06 July 2010

Famous Writers in Forest Hills Cemetery

On 16 June 2010, as part of a series of articles about unusual and interesting things to do during the summer, the Boston Phoenix published an article by Nina Maclaughlin entitled "Grave Spotting," in which she writes on the many famous writers buried in Massachusetts cemeteries. For example (according to Maclaughlin), Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge is the final resting place of Longfellow, Amy Lowell, Robert Creeley, Thom Gunn, Fannie Farmer, and Bernard Malamud, while Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thoreau are buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. And so on.

But Maclaughlin admits that she struck out on a trip to Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain in 2009 to look for the grave of e. e. cummings.
Last summer, I made a mission to the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, almost as lovely as Mount Auburn, to find the grave of E.E. Cummings. I'd long dismissed him for his grammatical gimmickry, but realized, late, that mixed in with the lower-casing and tricksy punctuation, are provocative, passionate, sensual poems [...]

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the grave. Forest Hills was out of maps, and the paths mazed all over.
Now, cummings's grave is admittedly difficult to find, even with a map: he is buried in the plot of his mother's family, the Clarkes, and he himself has only a small stone set flat in the ground. And the Clarke family plot is not directly beside one of the paved paths; it's about halfway up a grassy slope. It's not a grave that you are likely to find by accident.

I was surprised, though, that Maclaughlin neglected to mention two other prominent writers buried in Forest Hills: Eugene O'Neill and poet Anne Sexton.

So as a small corrective, and because Forest Hills, which is about a five-minute drive from my house, is one of my favorite places to walk (second perhaps only to Arnold Arboretum), and because Joy (who has a camera) agreed to help, I decided to publish photos of these three graves here. Note that all three graves have stones placed on (or around) them as in the Jewish tradition. It is not uncommon also to find pens or other writing implements placed on these gravestones.

e. e. cummings

Eugene O'Neill

Anne Sexton

Although I've lived in the Boston area since 2002, I didn't get around to taking a walk in Mount Auburn Cemetery until this past spring.  Given Mount Auburn's formidable reputation for beauty, I was surprised to find it a bit dull.  Oh sure, it's pretty.  But (to me) it hasn't got the environmental variety of Forest Hills.  And while Mount Auburn is full of the great and the good (very often from families who have local streets named after them), usually buried with austere (perhaps "Puritanical"?) markers, Forest Hills is full of the oddball, the self-made, and the slightly disreputable, often buried with endearing and ostentatious flair.

And Forest Hills is not just home to suicidal or oversexed poets and alcoholic playwrights, but also to such interesting characters as:  Richard Lufkin, a self-made man who made his fortune with the Vamp Folding Machine for making shoes, and is buried in a mausoleum (not far from Anne Sexton) decorated with a stained-glass window of Lufkin with the Vamp Folding Machine; Lewis Edson Waterman, the inventor of the fountain pen; and Karl Heinzen (see also the German Wikipedia article here), a German "Forty-Eighter" (a participant in the revolution of 1848 who fled to the United States when the revolution failed), whose radical progressivism made such contemporaries as Theodore Parker and Margaret Fuller look like downright conservative—and whose marker may be the only one in Forest Hills with a German inscription.

Richard Lufkin and the Vamp Folding Machine

Lewis Edson Waterman

And my personal favorite, Karl Heinzen. The bust is by sculptor A. Robert Kraus, whose work appears on two other graves at Forest Hills, and who also created the large sculpture of Theodore Parker at Theodore Parker Church in West Roxbury.


(Photos by Joy; tweaking by Dex)
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  1. http://harrumpher.com/?p=326

  2. Thanks Michael.

    And for those who are wondering what the link leads to: it's a detailed blog post from 2008 on Richard Lufkin. Which is great, because the poor guy hasn't currently got a Wikipedia article, in spite of his stained-glass window.