Cemetery Resources Aid Massachusetts Historical Commission ’ s Research
By David Russo , Watertown Historical Commission
In 2013 , I was contacted by an intern at the Massachusetts Historical Commission ( MHC ), who was following up on an old inventory done on Mount Auburn in the mid-1970s . It listed the familiar monuments and buildings that we often read about in these pages and elsewhere . MHC was interested in learning the locations of each and whether they still existed .
Fairly quickly , I was able to answer the questions : of the 23 items on the MHC list , 22 were extant ( only the Rest House was demolished ), and I recorded the location of each resource on a Cemetery map . But the request spurred the idea of a bigger project : we needed complete inventories of these and other resources within the Cemetery that comprehensively and articulately detailed their significance and documented it for perpetuity . With MHC ’ s blessing , this project was born .
The task of every town ’ s Historical Commission is to determine what historic resources exist in its community , to advocate for those resources , and to make them more available to the community . The MHC provides inventory forms that allow users to document landscapes , objects , and structures in a systematic , organized way . Information starts with the year of construction , the architect or maker , materials used , alterations , a design assessment , and a narrative of its history . But that ’ s just the beginning . The forms are very broad and extensive , and require intensive research to get the information and interpretations just right . The bonus , though , is that the forms themselves , once completed , become an important resource that the MHC and the public can access in perpetuity .
At the start of the project , Meg Winslow , Curator of Historical Collections at Mount Auburn , always an insightful and grounding influence , subtly cautioned that I consider starting with a smaller subset of monuments ( maybe mausoleums ?) and then consider moving on to others . Despite this sound advice , a project that began with 23 resources soon ballooned to 234 . These included all manner of monuments , mausoleums , landscapes , and buildings within the Cemetery that collectively capture its significance . I chose the large and the small , the very old and the very new , and the first burial and the more recent .
For landscapes , I chose Harvard Hill for its obvious significance , inventorying every monument on it ( 44 !) and the lot itself as a landscape . Other significant landscapes that I included were Consecration Dell , Hazel Dell , Asa Gray Garden , Auburn Lake , and Halcyon Garden . Each has a related yet markedly different story to tell . I learned that the lowest point in the Cemetery is not Consecration Dell but Auburn Lake at nine feet above sea level . The highest point is Mount Auburn Hill at 125 feet , the third highest point in Watertown . Adding Washington Tower ’ s 62 feet , those that climb the tower stand a full 187 feet in altitude .
I found some surprises in my research on significant monuments . I learned that the Sawyer monument on Larch
8 | Sweet Auburn