“Upon the Borders of Two Worlds”

January 3, 2013

An extended chronology of Mount Auburn-related literary excerpts continued from Sweet Auburn Magazine, Winter 2013

For the Winter 2013 issue of Sweet Auburn, we chose to include a chronology of literary excerpts that span our 181-year history and reflect changing attitudes about life and death and the Cemetery itself.  Poetry, prose, and lore have long been used to capture the relationship between Mount Auburn and the public it serves.

At Mount Auburn, as Joseph Story said in his 1831 Consecration Address, “We stand, as it were, upon the borders of two worlds; and as the mood of our minds may be, we may gather lessons of profound wisdom by contrasting the one with the other, or indulge in the dreams of hope and ambition, or solace our hearts by melancholy meditations.” His words are no less true today than they were in 1831, as writers, poets, and literary artists continue to explore the beauty, wonder, and emotion of Mount Auburn.

In our printed magazine we highlighted,  “The New Adam and Eve” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The First Snowfall” by James Russell Lowell, The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand, “Stairway to Heaven” by Robert Creeley, Still Alice by Lisa Genova and Lanie by Jane Kurtz.  Nevertheless, there are many other literary works that have drawn inspiration from the Cemetery, including the following:

Incident at Mount Auburn” from Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio by by Fanny Fern, 1853

An excerpt from Fern’s short story reads, “A mother had laid her darling in the earth. Many mothers have done this; it is an everyday occurrence. Myriads of little sculptured forms have been thus laid to rest, with blinding tears…In all the wide earth there is no spot so dear as the little mound that covers a child…Friends and acquaintances accompany them to “the narrow door,” and there they leave them.”

Author and newspaper columnist Fanny Fern (1811 – 1872) is buried in Lot 994 Eglantine Path at Mount Auburn.

Escher Twist by Jane Langton, 2002

“I’m trying to remember why I chose to use Mount Auburn in Escher Twist.  I suppose it was simply that since I write mysteries about death and general gloom, and since Homer Kelly hails from this territory, Mt. Auburn was a natural choice.”  – Jane Langton, on Mount Auburn as a setting for the Escher Twist

In the opening to her book Escher Twist, Langton describes Cambridge, Massachusetts in “a fantastical statistical study.”  She writes, “Like most cities, Cambridge is not one metropolis but many” and continues, “Six-and-a-half square miles of urban density relieved by parks and playing fields and by a famous cemetery….[and] in taking a proper census, what about underground residents?  Shouldn’t they be included in the total population by some sort of mortuary statistic?  After all, there are ninety-thousand expired citizens in Mount Auburn alone…

Hatching Magic by Ann Downer, 2003.

From Hatching Magic (p.20):

“They drove to Mount Auburn, the big Victorian cemetery not far from Harvard Square. Mikko parked the car, and they walked up the path to their favorite duck pond, passing graves marked with marble urns, lambs, obelisks, rose-covered crosses, melancholy angels, and even tiny Greek temples. For a cemetery, Mount Auburn really wasn’t very spooky, with the sunlight filtering through the branches of the huge, old chestnuts and oaks and robins bounding along on the brilliant green carpets of grass between the graves.”

Mansions of the Dead by Sarah Stewart Taylor, 2004.

From Mansions of the Dead (p. 210):

“But these stones were different from his father’s. They were in the shapes of things, coffins or pyramids or angels, and they had beautiful flowers carved on them. As he wandered along the rows, reading the names on the stones, he recognized some of them from buildings he’d see around town, street names.

He stopped in front of a small statue of an angel, inscribed with the words, “My Wife and Child.” That was it, no names, no dates. He stood for a moment, reading the words, conscious that his eyes were filling up, and embarrassed, he wiped them away.”

Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman, 2012

“Mount Auburn Cemetery has always been one of my favorite places in Cambridge, as I consider it the most peaceful and beautiful spot in the entire city. So I set no less than three scenes at the cemetery in my new fantasy/science fiction novel, Crashing Eden. Joss Kazdan, the teenage protagonist of the story, feels partly to blame for the death of his younger brother, Eli. Joss visits his brother’s grave with his family, and later on his own, trying to come to terms with his loss.” – Michael Sussman on Mount Auburn Cemetery

An excerpt from Crashing Eden’s first scene:

“She pulled into Mount Auburn Cemetery and crawled through its web of narrow roads. Before Eli died, I used to love to stroll through the cemetery each spring, its rolling hills covered with lush foliage, a refuge for dozens of bird species. Now, on this chilly overcast afternoon, it felt dismal and forlorn.”

An excerpt from Crashing Eden’s third scene:

“Standing before us was the headstone that I’d wept and wailed in front of back in December. As we stood and stared, the letters of Eli’s name began vibrating and a deep royal blue—his favorite color—radiated out from the base of the tombstone. A golden shaft of light appeared in front of the grave, extending straight up into the sky. We all gazed upward, and a dot appeared at the top of the beam. It slowly grew larger and more brilliant, finally landing right in front of us with a whoosh. Standing before us was a luminous form. As the light grew fainter, we could see the outline of a boy.”


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