The Children of Mount Auburn
By Maria Lindberg
When a child is asked ,“ What would you like to do today ?” a usual answer might be “ Let ’ s go to the playground ”, or “ Let ’ s see a movie .” My own children are adults now , but when asked this question so many years ago they were quick to answer “ Let ’ s go to Mount Auburn Cemetery !”
Our weekly sojourns would start at Auburn Lake with nature ’ s unfailing promise of surprise and delight . Their eager anticipation of making friends with a turtle or watching the still majesty of a blue heron was palpable . My children became skilled at quiet observation and learned that patience really does reward when they were startled ( and delighted ) by the throaty greeting of a bullfrog or the scampering of chipmunks . Voices automatically became hushed as they tried to peek into the “ little houses ” lining Auburn Lake where people were “ sleeping .” What they were unaware of was that they were walking along a path to personal growth as they absorbed the abundant gifts of nature surrounding them .
We always made time to visit the children of Mount Auburn Cemetery . This was not one ’ s typical playdate ! On our way to Auburn Lake , we would pass the poignant statue of a child ornamenting the grave of Leopold Morse Jr ., son of Leopold Morse ( August 15 , 1831-December 15 , 1892 ) who was a United States Representative from Massachusetts . There are no dates inscribed – just a kneeling child looking heavenward with hands-clasped . My children loved to visit “ Little Leopold .” After we said our goodbyes to him , we would cross Fountain Avenue , where under a shady bower is the grave of a child named Edith Wolt , daughter of Peter and Mary Helen Wolt and grandchild of Baker and Mary McNear . Edith with an aura of mystery sits serenely holding flowers , her head demurely bowed , barefoot , and
12 | Sweet Auburn
Atkins Children , Lot 2339 by Greg Heins , 2014
hair pulled back , her gown slipping from one shoulder . We always approached her quietly as if not to disturb her privacy . She lived from August 21 , 1869 to February 8 , 1881 . Nearby on Lime Avenue we visit the statue of Willie , Mary , and Charlie Atkins , brothers and sister who also died as small children . Many children succumbed from the scourge of illnesses ( and lack of medical interventions ) afflicting people during the 1800s . The death of children was a common , heart breaking occurrence . With elegant beauty , these monuments portray familial love , unspeakable pain , the innocence of childhood . Immortality is found in the artistry of these sculptures , forcefully implanted in our minds through their tangible forms .
Children die ? These statues prompted my children to ask questions about mortality , asked not with fear but with a burgeoning awareness of the mystery of life and its harshness and hope — a gift from Little Leopold , Edith , Willie , Mary , and Charlie , and one that cannot be explained away by adults , but that paved the way to discussion . History gave them the comfort of knowing that science helps us to live longer , healthier lives than the children of the 1800s . With universal optimism and curiosity , they tried to recreate the lives of children who had lived so long ago . They wanted to know if they rode bikes , played video games , and liked ice cream . They believed that the children of Mount Auburn Cemetery received comfort from their proximity to one another in death . Did they play with one another during the still of night ? We were discovering a new path — one of growth that connects past , present and future .
Visits to the children of Mount Auburn Cemetery contributed to the way my children learned to approach life with strength , optimism and compassion . Combined with the surprises of bullfrogs and chipmunks , Leopold , Edith , Willie , Mary , and Charlie provided the gift of wisdom and hope .