Mount Auburn Cemetery is one of my favorite places to walk in Cambridge. As the seasons change, a stroll amid century-old specimen trees past the graves of generations of notable Cantabrigians (and others) evokes a strong sense of time and timelessness. Unfortunately, but not unreasonably, dogs (both living and deceased) are prohibited on the historic cemetery’s 175 acres, so I don’t visit as often as I’d like. But on a recent solo walk, I found consolation by communing with several distinguished stone dogs guarding their late owners’ graves.
As “psychopomps” (a funerary art term I learned from Meg Winslow, Mount Auburn’s curator of historical collections), dogs symbolize loyalty and serve as guides and protectors on the spirit’s journey to the afterlife. Doubtless, a good number of those buried at Mount Auburn were dog lovers, and while Ms. Winslow says no dogs are “officially” buried on the grounds, she acknowledges a few may have quietly joined their owners in eternal rest. Having seen wild coyotes in the vicinity of Coolidge Avenue, which runs along the Cemetery’s east side near the Charles River, I imagine that the dogs of Mount Auburn must be on high alert after dark.
I encourage you to keep an eye peeled for these seven dogs on your next visit to Mount Auburn Cemetery, and to let me know if you discover any others:
The Harnden Dog: It’s hard to miss the imposing English mastiff crouched at the base of the prominent tomb of William Frederick Harnden (1812-45). Sheltered from the elements by the neoclassical monument’s four-gabled top, this marble watchdog remains in excellent condition, his gaze as vigilant as ever and the sharpness of his claws and loose skin folds still remarkably intact. The Harnden Memorial, by Boston sculptor Thomas A. Carew, was erected in 1866 by The Express Companies in honor of the visionary businessman who launched America’s first express package delivery service. Ms. Winslow told me that, in addition to capitalizing on the nation’s developing rail system to transport packages between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Albany, Harnden and Company also facilitated the “import” of 100,000 European laborers on his trans-Atlantic shipping routes. Harnden’s business model was innovative but unprofitable, and his early death (at just 39) left him no time for a second act.
The Milmore Dog: Named for its famous sculptor, Martin Milmore, this elegant marble whippet is a small decorative element at the rear of the William A. Wingate family plot. The dog lies in a crate-like enclosure, which was originally made of glass and bronze, and since replaced with plexi-glass that has become rather too opaque. Dating to 1866 with a base inscribed “Their Favorite,” the diminutive dog protects the graves of Abbott P. and William A. Wingate, Jr. (“Willie”), both of whom died in 1865, at ages 20 and 18, respectively. The brothers may have been casualties of the Civil War, on a battlefield far away where their loyal dog could not protect them. The adjacent obelisk with their full names and education (Harvard and Boston Latin School, respectively) bears the inscription: “Lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.” Sculptor Martin Milmore (1844-83) is best known for two prominent local memorials to the Civil War dead: the gigantic Sphinx (1872) facing the Cemetery’s own Bigelow Chapel and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Boston Common (1877).
The Perkins Dog: Worn by time but still winsome, an affable Newfoundland dog adorns the monument to Thomas H. Perkins (1797-1850), whose name is familiar locally for its association with the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, which he endowed, in 1839. (There is no indication that Perkins was blind, or that the dog was intended to represent a guide dog; in fact, “seeing-eye dogs” were not trained in America until the late 1920s.) Following the custom of his time, Perkins planned his own memorial well in advance of its need, commissioning the famous Boston sculptor Horatio Greenough. (The monument was erected in 1844, six years before Perkins died). Mr. Perkins made his fortune from Quincy granite, but the dog is carved from the Florentine marble that Greenough had come to favor, living in Italy for much of his career. Greenough died in 1852 and is buried in Mount Auburn just a hundred yards from the Perkins Monument. Visitors coming to Mount Auburn via Brighton may travel Greenough Boulevard, which hugs the Cambridge side of the Charles River, not far from the Cemetery’s southern border.
The Gray Dog: Sleeping in the shade of a magnificent purple-leaf beech tree is a mossy and mottled English setter. The recumbent dog, carved from Italian marble, is curled at the top of the headstone of Francis Calley Gray (1790-1856) in the company of half a dozen other members of the Gray family. Francis Gray was a lawyer and man of letters, who served as private secretary to John Quincy Adams and donated a large collection of Old Master engravings to Fogg Museum at Harvard, his alma mater. Gray’s great friend, Massachusetts congressman William Appleton, had originally commissioned the dog sculpture for himself from the British artist Joseph Gott, but later had it placed it on his Gray’s grave. William Appleton died in 1862 and is also buried in the Cemetery.
The Saunders Dog: My personal favorite among all these dogs is the smallest, in appropriate scale to mark the grave of a child named Mary Prentiss Saunders (1843-49). Little Mary’s parents, Mary P. and William A. Saunders, Jr., are the “Father and Mother” whose headstone sits behind the dog. While lambs are more traditional psychopomps for children’s graves, this small dog has a gentle, playful look that makes him an ideal companion for a young child. The family’s former home, at 6 Prentiss Street in Cambridge, is a lovely Greek Revival (c. 1843) house designed by William Saunders, Sr., an architect, as a wedding gift for his son. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been lovingly and converted into a bed and breakfast called The Mary Prentiss Inn (sorry, no pets allowed).
The Richardson Dog: A handsome retriever marks the grave of William T. Richardson who died in 1864, at age 18, possibly another Civil War casualty. Carved by a local artisan named Alexander McDonald, the dog’s coat has retained it brightness, so I’ll say it’s a yellow Lab. I hope the dog appreciates sharing eternity with the scent of the carved laurel wreath circling its owner’s name on the stone above his head. I also noticed this is the only dog facing to the right.
The Barnard Dog: This longhaired granite setter lies atop a waist-high base marked simply “Barnard” – no other identifying details are provided to identify his owner. Maybe the hope of a reunion is why the dog’s expression appears especially watchful.
Tips for Visiting Mount Auburn Cemetery:
Do bring your camera and wear comfortable walking shoes. (There are more than 10 miles of paved roads and unpaved paths. Jogging is not allowed, however.) Pick up a map in the Visitors Center near the Mount Auburn Street entrance – it’s easy to lose your way. Climb the tower for one of the best panoramic views of the area. Restrooms are located in the Visitors Center, too.
Don’t bring your dog. Bikes, roller blades, motorcycles, scooters are also prohibited. No picnicking or jogging allowed.
The grounds are open (free of charge) from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM (October through April) and until 7:00 PM (May through September).