Yesterday I found myself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the extraordinarily beautiful Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
Mt. Auburn is one of the first “garden” cemeteries in the United States. It was begun in 1831 and designed mostly by Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn, serving as the inspiration for many other public places and parks, including New York’s Central.
I went there yesterday not because it was Memorial Day—although that made the visit especially fitting—but because I was in the area and had a bit of free time and it was a beautiful spring day. The cemetery’s plantings are spectacular, with rolling hills and ponds and ancient trees amidst the flowers and the old gravestones.
Mt. Auburn’s roster includes some of Boston’s most illustrious, almost a who’s who of the Boston past. There are guidebooks and audio tours, but yesterday I just wandered about.
One of the monuments I happened on was that of Robert Gould Shaw. Here it is:
And this is a close-up of the inscription:
You may remember Shaw as the hero of the movie “Glory,” the young Harvard graduate and son of noted abolitionists, who raised and commanded the first regiment of black troops to fight for the Union. As the plaque states, he was twenty-five years old when he died, sacrificing his life to those twin causes.
However, Gould’s body does not lie in Mt. Auburn (although his grandfather’s does):
[Gould's] 54th was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, to take part in the operations against the Confederates stationed there. On July 18, 1863, along with two brigades of white troops, the 54th assaulted Confederate Battery Wagner. As the unit hesitated in the face of fierce Confederate fire, Shaw led his men into battle by shouting,”Forward, Fifty-Fourth Forward!” He mounted a parapet and urged his men forward, but was shot through the heart and he died almost instantly; his body fell into the fort. He was buried in a mass grave with many of his men, which the Confederates considered an insult. However, Gould’s father publicly proclaimed that he was proud his son was interred in such a manner as befitting both for his role as a soldier and a crusader for social justice.
Mt. Auburn is a peaceful place, far more peaceful than the lives of many of its denizens. Yesterday it was especially lovely and very, very quiet save for the calls of a few birds:
There was a brief but violent thunderstorm. Here is a shot of the sun breaking through afterwards:
[NOTE: Technically speaking, most of Mt. Auburn actually lies in Watertown, Massachusetts. But the entrance is in Cambridge, and most people tend to think of the whole as being in Cambridge.]