The Mary Baker Eddy Memorial as seen from Halcyon Lake (P05198). Courtesy of The Mary Baker Eddy Collection.
This month’s Object of the Month is a bit unusual—our object is not part of The Mary Baker Eddy Library’s collections. But it is nonetheless one that many visitors to the Boston area with interest in Eddy’s history have seen: The Mary Baker Eddy Memorial at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
A stroll through this cemetery is well worth taking. You can climb to the top of the tower in its center for a great view of the Boston skyline. Mount Auburn is known as America’s first “garden cemetery,” and is to this day regarded as one of the country’s most beautiful burial grounds. It was established in 1831 and its lovely, park-like landscape was planned as a reaction against the centuries-old stark, crowded graveyards that can still be seen today in downtown Boston.
Among the more impressive monuments in Mount Auburn is Eddy’s memorial. How did she come to be buried there? How was the memorial designed and constructed?
It was in the summer of 1908 that Eddy apparently decided on Mount Auburn Cemetery as the site for her own burial. On August 18 she wrote to Archibald McLellan, a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors, and asked that “a beautiful burying lot” be purchased in Mount Auburn Cemetery.1
This was not done at that time, but after Eddy died on December 3, 1910, a beautiful setting on the shore of the cemetery’s Halcyon Lake was selected for her interment. And following her funeral on December 8, her bronze casket was temporarily kept in the cemetery’s receiving tomb until the site was made ready.
On January 26, 1911, Eddy’s casket was transferred to its final resting place. At the gravesite, the casket was lowered into a heavy oak container, which had been embedded in a layer of steel-reinforced concrete lining the bottom of the grave. Before the lid was placed on the container, a copper box containing Eddy’s published writings was placed on top of the casket. The oak container was then surrounded with steel-reinforced concrete, forming a kind of sarcophagus. This was covered with earth, and the grave identified by a simple white marble marker that lay flush with the ground. When the memorial was constructed, the earth was excavated from around the sarcophagus, and the memorial erected over it.
In June of that year, the Christian Science Board of Directors announced the opening of a fund for the purpose of erecting a suitable memorial at her burial site.2 And in 1914, after several architects had submitted proposals, the design of Egerton Swartwout, a prominent New York architect, was chosen. (Swartwout [1870 – 1943] was associated with the firm Tracy and Swartwout. He designed over 100 buildings, including the Missouri State Capitol.) His plan included this description:
… [a] circular open colonnade of eight columns, resting upon a stylobate of three steps, surrounded on the front by a circular platform slightly above the natural grade, from which platform a double flight of steps leads to a lower platform at the lake’s edge. The scheme … is merely a screen of columns open to the sky, enclosing a flower grown circle…. The columns themselves are fifteen feet in height, and are similar in general character to those in the Tower of the Winds erected by Andronicus of Cyrrhus.3 [The Tower of the Winds was erected 100 – 50 B.C. in Athens. An octagonal marble building designed to tell time, it originally included a water clock, sundial, and weather vane.]
Marble had been the first choice for the building material, but granite was finally selected because of its greater durability. Details of the design included carvings of wild roses (Eddy’s favorite flower), morning glories, sheaves of wheat, the lamp of wisdom, and quotations from the Bible and Eddy’s writings (John 14:25-26; Science and Health 128:4-6, 127:26-29; Miscellaneous Writings 1883 – 1896 166:3-7). Construction began on June 1, 1915, and the project was completed in 1917. Since then, those visiting Mount Auburn Cemetery have enjoyed the beauty of the memorial and its peaceful setting.
Perhaps it is fitting to close this account of Eddy’s Memorial with a quotation from her sermon, The People’s Idea of God—a statement that could be seen as describing the ideal of Mount Auburn’s landscape, as well as Eddy’s thoughts on how people’s sense of the divine affects the human scene:
As our ideas of Deity become more spiritual, we express them by objects more beautiful. To-day we clothe our thoughts of death with flowers laid upon the bier, and in our cemeteries with amaranth blossoms, evergreen leaves, fragrant recesses, cool grottos, smiling fountains, and white monuments. The dismal gray stones of churchyards have crumbled into decay, as our ideas of Life have grown more spiritual; and in place of “bat and owl on the bending stones, are wreaths of immortelles, and white fingers pointing upward.” Thus it is that our ideas of divinity form our models of humanity.4
- Mary Baker Eddy to Archibald McLellan, 18 August 1908, L06475.
- “A Memorial to Mrs. Eddy,” Christian Science Sentinel, June 3, 1911, http://sentinel.christianscience.com/issues/1911/6/13-40/a-memorial-to-mrs.-eddy.
- “Design for Monument to Mrs. Eddy Selected,”Christian Science Sentinel, June 26, 1915, http://sentinel.christianscience.com/issues/1915/6/17-43/design-for-monument-to-mrs.-eddy-selected.
- Mary Baker Eddy, The People’s Idea of God: Its Effect on Health and Christianity (Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1913), 14.