Monday, June 6, 2016

A Visit to Mount Auburn Cemetery: Part 1, Bigelow Chapel

Bigelow Chapel at Mount Auburn Cemetery is open to the public on three Sunday afternoons a year. Since that's where most of the Sabine family's ashes are kept — the chapel is also a columbarium — we've gone to three of these open houses now. The recent one was on May 29th. It was a nice day for a walk in the cemetery.

The chapel is small and fanciful: Gothic Revival with what appear to be minarets and a touch of  whatever the mid-nineteenth-century whimsy-equivalent of Disney was. I like it very much:

That's me, entering under the rose window. I bear some resemblance to Cousin Ittt; keep that in mind if you ever wonder if you've run into me in person. (Readers have in fact recognized me as APB, but could not explain how they knew.) 


The Gothic Revival interior is simpler and more authentically Gothic; you can almost imagine yourself in a chapel in France (without the statues of saints, lingering traces of incense, or candle-offering stands). 

The atmosphere is meant to be comforting: serene, intimate, and timeless:


The Sabine niche is on the second floor, up a curving flight of stone steps and beside a window. Someone had left two chairs next to their spot. They are at floor level in a corner, so usually I sit on the floor:


I sat for a while and thought while my husband studied other plaques and gave me some time. I've got some key questions about the family and don't know if I'll ever answer them to my satisfaction. I don't see how I will ever be able to write anything substantive about them if I can't figure out a few things about their history. It's not like I don't have theories; I have at least 25 scenarios to answer one major question. But I would rather write the truest story I can instead of fiction.


Anyway... I have material to ponder as I lie awake nights for a long time to come.

It's pleasant to sit near their ashes, although I often have similar, "silent conversations" at home or out walking. It's a change of scene. Then I realized that there's a bathroom at the base of that window and it's somewhat open to the second floor and I could hear people flushing and washing their hands. I went to the window and peered down, and saw the sink. Life goes on; comedy overlays sadness whether we want it to or not.

Here are some other niches on that wall; most just have names and dates but a few are more interesting:


I was interested in the view of the niche behind that storm-tossed ship and turned on my iPhone flashlight but didn't see much. I will confess that I've been morbidly curious to know how large these niches are and what kinds of containers fit inside. It hasn't been keeping me up night, but I wonder.

Some people thoughtfully put their urns behind glass:


As you can see, that's a double-height niche, made of concrete and not a bit elegant.

In the photo below, there's a bronze-bordered glass window (reflections ruin the image, sorry) that shows a double crypt with a different orientation, and the family's cylindrical metal urns within.


I went back to sit by the Sabines again and noticed a plain, blank plaque covering a nearby niche. I touched it; it was wood, painted to look like bronze. I touched it some more; it was loose. I touched it with both hands and it popped out, revealing a dingy concrete space, about three feet deep and with the same height and width as the opening. Very unremarkable. Four or five short urns would fit within. 

If my own urn were heading into one of these, I'd want some great William Morris wallpaper in it for my eternity. 

One of my questions answered, at least.

Stayed tuned for scenes from our walk in the cemetery. 
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