Monday, April 26, 2010

It's a Nice Place to Visit, but...

Very late on Saturday night, I was house-hunting online, using Redfin.com to cruise towns from Melrose to Newton to Dorchester, and all points in the middle. I think we want to stay close to Back Bay, but I just wanted to make sure we weren't missing anything. So I flipped through about 700 properties. I'm kind of obsessive, I guess.

After midnight, I came across an intriguing section of Cambridge with lots of winding streets and lanes. There were no properties for sale there. So I upped my "maximum sales price" to a cool $5 million, figuring that any property there must be spectacular and worth drooling over. Still nothing. Now I was mad. "Who lives there, dammit?" I muttered to myself. What is this exclusive enclave, denied to me?

I looked more closely. It was Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

Ye Powers that Be, I am in not such a rush to put down roots there as I said.

On the other hand, it might be nice to have a snug little mausoleum, with wifi, electricity, and running water — not unlike the hundreds of families who have lived for generations in the magnificent Islamic mausoleums in Cairo's huge City of the Dead. We wouldn't have to worry about neighbors (although apparitions would be worrisome indeed) or loud parties. We wouldn't have to mow the lawn. (I'd still want a pantry.)

But we weren't house-hunting when we went for a walk there yesterday. The trees were still in bloom and we wanted to enjoy them before it was too late. We caught them just in time.


I love old cemeteries, and I've seen some of the best — in Paris, Prague, Cairo, Milan, and Florence. Mt. Auburn is my favorite because of the wonderful Olmsted* landscaping — no matter where you are in its sprawling acreage, you feel like you're in a more intimate garden — and superb Victorian, Edwardian, and art nouveau monuments. The tower on the hill is fun to hike up for a view of Boston, too.

Here's the well-preserved monument of a Civil War captain, who died in battle at the age of 23:


The stones that affect me most are those with just one name inscribed on them — someone's child. Parents never forget the dates, so they don't need to be inscribed on the stone. Yesterday we passed a marble cross, carved to look like rough logs, with only the name "Emily." Later I saw a simple block that said only, "Frankie."

Designed as a memorial garden park, Mt. Auburn is not especially creepy; it's always pleasant for walking in good weather. But you can still find something macabre if you look hard enough. This weeping beech has yet to unfurl its leaves, so it's still providing a bleak backdrop for this gothic revival monument. (If you want a creepy Victorian cemetery, visit the one in Milan: it's outrageous.)


And these fiddlehead ferns look like they are rising from the dead — and, in fact, they are:


The day turned cloudy and colder, with a damp wind, and we were glad to get back in the car and leave the residents behind.

* I stand corrected by an alert reader. Mt. Auburn was landscaped some 25 years before Olmsted began his career, according to this source. We owe our gratitude to General Henry Dearborn and Alexander Wadsworth, and their committee for Mt. Auburn's design. Thanks for the catch! I'm always zoning out instead of paying attention during tours... admiring the scenery.

1 comment:

  1. I once was on a tour at Mt. Auburn and I believe was told that, contrary to popular belief, the landscaping was not by Olmsted as the cemetery was founded when he was only 11 or 12......

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