renovation of Asa Gray Garden was the culmination of years of planning, to elevate one of our most-visited areas near our main entrance into both a horticultural showpiece and a tranquil space that better serves anyone in need of respite.

A hillside is covered with native shrubs and trees. It is spring and the entire hillside is shades of green from the masses of plantings.

“Consecration Dell and Asa Gray Garden are both spectacular in many ways, but they’re very different. One is a restoration of a natural woodland. And the other is an ornamental, four-season, colorful garden. But I think what they both relate to, in different ways, is the importance what Mount Auburn is for so many people: an inspiring, tranquil, beautiful place. They each do that in a very different way, but both projects were absolutely transformative.”

Dave Barnett

Leadership and Innovation

Central to Dave’s leadership style is a deep respect and eagerness to support and encourage the staff he has worked with over the years. During his many years both in our Horticulture Department and as President & CEO, Dave has both fostered a strong sense of community among the staff and pushed Mount Auburn to new levels of innovation.

“I think what pulls us all together is the recognition of the value of what we do, and the importance of Mount Auburn as a place of beauty and comfort,” Dave reflects. “There’s a real pride that everybody gets after they come here. It’s something about Mount Auburn that makes people want to work intently to make it even better. And that’s only happened because of the people here. There’s been a lot of long-standing, ongoing relationships that have kept this place going to the next level.”

Dave has not only played a major role in making Mount Auburn what it is today: he has also played a major role in making the people of Mount Auburn who they are today. With gratitude, we thank him, and promise to carry on his vision and above all his compassion for all of those who make up the community of Mount Auburn.

Regina Harrison, Sales Manager


Watch recordings of DAVE ON TAP: Reflections on Mount Auburn with President & CEO Dave Barnett, a three-part series of moderated discussions on horticulture, ecology, and preservation.

Listen to Lessons In Ecology from Mount Auburn Cemetery, with David Barnett on the “A Way To Garden with Margaret Roach” podcast.

The David P. Barnett Fund for Horticulture & Urban Ecology

To honor Dave’s career, Mount Auburn has established the David P. Barnett Fund for Horticulture & Urban Ecology, which will support emerging professionals in both fields. The fund has been inspired by Dave’s profound impact on the Cemetery’s landscape – showcasing our horticultural excellence and creating a more sustainable habitat – and his strong belief in mentoring and giving hands-on training to young people. Providing opportunities for emerging professionals as they embark on careers in the fields he loves is a fitting tribute to his legacy.

“We need to keep encouraging young future leaders, and professionals at every level. It’s important to me to have a fund that will provide mentorship and training opportunities. These individuals will be the future of protecting our world and maintaining places like Mount Auburn, whether it’s Mount Auburn or so many other gardens or wildlife sanctuaries where they might end up working.”

Please help us honor Dave by donating to the Barnett Fund today!

Dave’s Career at Mount Auburn

What’s in Bloom 2021

June 7, 2021

What’s in Bloom: Week of June 7, 2021

Japanese lilac, Syringa reticulata, several locations

Japanese spiraea, Spiraea japonica ‘Alpina’, Admin. Bldg.

Yellowwood, Cladrastis kentukea, several locations

Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa, many locations

Fringetree, Chionanthus virginicus, several locations

Chinese Fringetree, Chionanthus retusus, Asa Gray Garden

Garden Treasure peony, Paeonia ‘Garden Treasure’, Asa Gray


Horticulture Highlight: Empress Tree

June 4, 2021

…And because the breath of flowers is far sweeter

in the air (where it comes and goes like the

warbling of music) than in the hand, therefore

nothing is more fit for that delight than to

know what be the flowers and plants that do

best perfume the air.

            Francis Bacon

Springtime’s woody floral perfumes have thus far included winter hazel, Oregon grape, magnolia, fothergilla, cherry, crabapple, lilac and wisteria among others. Yet to sweetly scent our air will be fringe tree, yellow wood, linden, Virginia sweetspire, butterfly bush as well as much later the franklin tree.


The Cemetery in Three-Dimension: Mount Auburn’s Nineteenth-Century Stereographs

June 3, 2021

Of all the early photographic formats, nothing transports the viewer back in time like nineteenth-century stereoviews. Stereoviews consisted of two photographs of an identical subject affixed side by side. When looked at through a device known as a stereoscope, they gave the illusion of a three-dimensional scene.

The system worked on the principle of binocular vision as described by British scientist Charles Wheatstone in 1838. Wheatstone understood that human depth perception is created by the left and right eye perceiving slightly different views that the brain converges together as a three-dimensional image. Stereoviews were often created with a twin-lens camera that took exposures around two inches apart to replicate the approximate distance between the eyes. Wheatstone observed that viewing a stereo pair of images through a stereoscope, with each eye looking at a single image, rendered a three-dimensional view.

Stereoscope, H. C. White Co.  

In 1849, British inventor Charles Brewster improved on Wheatstone’s mirror and prism stereoscope, with a smaller, lenticular device in which each eye viewed one of a stereo pair of images through a separate lens. In 1859, physician and photograph enthusiast Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is buried at Mount Auburn, invented an inexpensive, hand-held stereoscope that allowed the distance from the lens to the stereoview to be adjusted. Blinders on the sides of the stereoscope reduced the interference of peripheral views and light. Companies such as H. C. White Company prided themselves on the production of both stereoscopes and stereoviews. Mount Auburn’s Historical Collections & Archives houses a stereoscope by H. C. White as well as a captivating collection of more than four hundred stereoviews of the Cemetery, a collection that continues to grow through new acquisitions. 

From the 1850s to the 1890s, stereoviews were typically produced as albumen prints made from glass-plate negatives. Usually adhered to card mounts, these stereo prints were referred to as both stereoviews or more specifically as stereographs. The mounts came in a range of colors from muted gray to vivid orange, and the prints were sometimes hand-colored through the application of paint. Multiple prints could be made from a single glass-plate negative, and stereo publishers produced and distributed millions of stereographs in the U.S. and abroad. Considered the educational and entertainment technology of its time, stereographs adorned classrooms and most household parlors. This popular and affordable cultural fixture offered three-dimensional views of noteworthy sites and subjects around the world, including Mount Auburn, which by the mid-eighteen hundreds had grown into an international tourist destination.

Asa Gray Garden.

Well-known publishers such as George W. Griffith and Appleton & Co. created their own images and imported those of others. Stereographs were sold through mail order, magazine advertisements, door to door salesmen, or in bookstores, stationery stores, and pharmacies. Some came in boxed sets. Stereograph card mounts often noted the name of the photographer, distributor, and publisher as well as other subjects offered by the publisher. On the back of some Mount Auburn stereographs, publishers included information about the history of the Cemetery as well as lists of additional views of Mount Auburn’s monuments, landmarks, and scenic vistas, for purchase.

Verso of two stereoviews.

In a series of articles on photography for the Atlantic Monthly, Olivier Wendell Holmes enthused that the effect of the stereoscope “is so heightened as to produce an appearance of reality which cheats the senses with its seeming truth.”[1] Photographers learned that composing stereo images with a variation of distance among objects produced an even greater three-dimensional effect by simulating the relative spatial distance of figures to one another. Viewers also experienced photographic compositions with distinct foreground and background areas as layered planes. In one Mount Auburn stereograph, tombs and memorials emerge in an almost tangible relief form against the backdrop of Washington Tower perched on the Cemetery’s highest summit. In a view of Auburn Lake, trees in the foreground give the illusion of being surrounded by space, and the eye is drawn to the second basin of the lake receding into the background.  

View towards Washington Tower. Auburn Lake.

Other stereographs of the Cemetery allow us to experience a kind of virtual reality of people in the landscape a century and a half ago—such as a group gathered around the Harnden monument or a soldier standing in front of the Sphinx. In a stereograph of Asa Gray Garden, two women with parasols take a stroll as a nearby gardener tends to the lawn. Bigelow Chapel appears like an apparition above the trees in the distance.

Harnden Monument. Sphinx and soldier. Asa Gray Garden

Mount Auburn’s collection also provides three-dimensional evidence of characteristics of the landscape that have altered over time: the dirt road of Mount Auburn Street in front of the Egyptian Gateway entrance or the view from Washington Tower that shows the beginnings of development along the Charles River. The stereograph of the Thatcher Magoun monument reveals the original details of the face and hand of the poignant mourning figure that have since eroded.

Stereoview of marble pedestal monument with kneeling woman and child, side view.
Entrance Gateway. View of Charles River from Washington Tower. Magoun Monument.

“It is easily forgotten now how pervasive was the experience of the stereoscope and how for decades it defined a major mode of experiencing photographically produced images,” Jonathan Crary writes in Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century.[2] Whether an armchair traveler from the nineteenth-century or collector of today, one appreciates the magical, heightened perception of being in the scene. We become immersed in the recesses of the cavernous space of Consecration Dell, the flight of the ascending spirit in Thomas Crawford’s monument to Amos Binney, or the intensity of the dense crowds outside Bigelow Chapel on Decoration Day—a sensation Holmes described as “the mind feel[ing] its way into the very depths of the picture. ”[3]

A Historic Stereoview of Bigelow Chapel
Consecration Dell. Amos Binney Monument. Bigelow Chapel, Decoration Day.

Interested in learning more? You can browse Mount Auburn’s collection of stereoviews in our online database at: https://mountauburn.pastperfectonline.com

1. Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,” Atlantic Monthly, June 1859.

2. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990), 117-118.

3. Holmes, “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph,” Atlantic Monthly, June 1859.

Documenting Dandelions: Artist Ben Denzer Catalogs Springtime Blooms

June 2, 2021

This year we have made mini-grants to five artists to create original works inspired by the Cemetery during a one-year period. Each of the selected artists will create an original project rooted in their experiences at Mount Auburn.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your art.

I’m an artist, designer, and publisher. I studied architecture and visual arts at Princeton and worked as a book cover designer at Penguin. I currently have a freelance design and illustration practice, teach, and make art that explores the form and idea of “the book.” You can see more of my work at bendenzer.com.