Member Spotlight: Harold I. Pratt’s Family Research Guide
Curiosity about past generations of our families is a common interest for many of us, especially at a site like Mount Auburn where our landscape and historical collections are filled with tangible records of so many individuals from nearly two centuries. Longtime 1831 Society member Harold I. (Harry) Pratt has been finding out compelling, noteworthy stories of some of his nineteenth-century ancestors for many years, including two Mount Auburn notables: famed mathematician and navigator Nathaniel Bowditch and Civil War colonel Norwood Penrose Hallowell (Harry’s great-great-great and great-great grandfathers on different sides, respectively). He and his wife, Frances, were eventually inspired to create a short reference book on four of their ancestors, including Bowditch and Hallowell, as a family resource for future generations. The final product was Four Worthy Ancestors, printed by The Ascencius Press in Bar Mills, ME in 2022.
Learning about everyone was a gradual process, Harry recalls, thanks to a combination of saving family documents and participating in programs, trips, and exhibit events with ties to these individuals. “I’d accumulated quite a bit of information about them, which at first ended up on an apocryphal lower shelf in my home. It got bigger and bigger with stuff from the family that I didn’t know much about. And then more time passed, and the lower shelf was getting pretty full. So I began to separate the material and put together a three ring notebook for each of the four ancestors. That got me to thinking that it might be good if I could put together a little book about all this, for the benefit of our children, grandchildren, etc.” That inspired him to read everything more carefully and do additional research, deepening his knowledge of each individual. Now, he and Frances have distributed the final version among their extended families – as well as sending a copy to Mount Auburn’s Historical Collections & Archives as an informal, non-academic resource on both Bowditch and Hallowell.
Harry’s advice to anyone interested in researching family history is that there are more resources than you might think, if you start asking around. “I was so blessed by having access to a significant amount of written material about the old boys. But my advice is that if someone is interested in their family’s lineage, start talking to other relatives. Very often cousins have quiet interest in these things that you wouldn’t have known about. Find out if there are any family diaries. If you want to find out deeds or that kind of stuff, try the local probate court. There’s more out there than anyone might suspect. And as I said, I’ve been so fortunate in having – either by accident, or by pure luck – ended up with a lot of material. My job was to try to sort it out and make some sense of it.”
Mount Auburn resources on Nathaniel Bowditch:
Mount Auburn resources on Norwood Penrose Hallowell:
Commemorating Simon Antranighian
Memorializing local heritage: creating a monument for Mount Auburn’s first Armenian resident
Mount Auburn is working with a group of Armenian history and culture advocates to erect a monument to daguerreotypist Simon Antranighian (1827 – 1855), the first known Armenian buried at Mount Auburn. He was interred in a public lot in an unmarked grave – the first of more than 3,000 Armenians to be buried here up through today. While this group includes Armenian national heroes, there are also thousands of everyday individuals like Antranighian who helped establish their heritage in the Boston area, which now has the third-largest Armenian population in the United States.
A pioneer who deserves to be remembered
In 1853, the 26-year-old Simon Antranighian arrived in Boston on the clipper ship Sultana from Smyrna (Izmir), Turkey. When he applied for U.S. citizenship the following spring, he stated that he was an “Artist,” born in Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey, in 1827. Probate records suggest that Antranighian worked as a daguerreotypist (an early type of photographer) and a waiter in what is now Boston’s South Bay.
According to his death record, Antranighian died on March 15, 1855, just 470 days after his arrival. His cause of death was listed as “Infl. of lungs,” which could have been one of several respiratory diseases – including tuberculosis and pneumonia – that were common killers in 19th-century cities.
Antranighian was interred in the public St. John Lot on Vesper Avenue in an unmarked grave. He was the first known Armenian to be buried at Mount Auburn – but not the last.
A community effort
In 2014, volunteer docent Stephen Pinkerton collaborated with Ruth Thomasian of Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives and Marc Mamigonian of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research to present a program celebrating the lives of Armenians buried here, as a centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. It was during this collaboration that Stephen identified Antranighian’s story. After that, they formed an informal “Armenian Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery” group with fellow advocates to pursue installation of a grave marker for Antranighian, designed by sculptor Robert Shure of Skylight Studios in Woburn, as well as James Holman of Mount Auburn.
Support this project
You can help us make this monument a reality! We are raising funds for the costs of creating the monument and landscaping around it. Your donation will join others from the Watertown community to create this important memorial to our local history.
A Good Neighbor: John Chipman Gray the Elder
By Karen Falb
Mount Auburn Cemetery and the nearby Larchwood Neighborhood (Fig. 1) have a history going back to the Cemetery’s founding in 1831. At that time, the neighborhood was an estate owned by John Chipman Gray (1793-1881), a state politician and horticulturist who resided on Boston’s Summer Street. He used his Cambridge property as a family farmstead and summer residence convenient to Boston, where he served as both a state representative and senator from 1829 to 1852. Researchers today can find him listed as John Gray, John C. Gray, and John Chipman Gray the Elder. His estate was inherited by his nephew John Chipman Gray (1839-1915), son of Horace Gray, Harvard Law Professor and partner in the law firm Ropes and Gray. After the death of the younger Gray, the estate was developed into the Larchwood Neighborhood in 1915.
John Gray was one of the many gentleman farmers of the Boston area involved with prominent voluntary associations such as the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Society for the Promotion of Massachusetts Agriculture. He was also a founding member and first vice president (1829-1833) of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society during its early years, when it championed the project of developing a rural cemetery. Although the Society’s president Henry Dearborn and corresponding secretary Jacob Bigelow were the masterminds of what became Mount Auburn, the support of people like John Gray made their efforts successful.
One of the most important of these supporters was the merchant and art collector George W. Brimmer, whose land bordering Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge became the core of the Cemetery (Fig. 2). Beginning in 1825, Brimmer had purchased acreage in Watertown and Cambridge with the idea of making an estate. But by 1831 he had given up the idea because of ill health, and was eager to sell the land to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for its new cemetery. One of Brimmer’s original Cambridge parcels was purchased from John Gray’s father, the Boston merchant and Massachusetts politician William “Billy” Gray. However, Gray had retained 1.3 acres directly in front of his mansion and the triangle of land between Brattle and Mount Auburn Streets.
When his father died later in 1825, John Gray inherited the 1.3-acre parcel with the estate and mansion. He then sold that land to George Brimmer in September 1831, adding to the total area purchased by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. And later that fall, he helped support the Society’s financing of the cemetery land by buying three contiguous lots for the Gray family’s future needs. Since he and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children, those future needs included those of his older single brother, Frances Calley Gray, and his younger brother Horace Gray and his family. His parents were already interred in St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tremont Street in Boston.
Located on a foothill by the intersection of Hemlock and Lily Paths, the Gray family lots are on a line from the original mansion house site to the Mount Auburn mount. Perhaps the lots were chosen by John and Elizabeth for existing views both from and to the mansion. 25 years after their purchase, the first burial was of Frances Calley Gray in 1856. His poignant marble memorial of an old loyal dog catches one’s attention to this day. The next burial was of Horace Gray in 1873, marked by a simple marble stone. John’s wife, Elizabeth Pickering Gardner Gray (aunt to Isabella Stewart Gardner’s husband), followed in 1879, and John joined her in 1881 (Fig. 4).
What should John Gray be remembered for today? Certainly his support of the Cemetery during its first year is important. This included his leadership in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society as well as personal decisions to sell land to complete the cemetery and provide financial support by buying lots. Later he was a Trustee from 1845-1849 and a neighbor for fifty years. It is easy to imagine, though, that as a horticulturist he must have been at least initially disappointed when the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s goal of developing experimental gardens in or near his former 1.3 acres was dropped by 1835 when Mount Auburn became a separate corporation.
Meanwhile, the Larchwood Neighborhood still memorializes him as well, especially his interest in trees. Its name was inspired by the trees he and other family descendants planted at the edge of the estate for privacy. Many of these interesting estate trees were saved by the architectural landscape firm Pray Hubbard and White when they planned the neighborhood in 1915. A few from the Gray estate survive to this day. (Fig. 6 – top photo. A memorial commemorating the 100th birthday of the neighborhood placed in the Larchwood cul de sac on Fresh Pond Lane. Photo by Karen Falb.)
Karen Falb is a retired biology teacher and landscape historian. She and her husband, Peter Falb, have enjoyed the Cemetery’s beauty and history for almost 50 years as neighbors living in the Larchwood Neighborhood, almost on the original site of the Gray’s family mansion now located on Larch Road.
President Alan Chesney’s Photographic Legacy
A former Air Force pilot who served 35 missions in World War II, Alan Chesney was president and trustee of Mount Auburn from 1968 to 1988. During that time, Chesney oversaw the sale of 15 acres of land for family lots and single graves, the addition of 4,000 new grave spaces, and the planting of hundreds of trees and shrubs. He also established the Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery (FOMAC) in 1986, a program that continues to promote the appreciation of the Cemetery through its preservation, horticultural rejuvenation, and educational programs. Photo above: Flowering Tree, Wilkinson Monument, Undated.(more…)