Beyond the Gates: A Cemetery Explorer’s Guide to the Old Burial Grounds Ashby, MA

November 9, 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.


Just west of Townsend is the picturesque town of Ashby, Massachusetts. Tucked behind the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church on the town Common is the Old Burial Grounds Cemetery. Established with the town’s incorporation in 1767, its oldest death date listed is 1773 and the latest 1907. Peppered with grumpy cherubim tympana, the cemetery also boasts many architecturally impressive urn motifs. Among the former is the sad story of Bethnel Jones, whose graphic epitaph describes his death “Crusht under a SawMill wheel” in 1782. Simpler marble stones are prevalent, including that of centurion Lydia Miles (d. 1845), as are the floreate lunette carvings that more often appear on footstones in the area.

Most notable amongst the graves is that of Prince Estabrook (c. 1740 – 1830), a Black veteran who fought in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, during which he sustained a musket ball injury to his shoulder. Estabrook served many tours during the Revolutionary War with the Lexington militia and the Continental Army. Born a slave, he was granted his freedom yet remained in the paid service of his former slaveholder following the war. In the late eighteenth century the household moved to Ashby, where Estabrook was originally buried outside of the cemetery wall. He was reinterred within the grounds in 1930, an action conflicting with Ashby’s reputation as a “sundown town” up until 1973. With an almost non-existent Black population in 2019, Estabrook’s final resting place in Ashby is all the more significant.


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 please email Corinne Elicone at

Oregon Grape

October 30, 2020

The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its cultivation.  – Thomas Jefferson

Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium is a good example of Jefferson’s (1743-1826) oft-stated opening quote. This plant of contemporary usage was introduced as part of our country’s early botanical exploration.

Today we may add Oregon Grape to a list of more well-known evergreen shrubs such as rhododendron, mountain laurel, yew and pieris. Averaging 3 to 6-feet high and wide, its distinct alternate compound leaves are composed of 5 to 9 shiny, stiff, leaflets, each 1 ½-to-3 ½-inches long with spines on the tip and margin. Bright yellow, slightly fragrant flowers occur in mid-to-late April, about the same time as some of our flowering magnolias and cherries. Later in August-September these flowers may produce dark-blue berries, looking somewhat akin to grapes, hence the common name. Fruits may be used for jellies, wines and were historically part of traditional diets of indigenous Pacific Northwest peoples.


The Annual Fund – How You Can Support Your Favorite Activities at Mount Auburn

October 30, 2020

• Do you appreciate the beauty of a simple walk through Mount Auburn in autumn?
• Do you enjoy birdwatching in Mount Auburn’s wildlife habitat corridor?
• Does finding a unique monument you’ve never noticed before spark joy?
• Have you enjoyed any of our virtual programs with staff, experts, and authors?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, we hope you’ll support Mount Auburn’s Annual Fund this fall.

Your unrestricted gift to the Annual Fund drives all of these activities – and more. During COVID-19 we’ve been working to keep the Cemetery looking fabulous and protecting flora and fauna alike. In the past year, the Annual Fund also enabled us to:

• Restore critical habitat in the North Dell Meadows
• Host the critically-acclaimed productions of The Mount Auburn Plays by Artist-in-Residence Patrick Gabridge
• Preserve a series of Revolutionary War and Civil War veterans’ memorials
• Create a new series of accessible, virtual public programming to keep our community connected amid the COVID-19 pandemic

As a thank you for your support, you’ll be a member of the Friends of Mount Auburn and receive special benefits such as members-only events and free admission to public programs. You can make a gift and join here

Thank you to all of our current members and supporters. Your generosity enables Mount Auburn to remain an exceptional community resource for all, providing us with peace and beauty every day of the year.

Questions about membership or supporting the Friends of Mount Auburn? Please contact Peter Schlaht, Annual Giving Manager, at