Virtual ways to enjoy the Cemetery

May 1, 2020

Follow Us on Social Media

Our staff continue to regularly post historical and horticultural highlights on our social medial channels. Make sure you are following us to learn more about the may facets of Mount Auburn and to get our latest news: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Join a Virtual Public Program

UPCOMING

Check the calendar to register for an upcoming virtual program!


Watch Recordings of previously held Virtual Programs:

These programs have already happened, however you can watch the recorded videos here at a time of your own choosing!


Explore our Archives

Explore our Online Collections Database. This online catalog allows you to explore Mount Auburn’s Historical Collections & Archives. Holdings include a wide range of prints, photographs, books, ephemera, maps, plans, decorative arts, fine art, and more than 3,500 linear feet of archival records.


An Invitation to Help Transcribe Our History – From Home! Mount Auburn is pleased to announce an exciting new transcription project that welcomes your participation in making our history more accessible. The Cemetery’s Historical Collections & Archives staff have preserved our most significant archival documents, but many of these are hand-written 19th-century letters and reports that are not easy to read. By transcribing these materials, researchers will be able to read and search across thousands of pages for the first time. That’s where you come in!


Learn more about Mount Auburn’s Significant Monuments in our online exhibit featuring thirty monuments of historic and artistic significance.


Our digital archive includes all of the past issues of Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn.


Be Inspired

Explore the final projects of Mount Auburn’s former Artists-in-Residence:

earth.sky – In a multimedia project that includes twenty nine videos, photographs, and words, Mount Auburn’s first Artist-in-Residence Roberto Mighty celebrates the seasons and the stories of Mount Auburn.


Spring & Autumn Suites – Twelve classical works composed by Mount Auburn’s second Artist-in-Residence Mary Bichner and recorded at WGBH Studios draw inspiration from the landscape’s seasonal colors and the poetry of its notable residents


Learn more about our many facets

Stay Home Sweet Auburn: an exciting new video series started by The Friends of Mount Auburn during the pandemic. We are continuing to expand our virtual programming so you can learn from home!


Listen to the recent Talk Nerdy Podcast interview with Paul Kwaitkowski, Mount Auburn’s Wildlife Conservation and Sustainability Manager on Citizen Science to learn more about our efforts to create beneficial wildlife habitat.


Browse Mount Auburn’s website and read Notable People Biographies and History, Horticulture, and Wildlife Highlights, or learn about Environmental Stewardship initiatives.


Take a Deep Breath

View a peaceful and calming Autumn at Mount Auburn slideshow with music from Composer-in-Residence Mary Bichner.


Watch a serene scene slideshow from Mount Auburn with inspiring music!


Relax with a Mount Auburn Moment of Zen. Mount Auburn’s grounds may be closed to the public to keep our staff and families burying loved ones safe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a bit of springtime at Mount Auburn.


Watch a contemplative concert with Satigata, performed in Story Chapel on April 9, 2017 and recorded by Cambridge Community Television.


Enjoy memories of previous fall seasons at Mount Auburn Cemetery!

Photos below are from this spring and summer!

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.

Bearberry

December 3, 2020

There’s a bear in the Truro woods.
People have seen it – three or four, …
-Mary Oliver

An opportunity to use images inspired from Oliver’s words are welcomed. “The Truro Bear” alluded to in her same titled poem is also accompanied therein by blueberry, blackberry and cranberry. We vicariously suggest the addition of our native bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, commonly found growing in Truro and many other towns of Cape Cod.

Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is an evergreen, prostrate growing shrub which in autumn produces bright red fruits, often persisting into early winter that are indeed eaten by bears, as well as by deer, other smaller mammals, and birds. The etymology of the genus name is both Greek and Latin. In Greek, arctos means bear and staphyle is a bunch of grapes. In Latin, uva and ursi mean grape and bear respectively.

Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is an evergreen.

 Arctostaphylos is a genus with 60 species of shrubs and small trees native to North America, mostly evergreen but some are deciduous.Within this genus bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is one of several species of low-growing sub-shrubs, only reaching 6-12-inches tall, usually spreading wider than it is tall, a fine example of survival of the shortest. Its alternate, evergreen leaves are ½ – 1 ¼-inch long, leathery, short-stalked, with entire (smooth) margins and rounded at the tip. These leaves often turn a bronze color in the winter before returning to green in the spring. In May, ¼-inch, white, urn-shaped, drooping flowers if fertilized will produce ¼ -½-inch fruits (drupes) in the summer, first as green, later ripening to brilliant red in the fall.The native habitat of bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi includes subarctic Newfoundland to Alaska, (as well as circumboreal northern latitudes of Europe and Asia) south to Virginia, Illinois and South Dakota, the widest natural distribution within the genus. The cold hardiness range for this species is USDA Zone 2 to 6. Zone 2’s average annual winter minimum temperatures are between -50 degrees and -40 degrees.

Previously when discussing Oregon Grape, we mentioned Lewis and Clark’s 1804-06 Corps of Discovery.A bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, was also part of the botanical collections returned from this historic exploration. The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia has an original Lewis and Clark herbarium mounted sheet of bearberry. As with other plants bearberry has had a long history of many other common names. Lewis was introduced to this plant as sacacommis, a Chippewa word. In January 1806, Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) wrote his description from encounters with this plant, “…it is generally found in the open piney woodland as on the Western side of the Rocky Mountains …  natives…who can procure this berry invariably use it. To me it is a very tasteless and insipid fruit…The leaves retain their verdure most perfectly through the winter, even in the most rigid climate …The fruit ripens in September and remains on the bushes all winter. The frost appears to take no effect on it. These berries are sometimes gathered and hung in their lodges in bags where they dry without further trouble, …”  

Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is an evergreen

From Meriwether Lewis we conclude by returning to the close of Mary Oliver’s featured poem,

“…when has happiness ever
required much evidence to begin
its leaf-green breathing?”

On a future visit to mount Auburn look for our bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in Consecration Dell, which along with numerous other types of plants in our landscape may enhance your leaf-green breathing.

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