Urgent Repair Needed for Monument to Express Service Founder

July 1, 2016

By Meg L. Winslow, Curator of Historical Collections and Melissa Banta, Historical Collections Consultant

Mount Auburn has long been a leader among historic cemeteries in conserving irreplaceable examples of American funerary sculpture.  In 2013, the stewardship of the Cemetery’s monuments was advanced with a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS MA-30-13-0533-13) for a two-year project to document and research our significant Monument Collection, a group of thirty monuments of utmost importance to the Cemetery’s cultural landscape.

The IMLS grant enabled Cemetery staff to create a baseline for preservation of the Significant Monument Collection, including documentation, photography, cataloging, research in our historical collections, and the establishment of standards for the care of outdoor sculpture.  Condition assessments and treatment recommendations were also provided by Daedalus Inc., Fine Art Conservators.  With information gleaned through the IMLS grant, Mount Auburn staff has prioritized the monument most urgently in need of care and preservation.  We began in 2014 with conservation of the Binney Monument; in 2015 the Magoun monument was conserved.  This year we are seeking funds to conserve another significant monument in the collection, the Harnden Monument on Central Avenue.

The Harnden Monument was erected in 1866 by the Express Companies of the United States to commemorate their founder, William Frederick Harnden (1812-1845), who pioneered express services between Boston and New York.  This striking monument features a large granite canopy over a marble urn and a statue of a dog by noted American sculptor Thomas A. Carew (1819-1892).  The urn’s pedestal is adorned with bas-reliefs that illustrate the sending and receiving of packages.

A century and a half of exposure to acidic rainwater and the harsh freeze-thaw cycles of New England winters have caused significant erosion of the monument’s sculptural details, and water has penetrated in places.  Conservators will first carefully wash accumulated soil from the granite and marble surfaces with neutral cleaners and soft brushes.  A portable laser gun will help remove dirt from fragile areas.  Cracks and joints will be filled with a soft grout or other reversible fill material, mixed with marble sand to match the stone.  A large crack in the marble urn will be mended, and the bronze elements will be cleaned and re-patinated.  Finally, a chemical treatment will be applied to strengthen the monument.

Treatment of this monument will be a joint effort between Mount Auburn and Daedalus, Inc.  Mount Auburn’s staff will clean and repoint the granite plaza, border wall and granite structure; Daedalus conservators will wash and treat the monument.  After treatment, the Harnden Monument will be monitored by Mount Auburn’s preservation staff and undergo cyclical maintenance to prevent additional deterioration.  Conservation treatment, including the erection of scaffolding is estimated at $55,000, and we need your help!  The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery is seeking donations from individual groups, foundations, and corporations to support preservation of this significant monument.  For more information, please contact Jenny Gilbert, Director of Institutional Advancement, at jgilbert@mountauburn.org or 617-607-1970.  You can also donate on our website at http://mountauburn.org/give/

July 2016 Update

Conservation of the Harnden Monument has begun.  Daedalus, Inc. conservators removed the bronze frames around the marble panels on the main pedestal.  The frames will be conserved at their shop and it will be much better to complete conservation of the marble panels in situ without the bronze frames in place.  Other investigative work is also being done in preparation for the continuation of on-site work in September when the weather is cooler.

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