Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Freund in Mt. Auburn

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mt. Auburn in Cambridge

This past Friday was Good Friday, and for once the weather lived up to the name. I took the opportunity of a day off and drove up from Providence to Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA.

Founded in 1831 and modeled on both English landscape garden movement in general and Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris in particular, Mt. Auburn was the first "pastoral," or garden of stone in the United States.

More than that, as the first of its kind Mr. Auburn reflected a shift in American attitudes, certainly in ideas. No longer was death seen as something to be simply passed over, but now a way to sustain a direct, irrevocable connection to and with nature.

Simple churchyard burial or countryside burial ground so prominent throughout New England, was about to way to manicured gardens, sweeping paths populated with every known species of tree, shrub and flower. This was to be a place where birds would come rest and the living could come and not commune with the dead but connect with their history, amidst a space of peace and quiet.

I stopped at the information office located in Story Chapel, right next to the office at the main entrance. They have a very nicely laid out exhibition in a side-room of the chapel, explaining the history of the cemetery in graphic detail. I had a lovely chat with Helen, one of the volunteers manning the desk. She was studying for an upcoming tour guide examination, and her hope is to become one of the volunteer guides that occasionally lead groups on walking tours around the cemetery.

I had been to Mt. Auburn before, but only once had I done any serious walking, in February of 2008 -- but I had no real objective in mind. I usually like to take on a cemetery without any specific goals, but this time I thought to ask for suggestions. Was there anything in particular she might like to recommend? I told her of my interest in Pere Lachaise and after we talked for a bit about Paris cemeteries she suggested a route and itinerary for me.

I thanked Helen and off I went out into the gorgeous sunshine -- and spent the next three and a half hours strolling about this incredibly peaceful, smack in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the Northeast. Granted,  not much was blooming just yet, of course, a few dogwoods and magnolias, but I can't wait to go back later in the spring-- with Susie this time.

On my way back to the car, I stopped back at the information center but Helen was gone, replaced by Brie. She turned out to be another incredibly helpful and dedicated volunteer. After we bantered a bit about French Norman cheeses she informed me that the cemetery would soon have its first self-serve kiosk, similar to the one used at Swan Point here in Providence (and to the one at Green-Wood in Brooklyn in fact). These machines, similar to a bank ATM, but using touch-screen technology, allow you to not only look someone up but also to print out a map with the location! How cool is that, eh?!

I'll talk more about some of the specific burials, stones, and epitaphs over the coming weeks. I also hope to post additional information about upcoming spring programs.

After all this, how could I not join the Friends of Mt. Auburn Cemetery? Maybe you should, too.