Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn Lives of the Past Informing the Future - Page 22

Member feature: Sally Crissman By Anna Moir Grants & Communications Manager o matter how often people have visited Mount Auburn, they continue to make new discoveries about the people commemorated here. Longtime Cambridge resident Sally Crissman recalls visiting to introduce new coworkers to the city and the Cemetery during her career teaching at the nearby Shady Hill School, only to stumble across her own family history: “We stopped at the front gate and picked up a little pamphlet that listed historically important people who were buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery. I’m looking down the list and I see this name Benjamin Apthorp Gould, and I say, ‘whoa, wait a minute, that’s my ancestor! I have his portrait in my dining room! I didn’t know he was buried here!’ I found out where the lot was, and called my mother and my uncle, and they didn’t realize that their great-grandparents and grandparents were buried here either....I have quite a few papers, documents, historical artifacts that my uncle in particular had collected related to that family. And [since] I made this discovery that here they are, I’ve done a lot more reading myself and become much more knowledgeable.” Sally’s relationship with Mount Auburn began long before that family discovery. She attended the Buckingham School in the 1940s: “[In] my elementary years...we couldn’t wait until spring because this wonderful science teacher would N 20 take us to Mount Auburn Cemetery for birdwatching. I would ride my bike from Berkeley Street up to the Cemetery at seven o’clock in the morning, and we would bring breakfast in a brown paper bag...and there would probably be five or six or seven of us who would then spend the next couple of hours before school looking at birds.” She grew up in a family she describes as supportive but not particularly interested in nature: it was her time in that science class, learning about animals both in the classroom and outdoors at Mount Auburn, that she credits with fostering her love of science and nature. These interests shaped her entire career. “Ultimately, I continued to be interested in science,” she recalls. “I ended up majoring in science and ultimately became a science teacher, and for over forty years I taught science to children, and had a wonderful career. “For almost thirty years, I taught at Shady Hill School. In those days we had a key to the [Cemetery] gate on Coolidge Avenue, so I could bring my students across the road into Mount Auburn Cemetery, where we did all of our pond water studies, our tree studies, studies of the seasons....The Cemetery truly has shaped my life, end to end.” Between her decades of teaching and her current role as a senior science educator at TERC (a Cambridge-based organization focused on improving science and math education), she has developed a deep appreciation for the Cemetery landscape as a natural resource in the Boston area, both for its wildlife and for its educational value. “It’s so important for children to have a chance to have an encounter with those natural places, especially our city children, who grow up pretty programmed....One of the things I used to do when I’d bring a class over here was to say, ok, I want you to sit with your clipboard (we used to sit on the edges around the pond), and you can’t move or talk or do anything for five minutes, just watch and draw....Five minutes of silence is a long time! What they discovered was that when they were still, and when they were quiet, they began to see things that they didn’t see before. And even young children appreciate that.” Today, Sally is a member of the Friends of Mount Auburn and continues to come to the Cemetery often, attending programs, visiting her family lots, and wandering the grounds. “I love hearing about how the Cemetery is going about balancing the fact that it’s an active cemetery and yet it’s also a bird sanctuary and horticultural garden and a place for the public to find peace and nature. I have great admiration for the decision-makers here, who are seeking that sweet spot.” After so many years of visiting, even as the landscape continues to change and evolve, Sally’s perspective remains that “Mount Auburn is still Mount Auburn; it’s still beautiful, it’s still peaceful.”