Tag Archives: Lowell Cemetery

Lowell Cemetery Monuments as Public Art (Commentary)

The Lowell Cemetery as a Place of Public Art

by Heidrun Ryan

Cemeteries are, perhaps, of greatest importance to the living. The monuments are meant to be seen: while personal, they may also be a source of both history and art for the larger community. The Lowell Cemetery is intimately connected to the community by the burial here of prominent Lowellians whose names can be seen on street signs all around Lowell. In an era which did not yet include public parks, “rural” cemeteries such as this one were to offer a place of recreation, including lessons in history, poetry, art, and architecture, to their visitors, some of whom might never see art in any other setting. Located about two miles from downtown Lowell, the cemetery was away from the mills and shops, but close enough to be within easy reach of visitors. The Lowell Cemetery can rightfully be counted among the treasures of Lowell’s public art.

The cemetery contains several works designed and executed by artists who were sought out because of their reputation, usually by prominent citizens. Two of these were highlighted in a recent (May 5, 2012) public tour of the cemetery given by Richard Howe, the Register of Deeds for Middlesex North and historian. The Ayer Lion serves as a monument to James Cook Ayer. From his vast fortune acquired as a patent medicine entrepreneur, Ayer gave the city its Winged Victory statue, which stands before City Hall. Ayer’s widow and children commissioned the London-based sculptor Albert Bruce Joy to make a suitable monument. The lifelike lion with the mournful face implies that only a person at the top of society would fittingly be mourned and guarded by “the king of beasts.” It is not known if Ayer himself had any say in the choice of this regal design for his monument; he was, as Howe related to the assembled visitors, confined to an insane asylum for the last years of his life. Certainly, this sculpture testifies to the wealth and status of the inhabitants of the family plot.

By contrast, the Mill Girl monument was dedicated to Louisa Wells, a “Lowell Mill Girl” who lived modestly and never married. Her will, which some cousins promptly contested after her death in 1866, directed her savings to be used for a grave marker. By the time the matter was settled (in her favor) twenty years later, the sum was large enough that the executor of her estate felt himself able to offer the job to Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial. French himself declined, but gave the commission to his associate, Evelyn Longman. Howe pointed out that the mill worker in the monument is a weaver, Wells’s own profession; she holds a bobbin and strands of yarn on her lap, ritually cut to indicate the end of life. The inscription reads, “Out of the fibre of her daily tasks / She wove the fabric of a useful life.” Longman’s sensitive design and skillful rendering of facial features and drapery elevate this piece beyond that of graveside memorial; it celebrates and ennobles all of Lowell’s humble “Mill Girls” and reminds us that it is not only the rich and famous who are buried here; people from all walks of life are represented.

These representative works from the Lowell Cemetery illustrate the powerful connection this site has to the community of Lowell. Each monument tells its own story, but it is the entire site that evokes the memory of the city. It recalls a time when Lowell acquired for itself the fashionable “rural” cemetery which helped define its place in the forefront of American society. Individually and collectively, this remarkable open-air gallery represents the workers, the immigrants, and the titans of capital so vital to Lowell’s growth throughout its history. It unites private and public memory, nature and art, past and present. Lowell is reclaiming its present through its past, and the public tours offered at the Lowell Cemetery are part of the effort. As Richard Howe explained, the cemetery will be the endpoint of the Concord River Greenway, which will bind this site even more closely to Downtown Lowell. The gravesite of Senator Paul Tsongas, an enthusiastic and vocal advocate for Lowell’s revival and its Public Art Collection, fittingly overlooks the river and the end of the Greenway.

Principal Sources: Richard Howe, tour; Amos Blanchard, “An Address Delivered at the Consecration of the Lowell Cemetery, June 20, 1841” (Lowell: Leonard Huntress, 1841); John Gary Brown, Soul in the Stone: Cemetery Art from America’s Heartland (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1994).

Photos by Heidrun Ryan.

Mourning Glory ~ Catherine Goodwin on the Lowell Cemetery

We lost a “local treasure” when Catherine Goodwin died last week. One of Catherine’s legacies – and there are many – is her reseach on the Lowell Cemetery. Through her tours, her book and interview with Lew Karabatsos – now on DVD, Catherine shared her love of Victorian cemetery history, symbolism, art and lore. Her revelations, history and genealogy of the city’s beautifully designed and Victorian-era inspired Lowell Cemetery has become iconic. Dick Howe, Jr. carries on her legacy currently with his many Lowell Cemetery tours for the public and interested scholars throughout the year.

Her illustrated account and the DVD are available here through the Lowell Historical Society and at the Lowell Cemetery office.

Catherine Goodwin’s obituary is avaible here.

My comments in a Lowell Sun piece by Rita Savard:

“She understood the value of social and cultural history and had such a strong passion for it,” said Marie Sweeney, Clerk for the Lowell Historical Society who [first] met Goodwin in the 1970s.

“Her passion was contagious,” Sweeney said. “That, combined with her gift of storytelling, made her an invaluable teacher. She knew how to engage a crowd and make learning so much fun.”

Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/ci_18352294?IADID=Search-www.lowellsun.com-www.lowellsun.com#ixzz1QOwLy14u

Upcoming cemetery tours in Lowell

Tomorrow morning (Saturday, August 28) at 9 a.m., Kim Zunino of the Lowell Historic Board will lead a tour of the School Street Cemetery. Surrounded by a stone wall in the midst of a century and a half old residential neighborhood, this cemetery is bounded by Branch, School and Middlesex Streets. I’ve passed repeatedly through my entire life, but I know nothing about it and have never set foot within it. That will all change tomorrow. I hope some of our readers can come along.

You can also mark your calendar with the dates of upcoming tours of the Lowell Cemetery with me as the tour guide. The Lowell Cemetery is located behind Shedd Park and runs all the way back to Lawrence Street and the Concord River. All tours begin at the Knapp Avenue entrance (next to Shedd Park), last about 90 minutes and are conducted rain or shine. Here are the dates and times:

Friday – September 10 – 1 pm
Saturday – September 11 – 10 am

Friday – October 1 – 1 pm
Saturday – October 2 – 10 am

Lowell Cemetery tour this Saturday

Our fall season of guided tours of Lowell Cemetery commences this Saturday (August 14) at 10 am at the Knapp Avenue gate which is right next to Shedd Park. The tour is free, open to the public and requires no pre-registration. It takes about 90 minutes and involves walking over the rolling terrain of the cemetery. The tour occurs rain or shine.

If you can’t make it this week, future tours of the cemetery are scheduled for:

    Friday September 10 at 1 pm
    Saturday September 11 at 10 am
    Friday October 2 at 1 pm
    Saturday October 3 at 10 am

Save the Date: Lowell Cemetery Tours

We’ve just scheduled several guided tours of historic Lowell Cemetery for the coming months. They are still a ways off, but you can at least get them on your schedule:

  • Saturday – August 14 – 10 am
  • Friday – September 10 – 1 pm
  • Saturday – September 11 – 10 am
  • Friday – October 1 – 1 pm
  • Saturday – October 2 – 10 am

The tours begin at the Knapp Avenue entrance (right behind Shedd Park) and are all free of charge, last about 90 minutes, involve a considerable amount of walking and occur rain or shine.  For more information about the tours and the cemetery, check out the Lowell Cemetery website.

More on Frederick Ayer

Frederick Ayer marker, Lowell Cemetery

Here’s some more information on Frederick Ayer to accompany Marie’s post from earlier today:

Frederick Ayer died on March 14, 1918 in Thomasville, Georgia where he was spending the winter. He was 93 years old and had been one of Lowell’s wealthiest and most influential citizens. According to “The Biographical History of Massachusetts” (1909), Ayer married Miss Cornelia Wheaton of Syracuse, New York in 1878. There were four children of the marriage, but Cornelia died in 1878. Mr. Ayer later married Miss Ellen Banning of St. Paul, Minnesota. There were three children of that marriage, one of whom married George Patton as Marie mentioned. Here’s the engagement announcement from the March 13, 1910 New York Times:

BOSTON. March 12. – Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Ayer of Commonwealth Avenue announced to-day the engagement of their daughter, Beatrice Banning Ayer, to Lieut. George S. Patton of the Fifteenth United States Cavalry, now stationed at Fort Sheridan, Ill.

Lowell Cemetery Tour this Saturday

During the month of May, I conducted three “official” tours of the Lowell Cemetery but some folks who missed those events were still interested in seeing the cemetery so I will lead another tour this coming Saturday, June 12 beginning at 10 am from the Knapp Avenue Gate. The tour takes about 90 minutes, is free, involves considerable walking, and takes place rain or shine. So if you’re interested in seeing the Lowell Cemetery and learning some of its history, please join me this Saturday.

(Unfortunately, I had already agreed to this time before I learned that Kim Zunino of the Lowell Historic Board is leading a tour of the School Street Cemetery at the same time. Hopefully Kim will give another one sometime soon so I’ll be able to join in).