Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Brief Holiday Respite

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Today, in the midst of all the holiday bustle, a post you might not expect.  Dear friend of the Reds John Harrison, a Boston historian and skilled photographer, has touched all of us with his gorgeous celebration of—a cemetery. Yes, a cemetery.
It’s a place full of history, and passion, and memories—and gratitude and beauty and serenity.

So take a moment from your busy day. Let John (and editor Kim Nagy) tell you all about it. Read on. Take a little tour. And we’re giving away a copy at the end.

John and Kim
JOHN HARRISON:  Dead In Good Company is a book about a Boston treasure, the Mount Auburn Cemetery.  As President and CEO of the cemetery, David Barnett,  noted in his foreword to the book, "When Jacob Bigelow and the rest of the founding fathers created Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1831, they envisioned a place that would serve the important functions of burial and commemoration of the dead while at the same time providing a beautiful, tranquil setting that would inspire the living."  Sweet Auburn, as the cemetery is affectionately known, has remained true to this vision. 
An amazing group of authors and notables have come together to celebrate the Mount Auburn Cemetery, each writing a personal essay.

Look at the list! Harvard Law professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz; historical novelist William Martin; former Mayor of Boston and Ambassador to the Vatican, Ray Flynn; best selling author and beloved Boston TV icon,  Hank Phillippi Ryan;  Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, Megan  Marshall;  mystery-true crime writer Kate Flora (who came up with the title!);  mystery authors Katherine Hall Page and Edith Maxwell,  medical thriller author and Northeastern professor of writing, Gary Goshgarian  (Gary Braver); broadcasting legend  Upton Bell;  international bird guide author, ornithologist and illustrator, David Sibley; drama critic, author and host of the Theatre World Awards. senior scientist for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States,  John Hadidian; and Boston Globe sports writer and television commentator, Dan Shaughnessy. And more!

So meander the paths of this serene, inspiring cemetery. You might pass the memorial of Edwin Booth, John Wilkes Booth's brother, subject of William Martin's essay, The Actor and the Hawk, In his essay, Martin notes, "this ancient cemetery is full of stories." 

Turn a corner, and there is the resting place of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., two-term Senator from Massachusetts who lost his third term bid to John F. Kennedy in 1952.  Former Mayor and Ambassador to the Vatican, Ray Flynn, tells a little known story about Lodge in his essay, Voices Still Heard.  

At Willow Pond
From there it's only a short walk to Willow Pond.  As you approach the pond, you pass the memorial of the voice of the Red Sox, Curt Gowdy.  In his essay, Hi, Neighbor.  Have a 'Gansett, Dan Shaughnessy notes, “And that's why it's fitting that Gowdy is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery with so many other gods of regional folklore.”   

Continue on past the beautiful weeping beech tree and there is the bronze rectangle commemorating the dean of American drama critics, Elliot Norton. Climb the slight hill at one end of Willow Pond and look down at the bronze plaque commemorating author Bernard Malamud.  

   Study your map, and make your way to Palm Ave. to find the memorial of Ludlow Griscom, pioneer ornithologist, and as a bird watcher, pause to pay your respects. Look up, and there is a Red-bellied Woodpecker not too high in a tree feeding one of its chicks in the cavity it has made for its offspring.

Fannie Farmer's marker
From the Dell, you make a beeline to Central Avenue to take a peek at the resting place of Fanny Farmer, who so influenced the way America cooks.  In her essay, A Recipe For Memories, Hank Philippi Ryan recalls the life of this legend.  (And her grandmother’s chocolate coffee cake.)

Mt. Auburn is full of life at every moment. Climb the steps from Auburn Lake onto Indian Ridge and you might see a coyote as it passes by. Or looking up, you might see a spring migrant -- perhaps a Cape May or Chestnut-sided Warbler. If you are especially lucky, maybe an Indigo Bunting.

In this oasis a mile from Harvard Square, there is something, or everyone.
It's a place where you leave the cares of the world at the gates and rejuvenate as you walk at your own pace along the paths.  As legendary broadcaster Upton Bell muses in his essay, Garden of Grand Illusion, "My walk through this special place has given me a final perspective on life, death and infinity."

HANK: Ah. Gorgeous, huh? And such a sense of peace in this time of joy.    Do you visit cemeteries? Any place special for you?

If you’re in a rush, just say hello. All commenters will be entered for a copy of DEAD IN GOOD COMPANY!


  1. One tends to forget that cemeteries hold so much history in their peaceful paths. It's easy to forget that if you've stopped to visit the resting place of a loved one, but, oh the stories they could tell . . . .

    Your book definitely belongs in my teetering to-be-read pile.
    Thanks for a wonderful post . . .

  2. What a fascinating read this will be. I live in one of the oldest towns in California. We didn't really know much of its history when we moved here, but there was some mining done in the mid-1800's. I discovered a small cemetery in a park with walking trails, and spent many hours reading the family names and dates and imagining what their lives must have been like.

  3. I'm delighted to have an essay - "My First Time" - in this stellar collection. Mt. Auburn is one of my favorite places. Like you, Grandma, just wandering and imagining the stories of those gone before is one of the best things to do. And having a beautiful setting? Icing on the cake.

  4. This sounds like a wonderful collection of stories--a peaceful evening of reading--it will be a pleasure to look for this book. As an archaeologist, I've seen my share of the dead--from single interments covered with red ochre from thousands of years ago, to forgotten family cemeteries on abandoned farms--they never fail to move me. Our local cemetery is located in town, but tucked away on a parcel of land surrounded by Old Woman's creek far below. At the entrance, the remains of a stone bridge for the old electric train from Cleveland still stand. It's an oasis of peace--you might find someone rubbing stones or an officer feeding a family of kittens at the shed.

  5. I *DO* visit cemeteries... we have one in Milton (est. 1672) that's the same vintage as Mt. Auburn, beautifully landscaped two centuries later as cemeteries were back then, more of a park where you went to picnic and hang out with your dead relatives.

    Mr. Auburn is where I went on one of my first bird walks and I set the opening of my first (published) novel there.

  6. Yes, its really wonderful. I was intimidated, I must say, by the assignment... Jonathan and I strolled through the cemetery, and I waited for inspiration. ANd I must say, it was movingly apparent that I had been so wrong--there were stories everywhere.

    When I saw the Fannie Farmer grave marker--its more a boulder, covered with ivy--it reminded me that I had the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Might have been my mother's. ANd I thought about how often I looked at it, and referred to it. ANd turned out, Fannie was maybe the first woman to self- publish! Back in the 1890's--when she didn't think her cookbook (one of the very first, if not the first, to specify exactly how to measure a cup of something, and to standardize recipes) was getting enough attention.

    The more I researched her, the more delighted I was at our connections. And I realized, too how life-changing her ideas were. If my Grandma Minnie had used her methods, we'd no be able to duplicate her coffee cake. which sadly, none of us can, since the recipe say, essentially: Mix yeast and flour, add milk, add sugar, add coffee. Sigh.

  7. I love walking through here. What a wonderful place.

  8. And of course cemeteries are classic places for authors to find new names for characters.

  9. What a delightful surprise to find Mount Auburn as the topic for Jungle Red.. It is truly a national treasure. .i have spent many hours with my friend, an avid genealogist, wandering through Vermont cemeteries searching for ancestors, Even these small cemeteries have such tales to tell.

  10. SO Gram, is there a cemetery near you?

    Flora's sounds so amazing. What's that novel about the electricity coming to Cleveland? I can never remember the name, but it's a wonderful mystery. About a teacher, I remember...anyone? Any one?

  11. Oh, Dotty, wonderful to see you! What did you find? And what great birds did you see? The book is full of wonderful wildlife photos from the amazing John Harrison--worth a blog on their own! SOmehow he sees the birds when no one else can. What's the secret to that?

  12. Edith, how did you pick your topic for the book?

    Grandma C and Joan, yes, exactly. It makes the people feel more real, doesn't it?

  13. When I was growing up, I used to go to our local cemetery to walk and roller-blade. There was a pond in the middle, with a huge weeping willow. I'd sit there, watch the ducks and geese, and read. When I told my kids about this, they said, "Mom, that's creepy." Not really. It's peaceful. The dead don't mind - and they're good company. I will never forget, however, misjudging the slope of a hill, losing control on my rollerblades, and come to rest inches from the gravestone of Dicky Arbuckle. There's a name for a story!

    Hank, you're not thinking of "City of Light" are you? But that's set in Niagara Falls. It is a mystery with a schoolteacher (for a local girls' school, if I remember correctly) as the protagonist.

  14. Yes, yes, Mary, City of Light! And okay, you;re so right--it's about GROVER Cleveland, right? I m howling. My poor brain.

    ANd yes, there's the "creepy" element--which it feels as if it might be. But then, it isn't.

  15. Well, the novel I'm talking about takes place in 1901 around the time of the World's Fair which showcased Tesla and the mainstreaming of electricity. William McKinley was president; Grover Cleveland was the immediate past president. But it's been so long since I read the book, I'm not really sure how big Cleveland's role in the story ways.

    Ah, back when Buffalo was known for more than snow...

  16. WINNERS from yesterday ware Sandy and Jim Collins! Email me h ryan at whdh dot com with your address!

    We'l choose another lucky commenter at the ned of today to win The Mt. Auburn book!

  17. sounds like a gorgeous book--and a wonderful place to visit. One of you might take me there next time I'm in the area?

    We have a beautiful cemetery in Key West too, with many interesting stories. They had to move it after one hurricane, when remnants of the dead were found in trees after the storm. I love setting scenes there...the old dead and the newly dead...

  18. No time right now to read this, because I'm on my way to pick up my mother for... a funeral. At the Dayton National Cemetery this morning.

    My grandfather was the sexton of the Catholic cemetery in Hamilton, Ohio for decades, and I grew up playing in the cemetery next to their home. They are lovely places, and I look forward to reading more later today.

  19. Yes, Mary, that;s exactly it. And Yes, Grover Cleveland. :-) More I cannot say. But it's a really good book.

    And I meant at the END of today, to the ned of today. Is there some spelling fixer thing I can turn off?

  20. Karen, you are a good daughter. Take care.

  21. Lucy/Roberta--maybe we could get John to take us on the Jungle Red tour! He always sees amazing birds, and wildlife. Who's in?

  22. What a delightful, and peaceful, place. I love wandering older cemeteries, the kind with monuments and carvings. If the headstones are slanting, I'll probably find my way there for a visit. As Lucy noted, Key West has a great one. Home of the oft-repeated carving, "I told you I was sick." And Charleston. I could spend weeks in Charleston cemeteries. There are so many stories, and some are written on the tombstones.

  23. A lovely reminder of cemetery visits made with my grammy and my mother as a little girl...geraniums planted for Memorial Day, arrangements of evergreens and holly for Christmas. Walking through the amazing (to this little girl) monuments: the black marble sphere, the gray marble roll, "the baby on the half-shell". And the funny little footstones with just initials. Just went back this past weekend -- could not find the baby nor did I bring any arrangements of evergreens and holly. That custom faded when my mother became too uncertain of her footing on grass. But the other stones were there, as well as my parents' footstones -- not just initials for them, but broad flat stones with name, for Daddy rank, dates and words to remember them both. Thank you for the memory and the space to share it.

  24. Hank, when I saw the call for essays from Leslie Wheeler, I thought about all my firsts wandering the lanes of Mt. Auburn: my first great horned owl, my first indigo bunting, the first place beyond home when I felt comfortable with my much-older boyfriend at the time, and much more. So I wrote about all those things.

  25. I'd go on John's Jungle Red tour! I love old cemeteries and am fortunate that here in New England, we see both the somber 18th century graveyards "As I am, So shall you be," and the beautiful Victorian-era parks.

    Portland's own Evergreen Cemetery was founded in 1855 and has many striking mausoleums. It also boasts the tiny gothic Wilde Memorial Chapel, a popular site for weddings! Well, we do say "Til death do us part..."


  26. I do visit cemeteries - I love them! Donald and I cannot resist stopping at them while we're traveling and will spend a lot of time reading the headstones and taking pictures.

    One of my favorite headstones is in an old cemetery near Hilton Head. It reads "here lies (and I am ashamed I've forgotten her name!), she done the best she could." amen. That's what I'd like my headstone to say.

    LOVE the book!

  27. Reading headstones and imagining the lives behind them is one of my favorite things to do when traveling. I've got a collection of favorite inscriptions, too, but can't seem to put my hands on that folder since my move.

    Congratulations on the book!


  28. I love cemeteries! I can trace this fascination with final resting places to two events. When I was growing up, I would accompany my parents on Memorial Day to place flowers on our family graves, and my mother would tell me about the people who lay beneath. Of special interest to me were the older markers and tombstones, including my grandparents. All that living and doing come to a stop in these places honoring them. A spark was ignited in me. Then, when I was 18, I read Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, and the spark became a flame. I began to really wonder about the narratives of each person buried, their secrets and their passions, their joys and their disappointments.

    So, when I have an opportunity to visit a cemetery now, I gleefully take it. The more unusual gravestones and monuments are what really thrill me and kick my imagination into high gear. I can't claim to have visited a great many cemeteries, or not near as many as I'd like, but a few favorites that I have managed to walk through and enjoy are Arlington National Cemetery, Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA; and Key West Cemetery in Key West, FL. Arlington, of course, has the big draw of President Kennedy's eternal flame, plus the overwhelming feel of the sacrifice that has been made for our country in war. Hollywood in Richmond was interesting for all sorts of reasons, including the wide variety of creative monuments and view of the river. Hollywood Cemetery has the Iron Dog, the Newfoundland standing guard over a little girl's grave, President Monroe's and President Tyler's tomb and monument, Jefferson Davis' grave and life-sized statue, and some really unique monuments that look like trees carved out of stone. Key West has a great atmosphere and some interesting inscriptions on gravestones, such as "I told you I was sick." Then, there are the chickens that add a special ambiance to the Key West Cemetery.

    Hank and Edith, congratulations on your inclusion in this intriguing book. John and Kay, kudos to you for bringing the story of this cemetery to the rest of us. I have several books on cemeteries, and I can't wait to add this one to my collection.

  29. Kait! I told you I was sick--that is hilarious. I had never heard that one.. Perfect.

    Yes, Elisabeth, it is so peaceful, and so connecting. Profound proof of existence, somehow.

    Kaye, she done the best she could. That's about as touching as it gets. YOU have to wonder--was it her idea? Or someone else's assessment? What do you all think?

  30. TFJ, tell us if you find it! That'd be fascinating.

    Kathy, thank you! And sigh. I cannot see Arlington without crying. What's the Iron Dog?

  31. I do love to visit cemeteries. The headstones tell a story all their own. In Hudson, Ohio there was one for a man who had been a drummer boy in the American Revolution. I was fascinated by the graveyards surrounding church ruins in Ireland.
    Everyone knows about our aboveground graves in Louisiana and parts of Texas. I'm thinking Galveston Island. Close to us is Glenwood, an absolutely beautiful place. Many of Houston's movers and shakers were buried here. Most famous is probably Howard Hughes and his family. Any cemetery will tell you about the babies lost, beloved spouses, war veterans, rascals. It is a wonderful compilation of stories.

  32. Hank, what a great book! I, too, love cemeteries, but--no surprise--especially English cemeteries. Old church yards are always fascinating, but I also love the great Victorian planned cemeteries. Kensal Green, just north of Notting Hill, was the first planned cemetery in London. The churchyards were getting crowded and the well-off Victorians wanted room for their monuments. It's a fabulous place. The Grand Union canal runs along one side. You can wander the roads for hours, reading the inscriptions on the monuments and watching the birds. I've buried people there--in the books, of course:-)

  33. Pat D--I agree, the tiny baby markers. And spouses. Every bit of emotion is preserved in those markers.

    Debs, sounds gorgeous…xoxo

  34. Hank, the Iron Dog is as cast iron dog statue standing guard over a little girl's grave in the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. There are several stories as to how the dog came to be there, so I'll just include the link so that you can read those and see a picture of the dog. I thought it quite touching. https://rotj.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/iron-dog-hollywood-cemetery/

    Debs, you reminded me that when I finally get to England, one of the sights I want most to see is Highgate Cemetery in London.

  35. Oh, Kathy, that is lovely. I'll look t the link when i am sure I won't cry. Thank you!

  36. When I was a kid, my mother would take us to the cemetery to feed the ducks and enjoy the quiet, away from all the neighborhood squabbles and dramas. The cemetery we visited was in Poughkeepsie, NY. Last December I was looking for inspiration so that I could paint a small picture for my mother for Christmas. I found the web page for the cemetery we used to visit -- I didn't paint an image from that place, but it was delightful to see the images and learn the history.

    Cemeteries are very vibrant places, full of information, and often very physically beautiful and restful.

  37. We actually own a cemetery, a small family plot of former denizens of our Kentucky farm. It's very pretty, on a hill, under a big oak tree, just above the creek. An octogenarian descendant calls us periodically to ask if it's okay if he and a family member come to tend the graves, and of course it always is. The dates we can still read are from around 1860.

  38. I love old cemeteries, and enjoy taking my camera along to get pictures of grave sculptures and monuments. I'm particularly interested in the symbols people put on headstones. One of my great-grandmothers has a distinctive applique quilt pattern on her marker. You learn a lot about a community in the cemetery.

  39. Historic and beautiful Mt. Auburn is also a site appreciated by the youngest among us! I've been taking my five year old for walks there for two years. She has experienced so many natural wonders and counts it among one of her favorite places. She enjoys the predatory creatures like the Great Horned Owls, Red Tail Hawks and minks, as well as the song birds and wood peckers... Virtually every time we go we enjoy some kind of drama unfolding in the natural word there...

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  41. Denise Ann, that is a lovely story! Thank you!

    And Karen, that is so interesting..I've never known anyone who owns a cemetery. What a responsibility!

    Gigi--fascinating What's the pattern?

    I agree MBH--there is a surprise around every corner at Mt. Auburn I wonder if wildlife just feels safe there? Your 5 year old is a lucky kid!!

    See you all tomorrow--with a very different kind of post.

  42. And the winner is: Dotty Ryan!

    Email me at h ryan at whdh dot com with your address!