Mount Auburn Cemetery was recently featured on PBS in the documentary series World’s Greatest Cemeteries. It is an honor for us to see our hallowed resting places, beautiful grounds, and dedicated staff receive national recognition.
The episode also features interviews with David Barnett, former Mount Auburn President & CEO, as well as Bree Harvey, our Vice President of Cemetery & Visitor Services. It’s rare for us to get a chance to speak directly to such a large audience, telling our story of Mount Auburn’s unique, multi-faceted role as a vibrant urban green space, public garden, and historic site – not just within Greater Boston, but as a destination for tourists, history buffs, and nature lovers from around the world.
The show, produced and hosted by Roberto Mighty, introduces PBS viewers to Mount Auburn’s pioneering role as the first rural, or garden, cemetery in the United States. It explores the lives of several prominent people laid to rest on our grounds, including Dorothea Dix, a pioneering advocate for the mentally ill, and Edmonia Lewis, a renowned 19th-century African-American/Native-American sculptor. It also features dramatizations of several stories, including a freedom seeker-turned philanthropist, and a medical student’s sacrifice during the Smallpox Epidemic of 1849. (Preview the episode featuring Mount Auburn here.)
We are truly grateful to Roberto, who has helped to elevate Mount Auburn’s profile and introduce us to thousands of new community members. This comes at a time when Mount Auburn needs new friends, visitors, and supporters more than ever. Mount Auburn was featured in this series because of its rich and impactful history, but rather than rest on what we have already done, we are aligning the organization for a bright future. Today, we need support at all levels so that Mount Auburn can continue to redefine what cemeteries can be.
The best way we can do that is for our existing community to tell their friends, family, and networks that Mount Auburn is worthy of their support, long after the series is finished. We depend on your generous donations to keep our 175 acres of greenspace, monuments, buildings, and collections well-cared for and thriving, as well as to support our robust roster of arts and educational programming.
Here’s how you can help: ·
- Join or renew your membership to Friends of Mount Auburn.
- If you don’t already, “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
- Encourage your friends and family to visit us, in person or virtually.
Thanks as always for your support. We hope to see you at Mount Auburn soon!
In 2021, we made mini-grants to five artists to create original works inspired by the Cemetery during a one-year period. Each of the selected artists has created an original project rooted in their experiences at Mount Auburn. Today, meet singer-songwriter Todd Thibaud and learn about his creative process behind composing and recording two new songs related to Mount Auburn’s history.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I’m originally from Vermont, but moved to the Boson area in the late 1980s to be part of the incredible music scene that was happening around town. I was passionate about music and songwriting, but even so, at the time the idea of building a career as a musician felt elusive and dreamlike. Not long after settling into the area I started the band Courage Brothers with an old friend, Jim Wooster. We worked hard at writing, recording, and performing locally, and after a couple of years secured a record deal with a New England-based label called Eastern Front. That deal brought us national exposure and allowed us to get out on the road and tour the country. It didn’t take long for me to understand that I was hooked. I knew without a doubt that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
As often happens, our band eventually broke up, and I began my journey as a solo artist. It was a strange transition at first, but it was the right choice. I’ve always seen myself, first and foremost, as a songwriter. Everything else – recording, live performance, touring etc. – all stems from that. As an artist who tends to write from a personal perspective, being on my own has allowed me to let my songwriting go where it will, and to investigate the intricacies of life that inspire me most. I’ve been very fortunate to work for so long at something I love so much.
These days you can find me performing regionally, solo acoustic, with my band of talented musicians, or in duo/trio formats. I normally tour in Europe once or twice a year, but the pandemic has taken a toll on that part of my work. I’m looking forward to getting things back on track over there in 2023.
For your residency, you produced two original songs that both connect deeply with Mount Auburn’s history. Could you talk about the themes that these songs explore?
I think it’s easy and completely understandable to be swept away by the incredible beauty of Mount Auburn. That beauty certainly deserves to be acknowledged, but I also wanted the songs to be securely connected to Mount Auburn’s core mission as a place of rest for those who have passed on. In my writing process I never wanted to forget that for every stone there is a story: a life lived, whether short or long. And for the families left behind, the stone begins as a marker of grief, and only with time might it be seen as a place of comfort, healing, or inspiration.
I was also deeply inspired by the history of the place itself, the many remarkable people involved in its creation, and those laid to rest there. There are so many stories that deserve to be told. Initially, I felt pulled in several directions, but over time I settled on two distinct subjects. My goal then became to create two songs connected in different ways to our relationships with loss, grief, hope, and place. In addition, I wanted to keep both songs firmly rooted in the history and continued relevance of Mount Auburn Cemetery. My intent was to take a broader view in one song (Sweet Auburn), and a more personal, intimate approach in the other (Louisa May).
Tell us about your research process. What led you to pick these subjects for your songs?
One of the first things I read when I began my research was the text of Joseph Story’s Consecration Day address, given on September 24th, 1831. I was immediately drawn in by the beauty of the language and the powerful sentiment behind his words. It left me wanting to learn more about this remarkable man and this beautiful place he clearly loved so much. His address would remain a beacon for me as I continued my work over the next several months.
During my further research into Joseph Story, I learned that just five months before he would give his Consecration Day address, he had lost his beautiful young daughter Louisa May, age ten, to scarlet fever. I went on to discover that he had lost seven children previously, and that of his ten children only two survived to adulthood. I could only imagine the grief that this man must have carried. I couldn’t help but wonder what those months following Louisa May’s death must have been like for Joseph. And then, later that September when he stood in the Dell to give his beautiful address, what must he have been thinking and feeling in those moments? I knew that this was a story I wanted to tell.
At one point in my research, I stumbled upon a Boston area newspaper article written after Consecration Day, in 1831. The article explained that, in the late 18th century, prior to being known as Mount Auburn, the area had been affectionately referred to by visiting Harvard students as “Sweet Auburn.” The nickname coming from the poem, “The Deserted Village,” by Oliver Goldsmith. Almost immediately, I knew that one of the songs I would write would be entitled Sweet Auburn.
For songwriters, a good title can often provide a creative launching pad, allowing you to visualize a fledgling song as a completed whole. Not word for word, of course, but conceptually and directionally. I thought to myself, what if this beautiful place could tell us a bit of its own story? What would it want us to know? What would it say? This idea provided me with a clear framework to work within as I wrote my own version of Sweet Auburn.
Treating Mount Auburn as a living, breathing, sentient character allowed me to look at the landscape and its history in a more empathetic and personal way. Over the course of a few verses, I could treat the love and respect felt by so many for Mount Auburn as a two-way street. Doing so opened creative avenues that would have been harder to access had I taken a different tack. I’d never before taken this approach in my writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the process.
During your residency, you brought these songs from an initial creative concept into the final recording that audiences can listen to today. Could you talk about the steps that went into producing that finished work?
For these songs, the initial research process was a critical first step. Especially since my songs were primarily rooted in Mount Auburn’s history. I wanted to gain some understanding of the time, and a sense of what was important to the founders and citizens of that era. It was important to me to not simply tell stories steeped in historic fact, but to connect these songs to the deeper emotional energy behind these events. It’s easy sometimes to view historical figures in a one-dimensional manner. But behind each well-known name of history, there was a living, breathing human being, as vulnerable to the pains, tragedies, and challenges of the human experience as you or I. I wanted to make sure that the songs acknowledged those deeper layers.
The next step was the writing itself. What always works best for me is to make extensive handwritten notes. To write down everything that strikes me as important, and to let that information percolate in my thoughts for a period of time. I like the physical notebook because I can leaf through it whenever I want, circle passages that hold special weight, and write side notes or quick lyric snippets that might eventually work their way into the song. I’ll often have a melody idea in my head as I’m working on lyrics, which can help with the phrasing and cadence of each line. Once I have a key phrase, or a few verse lines to work with, I’ll work with my guitar to refine the form and the melody. That refined form provides me with a template to work within as I make progress toward the finished lyrics. It’s often a process of trial and error. Writing and re-writing. Moving lines, changing single words. My goal is to settle on what feels most true and honest, and to discover what approach conveys the essence of the song most effectively. If I feel moved by a passage, my hope is that the audience will as well.
Throughout the songwriting process, I’m already thinking ahead to how I’d like to record the tracks. Songs tend to have a “voice” about them, and if you’ll let them, they’ll often guide you to where they should land. In the case of these songs, I knew that I wanted to keep the production very intimate and traditional. I wanted them to sound as much “of the time” as they could. To help achieve that, I reached out to a longtime collaborator of mine, Sean Staples. Sean is an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist, who is very knowledgeable about traditional music arrangement. He was invaluable in the final production of these songs.
I had been thinking that it would be nice to connect the recordings to Mount Auburn in some way, and wondered if we might be able to set up in Bigelow Chapel and record the songs there. Everyone at Mount Auburn was very accommodating, and Sean and I spent a day there in early April recording in the incredible acoustics of that space. We later took those performances to Sean’s personal studio so that we could add some additional instrumentation before declaring the songs complete. From that point it was up to me to create the final mix of each song, and then arrange for them to be mastered by a mastering engineer. That final stage gives you the finished versions that you can hear now.
How has your connection to Mount Auburn evolved during your residency?
I love the place! I’m smiling as I say that, but it’s true. I’ve really developed a deep love for Mount Auburn, and a personal connection to the place and its people that fills me with gratitude. Inspiration is everything for a songwriter, and Mount Auburn has inspired me on so many levels. It’s been an honor and privilege to tell some of its story. And if these songs might somehow come to occupy a small sliver of space in Mount Auburn’s ongoing history, it would be deeply gratifying to me. I feel tethered to the place now, and it’s now become an important part of my own personal story.
Singer and songwriter Todd Thibaud, Artist-in-Residence from 2021-2022, has released two new songs inspired by Mount Auburn. Listen and read descriptions of the songs here: https://bit.ly/3MUPTZ9.
Louisa May, are you with me today I was sure I felt your hand in mine You were a rose yet to bloom, taken too soon And left me a prisoner of time Louisa May, give me a sign There’s a void in my heart where your laughter would play You would dance through this house and I’d be carried away By the song of your voice; your grace and your light Oh, what I would give for them now Louisa May, are you with me today I was sure I felt your hand in mine You were a rose yet to bloom, taken too soon And left me a prisoner of time Louisa May, give me a sign There are ways that a man might turn from his grief I have done what I can, but found little relief In the hands of my God, I stand on my faith And pray that I’ll see you again Louisa May, are you with me today I was sure I felt your hand in mine You were a rose yet to bloom, taken too soon And left me a prisoner of time Louisa May, give me a sign Farewell, farewell my darling child Farewell, farewell to thee How blessed was I to dream a while In the light thou shone on me Yesterday’s rain has finally passed The sky is as blue as the church’s stained glass I stand in the Dell with these words in my heart Waiting to give them away Louisa May, are you with me today I was sure I felt your hand in mine You were a rose yet to bloom, taken too soon And left me a prisoner of time Louisa May, give me a sign Louisa May, give me a sign
Under blue September skies In the Dell their voices rise 2,000 souls resound With a song of hope unbound I was born of ice and sand Sculpted by God’s hand For this moment it would seem Ten thousand years I dreamed Sweet Auburn, they call to me Hearts broken, they come to me Arms open, I will comfort thee ‘till dust is dust no more For the hero and the mild For the poet and the child All found peace within these hills Where their angels guard them still Sweet Auburn, they call to me Hearts broken, they come to me Arms open, I will comfort thee ‘till dust is dust no more A thrush on Creeley’s stone Sings her morning song alone Beneath these breathing trees For the fallen and the free And for every wandering soul There is beauty to behold I am waiting here for you Any winding path will do Sweet Auburn, they call to me Hearts broken, they come to me Arms open, I will comfort thee ‘till dust is dust no more Arms open, I will comfort thee ‘till dust is dust no more ‘till dust is dust no more
Music and lyrics by Todd Thibaud
Photo of Todd’s recording session by Sean Staples
Role and Responsibilities:
Reporting to the Director of Education & Visitor Services the Volunteer & Visitor Engagement Coordinator manages the daily operations of the Cemetery’s Visitor Center, including the scheduling and supervision of volunteers at the Welcome Desk, and other general visitor engagement activities. The Coordinator also manages and supervises the organization-wide volunteer program and provides direct oversight of its volunteer docent program. The Coordinator recruits, trains, and plans engagement activities to grow a thoughtful community of volunteers that support organizational needs. The Coordinator assists in the development of annual goals and budgets that support Mount Auburn’s strategic objectives to welcome and inspire all who visit.
• Acts as volunteer coordinator for all volunteer opportunities at the Cemetery including greenhouse, gardening, citizen science, historical collections, plant collections, and visitor services.
• Creates annual goals and budgets for visitor services and volunteer programs that support Mount Auburn’s strategic initiatives.
• Grows the volunteer program through new volunteer opportunities and an expanded volunteer corps; recruits and screens new volunteers for departments and events; creates and maintains volunteer training materials.
• Keeps records of all Mount Auburn volunteers and manages volunteer statistics for reporting purposes.
• Manages volunteer communications and plans volunteer appreciation events and other forms of recognition.
• Organizes a schedule of year-round training for volunteers and staff, working with all departments to offer special lectures, presentations, and tours that deepen understanding of Mount Auburn’s roles as an active cemetery, a public garden, and cultural organization.
• Manages daily, weekly, and seasonal operations at Mount Auburn’s Visitor Center.
• Coordinates Visitor Center operations in collaboration with other departments and sets weekly staffing/volunteer schedules.
• Participates in the development of new visitor amenities and services that deepen the experience for Mount Auburn’s 200,000+ annual visitors.
• Maintains stock of all interpretive materials including printed brochures, maps, and publications. Facilitates the production of updated materials and the reprinting of depleted printed materials, as necessary.
• Manages income received through Visitors Center and online sales, prepares deposits.
• Manages private group tour program. Reviews visitation requests of all groups wishing to visit the Cemetery, secures guides as necessary, and handles all financial transactions associated with visit.
• Assists with the development and staffing of outreach activities that will attract new audiences to the Cemetery, including events in the community.
Qualifications and physical demands include but are not limited to:
• A bachelor’s degree or equivalent is required. Interests in social history, natural history and horticulture highly desirable. Must be able to act as an effective representative of the Cemetery and the Friends of Mount Auburn.
• Two years of experience managing adult volunteers preferred
• Demonstrated ability to work with the public and to coordinate complex tasks. Ability to follow through on assigned tasks and to work independently. Ability to handle financial transactions and manage inventories accurately.
• Demonstrated excellent communication skills, in person, in writing, via telephone or other computer or other electronic media.
• Demonstrated ability to be flexible and creative as work demands change.
• Must be able to use a computer and telephone and mobile radio equipment. Must be able to drive a car and have a valid driver’s license.
• Must be able to move and work out-of-doors and within an office environment. Must be able to move throughout the Gatehouse areas, Administration Building, Operations Center, Story Chapel and Bigelow Chapel both up and downstairs.
• Must be able to move within all areas of the Cemetery grounds and buildings and drive Cemetery vehicles.
• Must be able to lift and move program materials and supplies using proper safety procedures.
Hours of Work:
8:30 AM to 4:30 PM from Tuesday to Saturday. Occasional evenings and weekends as required.
How to Apply:
Please send a cover letter stating your career goals and objectives with a current resume, as Microsoft Word documents, and include “Volunteer & Visitor Engagement Coordinator” in the subject area, to: email@example.com
Or by mail to: Human Resources
Mount Auburn Cemetery
580 Mount Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. No telephone calls please.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is an equal opportunity employer.