November 26, 2008

Dia de los Muertos

November 2 is the date of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the traditional Mexican ceremonies honoring family and friends who have died. Over the past few years, Forest Hills Cemetery has served as a location for such a ceremony, and this year was no exception. The ceremony began at 4:00pm, as the sun was setting, and the weather was clear and cold with temperatures in the low 40s. Hundreds of people, including families with children, attended and participated with their own private remembrances. I was honored to be asked to take photos of the ceremony, which you can see by clicking here. Feel free to make comments on the photos, the ceremony, or other aspects of the event.

October 27, 2008

Getting Some Clarity

My main focus this fall has been the initiation of our monument survey project. The Trust received a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to begin cataloging many of Forest Hills’ most at-risk 19th century marble monuments. While there isn’t much we can do to avoid the inevitable deterioration of these once-bright-white, soft, lustrous marble stones, documenting the form, design, and inscriptions will provide an important historical record for current and future scholars. In the photo above, taken on a recent sunny day, volunteers Ros and Elinor are busy transcribing inscriptions, while NEA Preservation Intern Leo Greene holds a mirror to reflect some additional light onto the inscription Ros is working on. (This technique helps to decipher badly eroded inscriptions.)

There are other projects associated with the grant that anyone with an interest and time to devote can get involved in. (Students might be able to get school credit.) For more details contact me at or check out our website. I’d love to hear from you!

October 22, 2008

Fall Foliage at Forest Hills

A friend and fellow photographer who lives in Dedham, MA, joined me for a photo expedition to Forest Hills on October 11. The day was clear and cool, with a beautiful blue sky and brilliant fall foliage not quite at peak . . . but close. You can view some of my foliage photos by clicking here. Comments are welcome!

September 28, 2008

Cemetery in Late September

It rained for most of this weekend, but there was a break in the showers on Saturday morning (Sept. 27), so I headed out the door for a couple of hours of photo shooting at the cemetery. It was a little foggy and drizzly, and the light was diffuse, which made for great color saturation. A few of the leaves were turning or falling, but most of the summer's foliage was still on the bushes and trees. You can see photos from my expedition here.

September 17, 2008

What's an Allegorical Figure?

On every single one of my tours of Victorian sculpture at Forest Hills, I point out the allegorical figures that dot the landscape, as these are some of our loveliest works of art.

An “allegorical figure” is a figural sculpture (almost always a woman) that embodies or represents an abstract concept. These statues, therefore, are a sort of code, or message conveying an idea or an emotion. They also have special descriptive names.

At Forest Hills we have some very fine allegorical figures. One of the types that appears most often is the figure known as “Hope.” Hope is recognizable because of the anchor that always appears next to her. Why an anchor? That’s a complicated question, but a very short answer is that the anchor was an early Christian symbol, a sort of abstracted cross that became linked to steadfastness, hope, and piety. (For one on-line explanation of anchors, check out this handy reference site: Some examples of Hope figures at Forest Hills include the Nathaniel Tucker monument on Linden Avenue (above), and the Samuel C. Reed monument on Consecration Avenue.

Another very popular allegorical figure is that of “Grief.” This enrobed woman usually leans on one elbow on a pedestal next to her, bent over in mourning. Her posture expresses her sadness and despair. Often next to her is a funerary urn, which refers to cremation and general loss. Fine examples of Grief figures at Forest Hills include the Robbins monument on Warren Avenue (above).

For more examples of these and other types of monuments, see my Scholar’s Tour on the Trust's website.

September 2, 2008

Should scrap metal yards be held accountable?

The theft of three bronze sculptures here at Forest Hills prompted a great editorial calling for new reporting regulations for scrap metal yards. These regulations would reduce the theft of objects for the value of materials and is urgently needed as prices for metals soar. This type of theft is particularly devastating when sculpture is the target. Once melted down, there is no possibility of recovering the work; it has been destroyed for a fraction of its price as artwork and in vicious disregard for craftsmanship, meaning, and unique beauty. The Globe put it well:
It's heartbreaking to learn that bronze sculptures in the Forest Hills Cemetery have been stolen from their eternal homes, possibly to be sold off for scrap metal. The beauty and serenity of the 19th century garden cemetery, enhanced by these contemporary sculptures, cannot be valued in price per ton.
Public art all over Boston is at risk, so if you agree, contact your state legislators. Police investigation turned up the information that our sculpture was offered to one scrap yard that refused to take it, suspecting theft. But that doesn't mean the thieves didn't locate a dealer willing to look the other way.

The media has been very helpful covering the story of the theft of three contemporary bronze sculptures from Forest Hills and publicizing the reward for information leading to their regurn: The Bulletin, The JP Gazette, The The Boston Globe, WBUR 90.9 radio, and Fox News.

August 29, 2008

Tragedy at Forest Hills: Sculpture Stolen

Many people have already heard the devastating news about the theft of several works of contemporary sculpture from Forest Hills this August. The works stolen were: Garden's Edge (known fondly as the rabbit by the lake) by Tim Cherry; Seated Ceres a charming goddess of the harvest by Kahlil Gibran; and Bark Balls by Carol Spack, a group of three spheres suggestive of tree spirits and sited under the landmark weeping beech near the cemetery's main entrance. All of these works were made of bronze; we believe they were stolen for the value of their materials and sold to a scrap yard to be melted down.

This is a terrible loss for the artists, Forest Hills and the greater Boston community. We have received many calls from visitors who loved these works – familiar favorites from strolling in these beautiful grounds. Both Bark Balls and Garden's Edge were featured in the Trust's Family Guide, and particularly loved by children.

We have posted a $3,000 reward for information leading to recovery but are not optimistic. Because of the way it was fabricated, Seated Ceres is irreplaceable. Sadly, Kahlil Gibran passed away this year and the sculpture was part of his legacy; he is buried at Forest Hills. We are exploring the possibility of commissioning new versions of the other two works. The Cemetery has upgraded its security procedures and will install security cameras at the two main entrances. Fearing more thefts, we have decided to remove the most vulnerable small bronze pieces remaining on the Sculpture Path.

Alert visitors remain one of the most important guardians we have for the many treasures here. If you are ever at Forest Hills and see anything suspicious, do not hesitate to report it.

If you are interested in supporting the replacement of these works, please contact Nini Colmore, our Director of Development, at 617.524.0128. We would be grateful for your help.

August 28, 2008

A Carpenter Poem

On September 14th at 2 pm, Jamaica Plain's Carpenter Poets are performing in Forsyth Chapel, which one of the poet referred to as "a carpenter's dream." In reading about the poets and their work, I came across this wonderful poem by Bill Thibodeau, entitled "Carpenter's Answer." Enjoy.

Carpenter's Answer

As a boy I would sit in a tree by a stream
Pretending the cherries were stars in my dream
And I was the Master on far-away seas
On the deck of my ship in a tropic night breeze.
But there came a day when that tree felt the axe,
And there was that stream that my youth could not pass.
I gave up the sea for the family trade
The hammer and nail - the bit and the blade.
My father bequeathed me his knowledge and name
He was his own man - would I be the same?
What shall I make now I'm given these tools-
Shall I build me a bridge - with hammer and rule?
Will I then cross that stream to the opposite side-
Fording stream after stream with the sun as my guide?
Will I make that far seaport while day is still young
Will I be aboard when the lanterns are hung?
Or will I search in these fields for my foundation stone
Would contentment be found in what others have known?
Would I build me a house bound by water and wood
Mortised and tenoned as post and beam should?
Plaster and lathe and colonial shakes
Yellow pine floors - cut nailed to the face?
Would I find me a woman whom I could lay claim to
And then build us a child that we'd pin our name to?
Could I build us a hope and a dream wrought in rhyme
And set it to music in the happiest time
Then dance to that tune with my woman and son
In my heart, in my arms, once the deed had been done?
Would I build me a gate to my white picket yard-
With a swing on a limb and Collie on guard?
Would the universe bloom with my cherry tree
For my son in the way that it once did for me?
And once I've carved out a world from this spherical stone
Which spins in the ether - its substance unknown
Can I live with the thought that I never will touch
What is sacred to drifters and dreamers and such?
And would a day ever pass - that I would not ache
For the sea - once I'd built my home on this lake?
Then I see that boy on a swing - and my wife...
I take a deep breath and say: "This is my life."

Taken from the collection Break Time by the Carpenter Poets of Jamaica Plain (2007) edited by Joseph Bergin.

August 15, 2008

Sculpture Parks, Earthworks and Sculpture Shadowboxes!

Dorchester Place took full advantage of Forest Hills Summer Discovery Program, and we are glad they did! Bringing three different groups of engaging, creative and quick-witted youths, Dorchester Place's students discussed sculpture, nature and the unending possibilities of contemporary art. Their tours and discussions culminated in earthwork sculptures inspired by the modern pieces Lithe and Sunflower House, miniature sculpture parks using a variety of materials, cooperation and imagination, and an exciting indoor activity (due to rain) that allowed the students to become lasting pieces of sculpture themselves thanks to costumes, a camera, printer and shadowboxes.

Click here to see their Sculpture Parks

Here for Earthworks

And here for Sculpture Shadowboxes!

Writers Express at Forest Hills Summer Discovery!

Writers Express, a program that helps students develop their writing skills, came to Forest Hills for a morning of learning, beauty and creative inspiration. The morning began with some marimba playing and a tour, starting with the dramatic Milmore Memorial at the entrance gate of the cemetery. "What story is this sculpture telling? What emotions do you see on the figures' faces? What is the relationship between the two figures?" The tour continued with a discussion of art, symbolism, sacred spaces and nature. At the end while sitting in a shady and serene spot, students had a chance to express something, someone or someplace that was sacred to them through writing or drawing. They then folded and decorate this paper to create a Spirit Flyer, which they energetically flew off the bridge. At the end of the activity, their teachers led them in a writing exercise about their Forest Hills experience. Click here for pictures!

August 4, 2008

Summer Discovery at Forest Hills!

Each summer Forest Hills welcomes hundreds of Boston's urban youth to experience the cemetery's history, nature, art and serenity. For six weeks from early July to mid August, Monday through Friday, Forest Hills welcomes students with a program of interactive tours and art activities led by professional art educators. In these pictures Bridget Matros, a seasoned art educator from the Boston Children's Museum, reveals the wonders of the Milmore Memorial, and a student finds inspiration in the modern sculpture work, Spirit Vessels.
Click here to view more pictures from Forest Hill's Summer Discovery Program!

June 30, 2008

Al Maze's Stories Behind the Stones

Al Maze, our extraordinary tour guide, has started recording some of research on the Trust's website in a new section entitled The Stories Behind the Stones. His first entry is about Dr. and Major General Joseph Warren. Warren is one of Al's personal heroes, because he stood up for the rights of the American colonists in reaction to tyrannical policies of the British government. At that time, the British were perceived as all-powerful rulers of their empire, capable of crushing any resistance. It took a great deal of bravery for individuals to take a stand against the king of England; Warren put property, liberty, and even life itself at risk because of his commitment to justice. Warren's story is a good one to contemplate as we approach the 4th of July, and celebrate our nation's independence and our history of preserving individual rights within a democratic system.

April 14, 2008

Hawk Nest

Stephen Baird of the Emerald Necklace Bird Club reports:

The female Red Tailed Hawk is sitting on the nest in the tree at the stop light by the Morton Street entrance to Forest Hills Cemetery were it nested last year...

A flock of 30-70 Cedar Waxwings have been devouring the seeds of the Scholar Trees on Yew Avenue in Forest Hills Cemetery the past week. A Wood Thrush scampered among the leaves and pine needles of School Master Hill...

Fun Fact: Mark Swartz, Park Ranger at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, informed me that Franklin Park's School Master Hill (across the way from Forest Hills) was named for Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lived there in a rented farm house for two years in the

April 3, 2008

March bird sightings at Forest Hills

The Emerald Necklace Bird Club reported the following bird sightings at Forest Hills on March 2, 6, 15, 2008:

Canada Goose, Mallard Duck, Black Duck, Song Sparrow, White Throated Sparrow, Dark Eyed Junco, American Goldfinch, Red Winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, European Starling, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Black Capped Chickadee, White Breased Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, Downy Woodpecker, American Robin, Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Red Tailed Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Killdeer, Gull Fly Overs

April 1, 2008

What we can look forward to...

I found this fantastic photo – taken at Forest Hills – browsing on Flickr. I wrote the photographer, Jennifer Howland Hill, asking for her permission to post it here, and to use it for a card promoting the upcoming Birds and Bards Festival (May 2 -4). And she agreed!

Everyone I know is longing for spring to come, and this picture captures that joyful season at its most lush and vibrant. The eggs are cradled so carefully in their nest and in the flowers, you just know that those robins hatched, thrived, and are probably on their way back to Forest Hills right about now.

I recommend taking a look at Jennifer's other work. She has a great eye and a fantastic sense of color, texture and composition.

Visit Jennifer's website
Visit Jennifer's Flickr site

Photo ©Jennifer Howland Hill
All Rights Reserved

The Birds and Bards Festival is a collaboration sparked by one of the Park Rangers at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site to draw attention to migrating birds, bird habitat, and the ways nature inspires art. He brought together the Trust, Mass. Audubon's Boston Nature Center, the Franklin Park Coalition, and the Franklin Park Zoo; this year the Arnold Arboretum has joined us. Festival activities take place in all of our sites – which together make up more than a thousand acres of greenspace.

Birds and Bards Schedule

March 28, 2008

The American Civil War & iconic sculpture

Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University but more importantly (to me) a historian, has lately been making the rounds discussing what will likely be her last book, entitled This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. (Being a historian is time-consuming, but running the world’s most famous and powerful university is even more so!)

The book is on the NY Times bestseller list, and is one that interests many of us here at the Cemetery. Dr. Faust discusses the inconceivable numbers of casualties (to put it into today’s terms, as if we had lost 6 million American troops in Iraq) and looks at how normal, everyday people were affected. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends—all had to come to terms with the devastation. The concept of death ceased to be romanticized in popular and literary culture, as families were ripped apart. Some of the bereaved never recovered, and remained in mourning for the rest of their lives, unable to move past their grief. America seemed to lose a sense of innocence and optimism that had defined our country's beginnings a century earlier.

Many of the soldiers from Roxbury who fought and died in the Civil War are buried in Forest Hills’ Civil War lot, which was dedicated on America’s first Memorial Day, in 1868. The statue that marks the lot, Martin Milmore’s The Citizen Soldier, is an iconic work. It portrays the ordinary (but extraordinary) volunteer at a meditative moment instead of an officer or a hero on his horse, and was imitated all over the country for Civil War memorials. Martin Milmore, one of the country's great 19th century sculptors, is also buried at Forest Hills.

March 24, 2008

And on the topic of flowers...

Our founder, Henry Dearborn, was also the first president of the Massachusetts Horticulture Society and a skilled "experimental gardener." He grew a variety of plants and trees on his estate right here in Roxbury. So what better place to spread the word about Forest Hills than Mass Hort's annual Flower Show! I gave a slide lecture; Nini Colmore (the Trust's Director of Development), Janice Farrell (the Trust's former Program Coordinator, now working full time for the Cemetery, and continuing with us as a fabulous volunteer), and Elise Ciregna (Curator of Historic Collections) staffed a table.

We saw some astonishing flowers. The top ones are luscious peonies, and the orchids were almost too good to be true. Obviously, the phone camera does a better job on flowers than people. Pictured (left to right): Nini, Cecily and Janice.

A splash of color at Forest Hills!

The crocuses and snowdrops have made their miraculous journey up through the earth to bloom in the sunlight. A sign of spring at last!

March 18, 2008

Eastern Screech Owl Spotted at Forest Hills by Emerald Necklace Bird Club

Stephen Baird sent out this message and a wonderful photo. It is amazing to me how much the owl resembles the bark surrounding it. Good camouflage keeping that bird safe!

An Eastern Screech Owl (Gray Morph) pops out of a hole in a tree to take a brief sun bath many mornings around 10:30 am at ... Forest Hills Cemetery.

For more information about the Emerald Necklace Bird Club and Friends of Jamaica Pond, Inc., visit:

March 8, 2008

Forest Hills in Snow

We had a lovely snowfall the afternoon and evening of February 22, so the next morning I brought my camera to the cemetery and tromped around for a couple of hours. The grounds crew had plowed the roadways, but the snow on the trees, bushes, markers, and monuments was undisturbed. The sky was overcast, so the light was flat and the scenes monochromatic, creating a classic cemetery mood. The next day was clear and brilliantly sunny, so I went back with my camera and (for the most part) retraced my steps from the previous day’s shooting. You can see the results of both days’ walks here. I am interested in reader reactions to these photographs. If you’d like to respond, feel free to use the “Comment” feature. I hope you enjoy the tours.

March 5, 2008

“Brothers of the Wood” goes off for a beauty treatment…..

One of our wonderful contemporary bronzes—and admittedly a personal favorite of mine—is heading back to the foundry for some much-needed repatination. Originally sculpted in wood by Seattle-based Leo Osborne in 1998, “Brothers of the Wood” is a representation of a wolf and a raven nestling together, based loosely on Native American lore. Forest Hill’s “Brothers,” the first bronze cast from the wood original, has been displayed outdoors since 1998. Now, however, with the loss of color to the wolf (reddish-brown) and the raven (black), Leo has generously offered to help us in our efforts to keep the sculpture looking its tip-top best. So off it goes to Oregon for a “spa treament.” Look for “Brothers' " bright and colorful return sometime later this spring…..when a wolf and a raven will once again nap peacefully under the trees.

February 25, 2008

Upcoming book on Forest Hills Cemetery

A new photographic history of Forest Hills Cemetery is currently being written by Anthony M. Sammarco to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the cemetery. This book will be lavishly illustrated and sales will benefit the Trust's education and preservation projects.

Forest Hills Cemetery

Laid out in 1848 as a rural garden cemetery by Henry A.S. Dearborn, Forest Hills Cemetery in 2008 is celebrating its 160th anniversary as Boston’s premier arboretum cemetery. Since the mid nineteenth century, its 275 magnificent acres have been the resting place of people of all walks of life, ethnicities, religion and race. Among these are poet Anne Sexton, playwright Eugene O’Neill, ee cummings and William Lloyd Garrison.
Forest Hills’ landscape is a museum of sculpture, art and monuments that chronicle the Victorian age to the present. The first crematorium in the United States was here and prominent Bostonian suffragette Lucy Stone was the first person to be cremated at Forest Hills in 1893. An active cemetery and an all embracing place, Forest Hills offers a bucolic and picturesque setting for the “gathering of generations,” and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Anthony Sammarco has written over fifty books in the Arcadia series, and is a trustee of the Forest Hills Educational Trust and teaches at the Urban College of Boston.

February 14, 2008

February 13, 2008

Forest Hills in the News!

After every Trust event, someone will come up to me to tell me that this is their first visit to Forest Hills; they are always amazed that they didn't know about such an extraordinary place, and only discovered it because of a concert, walking tour, or poetry reading. Often these people are life-long Bostonians!

So, we are very grateful to to The New York Times
for featuring Forest Hills in their travel section recently. Five staff writers from around the nation described their vision of a perfect day in their home cities for a travel feature called "5 Big Cities, 1 Winter Day." Abby Goodnough started her ideal day in Boston with a walk through Forest Hills:

Boston is a city of ghosts, but on the coldest of days, don't expect them to come to you. Instead, visit Forest Hills Cemetery, a rambling Victorian-era burial ground about four miles from downtown and a splendidly quiet place to roam. Winding paths crisscross its 275 acres, and if you pick up a map by the entrance, you can find the graves of Anne Sexton, E. E. Cummings and Eugene O'Neill. Drive slowly along the narrow roads until you find a good place to park and wander. On a recent morning, snow crunched underfoot and fell in soft chunks from the treetops. Bliss.

We thank the Times and Abby Goodnough for helping people to discover one of Boston's hidden treasures!

Read 5 Big Cities, 1 Winter Day
and Abby Goodnough's article on Boston

February 10, 2008

Doctor Joseph Warren--A True Patriot

Joseph Warren was a doctor and remained so until his death at the Battle of Bunker's Hill on the 17th of June 1775. He is best known in American history for his activity as a writer and as an organizer prior to the Revolutionary War.
Joseph Warren Born in Roxbury MA [then a separate town from Boston] on June 11th, 1741, Warren graduated from Harvard in 1759 and began teaching at Roxbury Grammar School. His interest in medicine would cause him to study to become a physician and he soon was the most prominent in Boston. He championed the need for a two year training period for doctors and, then, a test of their skills.
His concern for the rights of those living in the Colonies led him to protest against the chipping away of their freedoms by the British government. Along with Samuel Adams and others in Boston, Warren, began organizing opposition to the new rules and taxes. The Boston Tea Party in December of 1773 was the tipping point. With three shiploads of tea being dumped into the harbor, King George III ordered that Boston be punished. With the closing of the Port of Boston the town suffered immensely and this aided in building opposition, from the other colonies, to British rule. The other colonies were seeing that the time had come to stand together or to fall one at a time.
In September of 1774 the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. Boston was represented by Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Robert Treat Paine. Warren was asked to draw up something stating the opinions of the people Massachusetts. He wrote what would be called The Suffolk Resolves. Warren's good friend and ally, Paul Revere, carried them to Philadelphia, by horseback. These 19 "resolves" declared although Massachusetts was loyal to their king that when he takes away their rights he loses that loyalty. Also, that the people will take up arms to defend themselves. Warren went on to state that anyone arrested on the king's orders would find one of the king's appointees arrested. Along with these Warren declared that all illegal laws and taxes should be ignored by patriotic Americans.
Never before had Americans stated their independence so forcibly. Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania had introduced a resolution previous to the arrival of The Suffolk Resolves that would have set up an American parliament. This was an attempt by the loyalists [those loyal to King George III] to make America a dominion of England. Warren's bold exclamations caused the delegates to forget Galloway's resolution of appeasement. So taken was Patrick Henry of Virginia of The Suffolk Resolves that he said: "The distinctions between New Englanders and Virginians are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.". The Congress voted to approve The Suffolk Resolves and a copy was sent to England. Dr. Joseph Warren had set America on it's long and difficult road to independence and placed Massachusetts as the leader of that movement.
As chairman of the Boston Committee of Safety, Warren had organized men loyal to the cause of freedom from England to keep watch on British army activity in Boston. As a result of of this watch, Warren learned of General Gage's plans to march British troops into the countryside. Gage wanted to seize weapons and ammunition being stored by the Provincials and to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Hancock and Adams would have been sent to England to stand trial and one can easily imagine the outcome of that trial. Warren planning, in advance, for British troop movement had enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes [at FHC] to be ready to ride into the country to warn and turn out the Minutemen. Their mission would, also, be to alert Hancock and Adams who where in Lexington. The Committee of Safety had planned well with the surrounding towns. As soon as Revere and Dawes spread the alarm other riders fanned out and word would be carried to Connecticut, New Hampshire and, eventually all the other colonies.
After the skirmish on Lexington Green and the confrontation at the bridge in Concord, British troops were forced to flee back towards Boston. Leading the Provincials in this driving back of British troops was General William Heath [at FHC] who was joined by Dr. Joseph Warren who would soon be appointed a Major General in the Massachusetts Militia. At this time and until after the Battle of Bunker's Hill the war was, basically, being fought by that militia.
Within a few weeks militias from the other colonies joined Massachusetts troops in surrounding the British in Boston. Estimates are that upwards of 20,000 colonists were in the area of Boston, armed and ready to fight for their liberties.
Almost two months after Lexington and Concord plans for the fortifying of Breed's Hill [now called Bunker's Hill] were completed with American forces in position across the Charles River from Boston. Dr. Warren [appointed Major General on the 14th of June] rushed to the hill before the landing of British troops in Charlestown and was offered the command by Colonel Prescott. Warren refused the command and stated that he would fight alongside the men as a solider.
Two assaults by the British were repulsed that hot June day with devastating losses by their army. The third assault would succeed as the Americans had run out of ammunition. Warren was reluctant to give up and was one of the last out of the redoubt at the top of the hill. He was spotted by a British officer friend of his who called out to Warren. Dr. Warren stopped, briefly, and it was in that moment that a bullet struck Warren in the head and killed him, instantly. Abagail Adams would write to her husband, John, of the terrible news of the loss of their friend, Dr. Warren. The day was June 17th 1775 exactly nine months from the acceptance of The Suffolk Resolves by the First Continental Congress.
Another nine months would pass and the newly formed Continental Army led by George Washington has forced the British to abandon Boston. Friends of Warren's go to the site of the battle where he fell to locate his body and the bodies of others who fell there. Paul Revere led the search for his beloved friend and would identify Warren's remains. Not buried with any care by the British the identification was verified by the two false teeth that were wired into Warren's mouth by Paul Revere in the previous year. This act would stand as the first recorded dental, forensic indentification of a body.
With full honors Warren was brought to Boston and buried in the Minot family tomb in the Old Granary Burial Ground on April 18th, 1776; the first anniversary of Lexington and Concord. He would be moved, later, to the tombs under Saint Paul's Cathedral and then in 1856, here, to Forest Hills Cemetery.
As his wife, Elizabeth, had died over two years before his death, Warren's four children received an outpouring of help. Among them was General Benedict Arnold who pledged $500.00, himself, and got Congress to award them a major general's half-pay until the youngest should come of age.
Warren's younger brother, John, had studied medicine with him and would go on to found the Harvard Medical School and become the first president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.
John's son, John Collins Warren, was a co-founder of the Massachusetts General Hospital and in 1846 performed the first public operation in which ether was used, among many other accomplishments.
But we speak of Joseph Warren, here, and as it is, the founder of this medical dynasty. Joseph Warren's death so early in the war for America's independence has caused his legacy to be overlooked, if even known by many. After the Revolutionary War towns, counties, streets, and organizations were named for this True Patriot. One can only imagine what contributions Warren would have added to our new nation in medicine and in government.

Copperplate engraving of Joseph Warren at Bunker's Hill is from 'An Impartial History of the War in America,1781' in the collection of this author.

February 8, 2008

Jamaica Plain Poets

By all accounts, the gathering should be morose. The people are sitting quietly in a chapel. At a cemetery. In February. Their attention is directed to a person speaking in a serious tone. Viewed objectively, this is a description of somber event.

But last Sunday's poetry reading in Forsyth Chapel wasn't morose. It wasn't somber. The setting and its funereal connotations were in such contrast to its intimacy and life-affirming spirit, I couldn't help but notice that each one of the events' seemingly grave attributes are actually the opposite of what's expected: the chapel is bright and gorgeous, comfortable and intimate; the cemetery is more like a park, designed for visitors, receiving them; and as for was unusually warm that day (enough for Audrey Henderson to start off her reading with some "warm weather poems").

As I stood there listening, I realized that there could be no better place to have poetry readings, or, maybe more aptly, no better place to have these poets read. The tenor of each of the JP poets reading (Audrey Henderson, Carolyn Gregory, Sandra Storey, and Susan Eisenberg) was also integral to this event's...well, irony, I guess. Of course I don't mean ironic in the sense that it was jokey or self-referential. Not that kind of irony. I'm more referring to the kind of irony in which the contrast between the expectation and the result functions to emphasize the reality. For these poets all shared a liveliness, a modest exuberance, a collective antithesis to gloom.

The poems themselves were varied: a lot were autobiographical, some nostalgic, some not. Many were about other people, some fictional, some not. Sandy Storey had a theme for the night, "Science and Magic," in which she read "Man on the Moon," a poem about watching Neil Armstrong in her childhood, and a rap about sex entitled "Erotica Electronica." Carolyn Gregory told the tale of an unnamed pop star who sounds more than a little like Britney Spears (who, I guess, sounds more than a little like every other pop star). The poetry of Audrey Henderson featured regions as diverse as Spain, Scotland, and the American Southwest. Illness, and its many consequences to family, culture, and even language, was Susan Eisenberg's central theme, an important one to her.

And though many of the topics delved into the realms of uncertainty, regret, and, yes, death, the tone of the room never sunk. The poets were too interesting, the atmosphere too engaging, too connective, too alive for anything to bring it down. The acoustics carried their poems throughout the room, lending each one an authority under which the listeners could not help but succumb. We were absorbed. It proves, to paraphrase Eisenberg, that the living shouldn't be completely separate from the dead.

Why a blog?

Forest Hills is a place of constant discovery. It is akin to an enormous museum containing marvelous art and evocative artifacts, and you can always find something new in its vast collection. But unlike a museum, it is outdoors, and thus full of life and constantly changing. Weather and the seasons transform the trees and landscape. Birds make a home and raise their young, or migrate through. Time changes the appearance of marble carvings, wearing away inscriptions in a process that mirrors the erosion of memory as generations come and go.

This blog offers a forum for the people who explore, study, and care for Forest Hills to share their stories and photos. Al Maze, Elise Ciregna, Cecily Miller, Jon Clark and Kevin Lynch have all agreed to start writing about their observations and discoveries. If you are someone who visits often and want to join us as a regular contributor, please let us know.

Who are Al, Elise, Jon and Kevin?
Al has been leading tours at Forest Hills for more than 10 years, discovering countless stories of the people buried here (such as the inventor of the fountain pen, shoe vamp machine, 8-hour workday, and birth control pill to name a few). Elise is a scholar with a passion for Victorian material culture – the stuff produced by people of the 19th century and its meaning – and cemetery stone carvings. Cecily has been the Trust's director since 2001 and Jon is the Trust's newest staffer. Kevin is the arborist for Forest Hills; in addition to caring for its mighty trees, Kevin is usually the first to spot a nest of baby owls or a hive of wild bees.

We hope you enjoy this, and invite you to participate.