On a lovely Saturday afternoon, Susan and I strutted over to our new neighbor the Forest Hills Cemetery for a historic walk presented by the Jamaica Plain Historical Society and lead by Al Maze. One could tell that Al has a great love for the cemetery and vast amounts of knowledge. Several times he stopped to show us something “I wasn’t even going to talk about” out of enthusiasm. The tour lasted two hours and I don’t think Al even showed us half of what he wanted to.
The cemetery is the work of landscape architect Henry A.S. Dearborn and it dates to 1848. Proof that Dearborn preferred Forest Hills to his previous work at Mt. Auburn Cemetery is that he had his parents re-interred (Dorcas Dearborn is Internment #1). Al contends that Forest Hills is a democratic cemetery with the remains of many people with personal success stories who became philanthropists. The cemetery originally was run by the City of Roxbury but after an act of the state government was sold to a private organization for $1.
Highlights of the tour:
- The cemetery holds 7 works by sculptor Daniel Chester French, more than in any one location other than his home.
- 3 or 4 pieces by Louis Comfort Tiffany including a large Celtic cross that serves as a grave marker.
- Terraced walls built of stone without concrete that have withstood 150 years of New England weather.
- Jesse Gideon Garnett – first woman to graduate from Tufts Dental school and Boston’s first African-American dentist
- Mt. Warren – home to the final (?) resting place of the extensive Warren family including the peripatetic remains of Major General Joseph Warren, hero of Bunkers Hill, and Dr. John Collins Warren who first used ether as an anesthetic for his patients
- Marshall Wilder – founder of what was once Massachusetts A&M, later the agriculture school becoming UMass-Amherst and the mechanical school becoming MIT.
- Francis Cabot Lowell (among many Lowell burials) – father of the American Industrial Revolution, who introduced his ideas of mechanizing mills to Paul Moody and together they built the first mills in Waltham where they made 3 miles of cloth per day
- The walk ways were once lined with iron railings, but they were patriotically donated to the war effort in the 1940’s (although Al says the director of Forest Hills wanted to get rid of them anyway to make it easier to mow the grass).
- Marie Elizabeth Zakrzewska (aka Dr. Zak) and Susan Dimock – fascinating women who entered the field of medicine in the 1800’s when it was rare for women to become doctors.
- Karl Heinzen – a German revolutionary in 1848 who then went to Louisville, KY to work for abolition before finally settling in Boston.
- Lucy Stone – a suffragist who inspired and then was overshadowed by Susan B. Anthony, also an abolitionist with William Lloyd Garrison. She married Henry Blackwell after a prenuptial agreement and was one of the first women to keep her own family name (other women who did so were called “Lucy Stoners”). She was the first person cremated at Forest Hills Cemetery.
- Trees that still stand from the time the cemetery opened are called witness trees, since they’ve “witnessed” the entire history of the cemetery. They are few and far between due to age and environmental changes.
- Samuel Pierpont Langley – father aviation who studied at Boston Latin, taught at the US Naval Academy, assisted at the Harvard Observatory, and served as Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He tested several flying machines he called “aerodromes” which failed but were later proven to be aeronautically sound designs. He died nine days prior to the Wright Brothers first flight and was eulogized by his friend Alexander Graham Bell.
- Pauline Agassiz Shaw – educator, social reformer, and reorganizer of the Boston school system. She founded numerous kindergartens, nursery schools, and settlement houses. The North Bennet Street School still operates in the North End. Daughter of famous naturalist Louis Aggassiz who married Quincy Adams Shaw (who traveled with historian Francis Parkman). Col. Robert Gould Shaw was their nephew.
- The absolute highlight of the tour, Al discovered that among the graves of the May family (relatives of Louisa May Alcott), was the grave of William Dawes. Gasp! Dawes is not buried in Kings Chapel as everyone thought. The discovery even earned Al a spot in an article in The Boston Globe (February 25th, 2007). He also read a poem by Helen Moore about the less famous ride of William Dawes.
The cemetery is beautiful, historic, and the connections among the people buried there are amazing. I can’t wait to take the rest of the tour if Al offers it again next year. Although, I think Al’s tour of Forest Hills Cemetery never ends.