On the Ambiguity of History (and Murder)

February 11, 2020

By Robin Hazard Ray, Volunteer Docent and Historian

Every historian, professional or otherwise, faces a moment when the archives are having a laugh at his or her expense. One document swears that X is the case; another shows that X is impossible. The researcher is left holding the two papers in opposite hands, cursing the perfidy of the universe.

In pursuing research for our upcoming Friends of Mount Auburn program, Cause of Death: Murder” (March 15, 1 p.m.), we confronted such a moment.


Hamamelis xintermedia ‘Arnold Promise’

February 4, 2020

when we plant a tree, two trees take root:

the one that lifts its leaves into the air,

and the inverted one that cleaves the soil

to find the runnel’s sweet, dull silver trace

and spreads not up but down, each drop a leaf

in the eternal blackness of that sky…

            -Roy Scheele

Reprising our “who does your garden grow” theme, we might say that Hamamelis xintermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, the ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel provides us with two-for-one flora commemoration.


Electronics Recycling 2020

February 1, 2020

January 22 – 25th was the third year of our three-day effort titled “Clean Up, Clear Out & Repurpose” which culminated in Saturday’s public electronics recycling event.

We set aside a day for staff to organize their office – they set aside items of interest to the archives and organize paper documents for shredding and recycling. Everyone participated by joining us for a pizza lunch, including our grounds crew.

Company Electronics Recycling

On Friday employees and volunteers were invited to drop off their personal electronic items to be recycled along with items that Mount Auburn was recycling. Staff volunteered to host the drop off during the day, and the IT department brought our recycling up from storage along with batteries that the company had collected for recycling.

Eighth Annual Electronics Recycling Event Open to the Public

On Saturday January 25th, we invited the public to bring their electronics for recycling at the Operations Center parking area on Cottage Street from 10:00AM-1:00 PM. All materials were picked up by Northeast Material Handling. The rain held off and the weather was comfortable. Issac Ahanmisi, IT Associate , Jessica Bussmann, Director of Education and Visitor Services; Corinne Elicone, Events and Outreach Coordinator; and Greg Ghazil, Preservation Supervisor turned out to host the event with me and volunteer Caleb Stewart.

This eight year attracted even larger attendance. An estimated 70 vehicles delivered items on Saturday. The oddest items coming to our collection this year: an exhaust system, a bed frame and a check embosser. We filled 17 pallets which required two truck runs to clear, that’s up from 13 pallets in 2019 for an estimated 4,250 lbs of recycling.

This effort was sponsored by Mount Auburn’s Sustainability Working Groups under the leadership of Paul Kwiatkowski, Wildlife Conservation & Sustainability Manager and by the Information Technology Department at Mount Auburn.


17 bins of electronic equipment:

~4250 lbs, 707 items recycled

~500 lbs of scrap metal

70 lbs of alkaline batteries

#1 item recycled: 70 Laptop Computers

Story Chapel Exterior Masonry Repairs

January 12, 2020

Work will begin in February 2020 on the second phase of a two-year exterior masonry repair project at Story Chapel.  The project includes rebuilding many of the building’s stone buttresses, extensive repairs to the chapel’s chancel wall, and 100% repointing of the exterior masonry joints.  Ongoing moisture issues related to deterioration of the stonework necessitate replacement of a significant amount of the stone at the buttresses and throughout the building. 

The original red sandstone quarried in Potsdam, New York, was susceptible to splitting along bedding planes, opening up gaps in the stone and contributing to failed masonry joints through which water can penetrate.  The Potsdam sandstone is no longer quarried, so identifying a replacement of stone has been an ongoing challenge for maintaining the building.  Working with architects at McGinley Kalsow and Associates, a suitable red sandstone from Locharbriggs, Scotland, was identified in 2015, and was used on two smaller repair projects in order confirm that it was a good substitute.  When dry the replacement stone is a very close match in terms of color, and it was used successfully in a 2017 pilot project to reconstruct buttresses at the southeast corner of the building. The pilot project also provided us with an opportunity to test different mortar recipes for compatibility, color, texture and workability. 

The first phase of the project, completed in December 2019, consisted of repairs at the west end of Story Chapel. Work included extensive structural repairs and masonry reconstruction on the upper third of the tower in addition to rebuilding most of the buttresses with new sandstone.  The gables to the north and south of the chapel entrance also underwent significant repairs to damaged stonework. Finally the tower roof was replaced and all new copper roof flashings were installed to eliminate potential water penetration.

The second phase of work will include cleaning, repointing, rebuilding buttresses and selective stone replacement on the south side of the chapel, as well as major work on the east end of the building. The chancel wall on the east end requires reconstruction of deteriorated supporting interior masonry, some stone replacement on the exterior, and repairs to the tracery of the stained glass window. During this second phase we will remove the chancel stained glass window for conservation and restore the original interior brickwork in the chancel area.

Similar to last year, there will be construction related impact on our use of Story Chapel for memorial services, for public programs and as a Visitors Center. Please check with the Visitor Center desk at 617-607-1963 or email friends@mountauburn.org for information on the building schedule and Visitors Center hours.  For the safety of all we do request that visitors stay out of construction zones and be mindful of the presence of construction vehicles as they make their way in and out of the Cemetery. We thank everyone for their patience and look forward to completing this important preservation project in 2020.