Friday, May 21, 1999
Mount Auburn Cemetery: A springtime paradise
If you have not been to Cambridge's Mount Auburn Cemetery, you are missing a wonderland of plants, birds and material culture. This spring, before the blooms go, take at least a half hour and drive through. Even better, take a few hours for birding or just wandering among the plantings and monuments. The dogwoods and cherries, the rhododendrons, crabapples and magnolias are all in bloom.
Historically, Mount Auburn is particularly special because of its role in America's cemetery movement. By the early 19th century, most cities' burying places were close to being filled. Somewhat in response to concerns about the spread of disease, but more in the interest of creating respectful parks of beauty and civic pride, planners developed "rural" cemeteries where the dead could sleep in beauty and peace, and the living could visit and walk, read the monument inscriptions, and indulge themselves in the then romantic imagery of mourning.
Mount Auburn was completed in 1831, the first representative of this movement. Cities across the country mimicked its design. Small towns tried to do the same. Concord's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was laid out with the same attention to collecting specimen plantings, marking tree-named paths, and cultivating appreciation for the natural contours of the landscape. Even Carlisle's Green Cemetery uses "Larch Avenue" and "Elm Avenue" to name its roads, and honors civic-minded contributions of the chapel, the receiving tomb and the summerhouse.
Unlike 150 years ago, Mount Auburn down-plays its parklike appeal because it is still an active burial site. Yet because it is such a historic and natural resource, it is heavily visited. You can rent ($5) or buy ($12) a one-hour audiotape for a driving tour of the grounds. There are occasional monument tours with historians and regular early-morning tours with birders or horticulturists.
The Brookline Bird Club sponsors 6 a.m. walks, leaving from the front gate, May 25 and 28. There is a bird identification workshop on May 27 at 6:30 a.m. Before 7 a.m. the gates are not open and you must park on the road outside. Call 617-547-7105 for a recorded listing of tours and lectures.
Serious birders can reach a recorded update of sightings at 617-547-7105 ext. 824, and, after their visit, update the entrance chalkboard with bird sightings. The horticulturist keeps a running list of what is in bloom.
Remember, this is a cemetery. It is not a place for picnicking, jogging, biking or rollerblading. Do not park your car on the green-lined roads. These are main tour roads for the car audio tour, or for touring the grounds without a map and still finding your way out.
The cemetery is located at 580 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge. From Fresh Pond Parkway ,go right onto Route 16 at the light, follow it left at the next intersection onto Aberdeen Street. Turn left at the next light onto Mt. Auburn, and the cemetery entrance is immediately on your right. Follow the green line in the road past the chapel, and park in the small, concealed circle to your right among the tombs. There are restrooms near the chapel. The chalkboards for birdsightings and plants-in-bloom are located in the entrance gate alcoves, as are self-service maps, bird and bloom lists.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito