Mount Auburn’s Historical Collections

December 7, 2011

The rich history of Mount Auburn’s renowned landscape survives in the Cemetery’s Historical Collections Department, which cares for correspondence, horticultural records, interment records, books, maps, plans, blueprints, photographs, prints, drawings, paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, and ephemera. The collection actively grows through purchases, gifts, and acquisitions.


The rural cemetery movement is a subject of growing interest to scholars and educators across disciplines including landscape and architectural history, horticulture, American studies, anthropology, sociology, natural sciences, and medicine. Within Mount Auburn’s comprehensive archives, the only known collection of its kind in the nation, researchers can discover materials that reflect society’s changing ideas about death and commemoration, religion and ethics, landscape design and nature, and conservation and environmentalism over the past 180 years.

Approximately 400 researchers from around the world—architects, landscape designers and historians, biographers, genealogists, preservationists, curators, writers, publishers, teachers, filmmakers, artists, poets, and individuals with family members buried at the Cemetery—make queries to Mount Auburn’s Historical Collections Department each year. Recent publications that have drawn extensively upon resources housed in the Cemetery’s Historical Collections include This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust; The Escher Twist by Jane Langton; Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America by Stephen Prothero; and Fresh Pond: The History of a Cambridge Landscape by Jill Sinclair.

The Historical Collections are an invaluable resource for Mount Auburn Cemetery staff involved with improving the landscape, implementing preservation plans for monuments and buildings, developing new burial sites, and creating interpretive programs and materials. As many as 100 academic, cultural, and other institutions also consult with Mount Auburn annually.

Researchers visiting the archives will find Mount Auburn’s holdings organized into Archives, Library, Photographs, and Fine and Decorative Arts. In addition, the Department has responsibility for the Cemetery’s collection of significant fine art monuments, stained glass, and monuments and landscape furnishings owned by Mount Auburn.


Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Archives holds materials generated and collected by the Mount Auburn Cemetery since its inception. The collection contains business and legal documents such as deeds, lot correspondence, invoices, death certificates, lot work order cards, entrance tickets, trustee records and meeting minutes, annual reports, interment records, superintendent reports and correspondence books, operations and engineering records, horticultural records, and financial records.

The holdings also include general correspondence, manuscripts, news clippings, ephemera, and maps. Subject strengths are cremation, rural cemetery practices, and early nonprofit history. Mount Auburn’s comprehensive institutional records are the only known collection of its kind in the nation.


The Library holds more than 3,000 accessioned books that include 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century works, signed or first editions, by or about people buried at the Cemetery, as well as reference books on local history, other cemeteries, the rural cemetery movement, cremation, burial practices, horticulture, funerary art, and landscape architecture.

Among the highlights are Jacob Bigelow’s Elements of Technology (1829), Cornelia Walter’s Mount Auburn Illustrated (1847), series of cemetery and funeral industry periodicals, and numerous 19th-century guidebooks about the Cemetery including those by Nathaniel Dearborn and Moses Brown.


The Photograph collection holds more than 6,000 catalogued prints and negatives and a large slide collection, which together chronicle Mount Auburn from the mid-19th century to the present. Broad subjects represented are burials, monuments, mausolea, buildings, landscape, aerial views, horticulture, wildlife, maintenance, staff, events, and programs. The images come from a variety of sources including Cemetery records, superintendent reports, photograph albums, guidebooks, and general reference files. Spanning the history of the medium, the collection comprises a broad range of formats and processes including stereoviews, lantern slides, glass-plate negatives, black-and-white prints, 35mm slides, color prints, and digital images.


The Cemetery’s Fine and Decorative Arts include commissioned works as well as purchases and gifts. Mount Auburn holds several 19th-century oil paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts for Story and Bigelow Chapels, in addition to many prints, watercolors, drawings, and contemporary works of art. Of note are an 1832 souvenir tea cup, a 19th-century china pin tray, and an 1849 girandole set with Bigelow Chapel as the motif. Researchers will also find other objects among the holdings such as chapel textiles, forged iron tools, gatekeeper’s helmets, and award medals from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.


Mount Auburn is happy to respond to research requests.

Genealogical Research – If you are conducting genealogical research, please peruse our research request options, learn about our resources, or visit our online store to complete a research request. Please contact with any questions or for additional genealogical services.

Using Our Historical Collections– Access to the historical collections is by appointment only. If you are interested in utilizing our collections for your research, please contact Meg L. Winslow, Curator of Historical Collections by email at or by phone at 617-607-1942.


  1. Carl Carlson says:

    I am currently transcribing the sea journal of James White, a farmer from Quincy who left Boston in 1849 bound for the “gold diggings of California” via ship. ON June 11th. he wrote:

    Monday June 11th
    In Lat 9ᴼ 54′ Long 119ᴼ 12′. Commenced cloudy with refreshing showers. Wind from the W rather light. I felt rather lazy and disagreeable all day. Great washing day for all hands.

    Thought I should like to roam in the garden of home. Thought of the pleasant warm days. How I used to enjoy myself in looking at the luxuriant growth of trees etc. Thought of the Sundays with old friends. Thought of my particular female friend F.G.B. who lies now dead & mouldering in that uncharted spot Mount Auburn. Lively girl thou art goen. Mourn thy friends who knew thy good qualities and worth. Time can not efface from my memory thy loveliness.

    Lovely girl thou art goen
    Yes thy earthly course is run
    Friends who knew thee are left to mourn
    For thy loss till death is done

    On that fair mount thy art laid
    Where many a flower had their turn
    Kind friends are weeping o’r thee
    Gay birds are warbling on thy grave “return
    Sweet girl return”

    [Note: The word goen occurs repeatedly in this journal. According to the Oxford English Dictionary goen is a form of gone.]

    If you wish I will send you a scan of this page if you will send me an email address.

    Do you have any information about FGB?

    Carl Carlson

    • Jennifer Johnston says:

      Hello Carl, Thank you for getting in touch with us. If you would like to send us the scan we would appreciate seeing it. Not sure what is in our records about the F.G.B. that you mention, but i will forward your comments on to our Historical Collections Dept.

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