Isabella Stewart Gardner Tomb Preservation Underway

March 29, 2018

The Gardner family tomb overlooks picturesque Auburn Lake in Mount Auburn Cemetery, and is one of our most timeless and beloved treasures. Consistently the focal point of tours led by the Friends of Mount Auburn, the tomb is frequently visited by devoted fans of Isabella Stewart Gardner, members and supporters of the Gardner Museum, and our more than 200,000 visitors a year. Today, with the vicissitudes of time, the tomb’s surfaces and interior have suffered marked erosion and are urgently in need of preservation. Thanks to a leadership gift from the estate of a Gardner family member, work is underway to restore and stabilize this important structure.

Set into the hillside overlooking the north end of Auburn Lake, the family tomb was built in 1859 using Concord Granite with a brick foundation and marble tile floor. Among the family members interred in the tomb are Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 – 1924) and her husband, John Lowell Gardner (1837 – 1898). Their son was also buried here in 1868. The exterior façade of the tomb features distinctive incised carvings with a Greek key design, as well as a large oak door with bronze decorative elements. Inside the tomb, two marble portrait sculptures by the French artist Jules Clement commemorate two children who died within days of each other in 1865. A bust of a young girl represents Catherine Elizabeth Gardner (1857 – 1865), and an oval bas-relief profile depicts Samuel Pickering Gardner (1864 – 1865), most likely the children of George Augustus and Eliza Endicott Peabody Gardner.

To date, Mount Auburn’s preservation staff have completely re-leaded the masonry joints and washed the tomb exterior. In the coming months, the tomb’s large oak door will be refurbished, and its lovely bronze ornaments, now missing, will be recast and replaced. Ground moisture seeping through the earth and grass-covered roof of the tomb has led to deterioration and soiling of the interior finishes and surfaces, so a moisture barrier will be installed beneath the topsoil in the spring. Once the entire tomb is stabilized, repaired, and protected, landscaping reflecting Isabella Stewart Gardner’s favorite colors and plants will begin. The planting design will be a collaboration between the Gardner Museum’s Chief Horticulturalist and Dennis Collins, Mount Auburn’s Curator of Horticulture.

The Gardner Tomb is one of our most visited and celebrated sites at Mount Auburn, and we are thrilled to be able to conserve this cherished mausoleum. Our endowment does not cover certain preservation projects, including this one, so we rely on generous contributions from our Friends of Mount Auburn to support this vital preservation project. To make a gift, please contact Jenny Gilbert, Director of Institutional Advancement at 617-607-1970 or

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