April 30, 2009

Spring-ing into the Season

Well, Spring finally arrived--by throwing us a day of Summer temperatures, no less!--and the monument survey project is back underway outdoors. Our NEA preservation intern, Mary Bulso, and I completed the data input over the winter, checked everything twice, and are finally thawed out enough to start welcoming our fabulous volunteers back for the inscription project.

If you're not familiar with the transcribing, here's the thing: it's a lot of fun, and you're not graded on it! I give you some paper, a pencil, and assign you a bunch of (gorgeous, beautiful, and poignant) marble gravestones; you copy everything you can read on the marble onto the paper. Bring your coffee and a friend!

Although our Victorian clients in the nineteenth century spent lots of money on their often beautifully carved white marble monuments, they rarely recorded the inscriptions they had worked out so carefully with the monument maker. After all, they probably remembered exactly what they had ordered--so why record it? (You don't make lists of things like who your friends are, or your pet's names, right? Exactly. Because what's the point, you already know it so well.) The same thing happened with our nineteenth century patrons, and with time....well, things got lost and eventually forgotten. Today, with the erosion of the marble that we can sometimes delay, but cannot ultimately arrest, we are working hard to capture as much of this information as we can, before it is gone for good.

Beginning May 1 and through much of the spring and summer months we are going to be holding transcription sessions--weather permitting--on most Tuesdays and Saturdays from 10-12pm. If you are interested in joining us for any session, please let me know ahead of time and I will schedule you in. (You'll need about 5 minutes of training the first time.)

If you have any questions let me know, I'll be happy to answer them! Reach me at e_ciregna@foresthillstrust.org.

April 29, 2009

i thank You God

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

-- e. e. cummings

April 24, 2009

A Discovery by E.E. Cummings' Grave.

The Trust's Program Assistant, Meredith Safford, and I were wondering around the Cemetery admiring the burgeoning bloom of the foliage, when we came across the grave of E.E. Cummings. I hadn't visited the site in awhile, so I suggested we stop.

Behind his family's lot, there is a wall of rocks with large cracks between them, sizable enough to fit your hand, or, as was the case on this day, any number of mementos. My eye caught a blue plastic bag stuffed between two of the layers. It was old and dirty, which disconcerted me a little – I wasn't sure if I should pick it up or leave it be. Curiosity won over sanitation, as it always does, and, opening the bag, I discovered an equally bedraggled metal case, the kind usually containing loose tobacco or snuff. Also disconcerting. Even still, my desire to know what was inside propelled me on. Of all of the possible items I could have imagined inside of this case, what I actually found surprised me: a tiny bound book filled with stamps and notes and dates. I quickly realized that the stamps were "team" emblems and the dates marked the team's discovery of this very book. A scavenger hunt. The earliest entry was dated in 2003; the latest from just last year. Also in the box was a little note explaining: a website called letterboxing.com (which is no longer running) presents groups with enigmatic clues that lead them to various spots around the city. In the six years since the first entry, some twenty teams have made their mark in the book. Many of them wrote laudatory comments about the Cemetery: "What a beautiful place!" and "So serene!" and the like.

Meredith and I got such a kick out of the book, we wrote our own entry, as Team FHET. As soon as we dated our page, I was suddenly struck by contradictory notions of transience and permanence. The book itself exemplified the immutable nature of such a place as Forest Hills; but the individual notes spoke of a very specific time with very specific people, who have moved on, who came through the Cemetery, maybe for the only time in their lives, and left it again. These two notions are not incompatible – in fact, they belong together; one defines the other. Much like the permanence of death defines the ephemeralness of life.

We put the book back in the case, the case back in the bag, and the bag back in the wall, leaving it there for someone else to find, to discover, like we did, another marvelous nuance of this remarkable place.

April 13, 2009

New discoveries at Forest Hills

I've been taking a closer look at the Field of Manoah to get ready for an upcoming tour and found some interesting new people buried at Forest Hills. One such discovery is Katie Juglaris, who is memorialized with a beautiful marble medallion with a portrait created by her husband, the artist Tommaso Juglaris. I had never heard of either of them, but was intrigued by the skill and charm of the portrait. I did some research to find out more about him and found that he was quite well-known in the Boston area in the late 1890s, but later fell into obscurity.

An Italian immigrant, Juglaris created frescos for many interiors, including a series portraying the Greek muses for the Michigan State Capitol; these were painted on canvas here in Boston and shipped to Michigan for installation in the building's ornate dome. He taught at Rhode Island School of Design and worked for master lithographer Louis Prang (who is memorialized at Forest Hills with a cenotaph). Interestingly, Juglaris was one of the mentors of the much better known Childe Hassam. Juglaris is not buried at Forest Hills because he returned to his native Italy, where he died in 1925. However, his sensitive portrait of Katie, complete with an elegant pearl earring, remains permanent testimony to their love.