Our Roots & Hearts are in Mount Auburn Cemetery

April 1, 2012

By Brian A. Sullivan, Archivist

On August 29, 1977, educator Phoebe Cutler Greene (1900 – 1987) wrote to the staff of Mount Auburn Cemetery for advice relating to burial and commemoration, “I refer to the plot purchased by my great-grandfather, Pliny Cutler, on November 12, 1840, and taken over by my father, Colman Ward Cutler, M.D,” she wrote, “It is on Fir Avenue (#767). When I was in school and in Radcliffe College in Cambridge I knew my way to it perfectly. Mount Auburn probably means more me than any member of the family. Perhaps one has to live outside one’s country to reverence fully one’s native soil.”

Mrs. Greene’s husband, Theodore Chase Greene, M.D. (1899 – 1988), a graduate of both Harvard College and Medical School, served under the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in medical work in China, 1926 – 1950. Mrs. Greene and their children accompanied him there. “Dr. Greene (who has taught anatomy at Johns Hopkins Medical School and elsewhere) and I,” she wrote, “have willed our bodies to Vanderbilt Medical School…Our roots and hearts, however, are in Mount Auburn Cemetery,” she stated, “Would it be possible for our ashes to be sent to you…to be buried in the family plot…We are only 76 and 77 years old, very active still. But we should have this matter settled in our wills, to make things easy for our daughter [Joan Greene Smith, who as a Radcliffe student found solace at the family lot when her parents were unreachable in China during the Communist Revolution] and her astronomer husband [Harlan Smith, who died in 1992 and is also buried in the lot]…”

“…If there is no room for our ashes in the family plot by the time my husband and I die, I suppose we should plan to have our ashes buried here [Nashville, Tennessee], but the thought does not appeal to us. We both want to go HOME to Mount Auburn. Have you ever done such a thing as this, namely, to record names in your ledger in your Office, or at the Information Desk, and state “buried elsewhere”?

Mrs. Greene also inquired about placing a commemorative stone at the Cutler Greene lot indicating that “We have often wished we could have such a marker to include the name of our son who died in West China at the age of 13, in 1941. His death was indirectly due to World War II,” she continued, “The happiest year of his life was 1939 – 40 when he attended Browne and Nichols School, and made a kayak which he sailed up and down the Charles River, from M.I.T to Watertown.”

A granite lawn marker was eventually placed over what became the resting place of Phoebe and Theodore Greene – and, as they wished, their son Ralph is commemorated there as well. Above their names is inscribed – in Chinese characters – “God is Love.” In making Mount Auburn the consistent burial and commemoration choice for her family, Phoebe Cutler Greene has given her descendants a site of pilgrimage and solace.

*Photo above:  View of Lot 767 on Fir Avenue.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 Friends of Mount Auburn electronic newsletter.

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