Nathaniel Bowditch Statue, Watertown, Mass

The Nathaniel Bowditch statue in Mount Auburn Cemetery, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2022:

Mount Auburn Cemetery is the final resting place for many prominent figures from the Boston area during the 19th century. Among them is Nathaniel Bowditch, who is commemorated by this life-sized statue. It does not actually mark his gravesite, as he is buried elsewhere in the cemetery, but it has long been a distinctive landmark here at Mount Auburn.

Nathaniel Bowditch was born in Salem in 1773. His formal education ended early, and as a teenager he apprenticed as a bookkeeper with a ship chandler. However, throughout this time he continued his studies on his own, eventually teaching himself calculus, French, and Latin. By the time he was in his 20s, Bowditch was one of the leading mathematicians and astronomers in the country, with a particular focus on improving maritime navigation. In 1802, he published the American Practical Navigator. This book quickly became an invaluable resource for sailors, and it remains in print today, more than 200 years later.

Bowditch died in 1838, and he was buried in the newly-established Mount Auburn Cemetery. His grave would be marked by a large brownstone monument, but within weeks of his death the prominent individuals of Boston and Salem were already planning their own memorial to Bowditch. As Alexander Young described in an 1838 eulogy for Bowditch,

[T]he public gratitude is raising an appropriate monument to his memory, at Mount Auburn, expressive of the simple grandeur of his genius and fame, which will arrest the attention of every traveler to that sacred and beautiful retreat of the dead, and enkindle his love of excellence, while he pauses to contemplate the profound philosopher, the christian philanthropist, the man of pure and illustrious virtue.

Sculptor Robert Ball Hughes received the commission for this project. Born and educated in Britain, Hughes had subsequently emigrated to America, where he eventually settled in Boston. He completed the model of the statue in 1843, but it was not until 1847 that the bronze statue was cast. This work was done in the foundry of Gooding & Gavett in Boston, and it was said to have been the first life-size bronze statue to be cast in the United States.

The statue was installed here at Mount Auburn on May 22, 1847, with contemporary newspapers providing glowing reviews of the monument. Writing two days later, the Boston Daily Evening Transcript provided the following description:

The bronze statue of Dr. Bowditch, just finished by Ball Hughes, is indeed a chef d’œuvre of art, and we congratulate the Committee and Directors of Mount Auburn for the admirable situation they have chosen for it. It was safely placed on the pedestal previously prepared for it on Saturday afternoon, and as we looked on it and it reflected back the rays of that sun which is to rise and set on it for centuries, were happy in thinking that “Time, the great destroyer,” cannot impair and will but add new beauty to it.

Another description, which was printed a few days later in the Congregational Journal of Concord, New Hampshire, it provided more details about the process of making the statue:

A bronze statue of the late Dr. Nathaniel Bowditch, (whose “Practical Navigator” has bothered so many college students, and saved so many ships and sailors) has just been cast by Messrs. Goodin & Gavett, of this city…. The work commenced about eight months ago, and has been prosecuted at odd hours of the day, and partly during the hours of night, so as not to interfere with the regular business of the manufacturers, whose chief occupation is the making of lamps. But two or three of the workmen in their employ, have been let into the knowledge of the method adopted in casting this statue. The entire execution of the work is worthy of all praise, and reflects the highest honor upon the mechanical skill and taste of all the operatives engaged in it. The weight of the statue is twenty-five hundred pounds. The metal is composed of one part of tin, and seven parts of copper from the mines of Lake Superior, and it somewhat harder than gun metal. It improves by exposure to atmospheric action. It was cast in two pieces and afterwards fused together.

The article then goes on to describe the design of the statue:

The statue is hollow and is in an easy sitting posture, adorned with graceful drapery,—a large book held in the right hand,—a celestial globe, quadrant, compass, and other emblems of the philosopher and the man of mathematical science are admirably arranged, so as to give the while a natural appearance. The effect upon the mind of the beholder is in the highest degree pleasing, and one almost involuntarily gives utterance to his feelings of admiration as he examines this beautiful ,and enduring work of art which is intended as a monument to one of the greatest scholars and one of the best and most useful men that America ever produced.

However, despite the confident assertions by these articles that the statue would be immune to “Time, the great destroyer,” and that it would only improve when exposed to the elements, this proved to not be the case. Just six years later, in 1853, the statue was already deteriorating. Dr. Jacob Bigelow, one of the cemetery trustees, was part of a committee to repair the statue, and an article in the Boston Recorder described his findings

Dr. J. Bigelow…submitted a report in which he says that he has examined the said statue, with the assistance of competent mechanics, that he finds the whole in a bad and almost worthless state, being apparently made of base metal and full of holes, which were concealed by cement in the original casting, but are now open, not only to disfiguring the statue, but admitting the rain, which, by freezing in Winter, has caused several cracks from six to nine inches in length; that the statue is now in process of destruction, and is not worth any more expensive repair than a coat of putty and paint, which may keep it together a few years longer.

As it turned out, the statue would last for a few more decades. But, by the 1880s it had deteriorated to the point where it had to be re-cast. This work was done in Paris, and the new statue was reinstalled here in 1887. The first photo is not dated, but it is from a stereocard that was likely published in the late 1860s or 1870s. If that is the case, then it would show the original statue, before it was re-cast.

Since then, not much has changed in this scene. The statue remains a major landmark in the cemetery, and the cemetery retains the same well-landscaped, park-like setting that its founders had envisioned nearly 200 years ago. The re-cast statue has weathered much better than the original, and in 2011 it underwent a major restoration and cleaning, returning it to its original appearance when it was first installed here.

Mount Auburn Sphinx, Watertown, Mass

The Sphinx at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

Civil War monuments are a ubiquitous feature in towns throughout New England. Most of these were dedicated in the late 19th century, and their designs typically consist of a soldier in uniform, standing atop a pedestal that is inscribed with names of battles, patriotic sentiments, or similar statements. However, perhaps the most unusual Civil War monument in the region is the Sphinx, located here in Mount Auburn Cemetery. It was commissioned by Dr. Jacob Bigelow and designed by prominent sculptor Martin Milmore, and it was installed in 1872, on a site directly across from the cemetery chapel.

Jacob Bigelow was a prominent Boston physician who, in the early 19th century, proposed the idea of a rural, park-like cemetery on the outskirts of Boston. The result was Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown and Cambridge, which opened in 1831. This carefully-landscaped cemetery was a sharp contrast to the grim, overcrowded colonial-era graveyards in downtown Boston, and it served as a model for many similar cemeteries that would subsequently be opened across the region during the mid-19th century.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Bigelow wanted to create a monument in the cemetery that would celebrate the two main accomplishments of the war: the preservation of the union, and the end of slavery. However, rather than a standard soldier-with-gun-atop-pedestal design, Bigelow envisioned a sphinx, which represented the combination of intellect and strength. He also saw this ancient symbol as being a representation of the nation’s future potential, as he explained in his remarks to the cemetery’s trustees in 1871:

It essays to express the present attitude and character of a nation perhaps as far remote in time from the building of the pyramids as was that event from the earliest constructions attempted by man. The same ideal from which, as it were, on the dividing ridge of time, has looked backward on unmeasured antiquity, now looks forward to illimitable progress. It stands as a landmark of a state of things which the world has not before seen—a great, warlike and successful nation, in the plentitude and full consciousness of its power, suddenly reversing its energies, and calling back its military veterans from bloodshed and victory to resume the still familiar acts of peace and good will to man. What symbol can better express the attributes of a just, calm and dignified self-reliance than one which combines power with attractiveness, the strength of a lion with the beauty and benignity of woman?

The resulting statue was carved of Hallowell granite, and it sits atop a base with an American water lily on the front, and an Egyptian lotus on the back. On either side is an inscription, which is written in Latin on the left side and in English on the right side. The English translation reads:

American Union preserved
African slavery destroyed
By the uprising of a great people
By the blood of fallen heroes

Despite—or perhaps because of—its unconventional design, the Sphinx appears to have been well-received by contemporary observers. Writing shortly after it was installed here, the Boston Daily Evening Transcript remarked:

The Mount Auburn Sphinx has solved her own riddle, and stands upon her everlasting base at last. She is intended to commemorate the war and the heroes it cost us, and if the peril of art in such commemoration has been the falling into a monotonous sameness and peopling New England with statues of the “private soldier at rest,” that peril has in this case been notably avoided. It is certainly unique, and certainly not grotesque. Egyptian art has long been laid under contribution for expressions of reverence for the memory of the dead.

The first photo was taken about 40 years later, showing the Sphinx at the turn of the 20th century. Since then, very little has changed here aside from the landscaping around the base of the pedestal. Mount Auburn Cemetery still has the same park-like appearance that Bigelow had worked to create, and his Sphinx remains one of its most distinctive features, along with being a remarkably innovative way of memorializing the Union soldiers of the Civil War.

Melvin Memorial, Concord, Mass (2)

The Melvin Memorial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

As explained in the previous post, the Melvin Memorial was created in honor of Concord natives Asa, John, and Samuel Melvin. These three brothers all died during the Civil War, and in 1897 their only surviving brother, James C. Melvin, commissioned prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French to design a memorial for them. It was dedicated here in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in 1909, and it features a relief sculpture titled Mourning Victory. The sculpture shows Victory draped in a flag and carrying a laurel sprig to symbolize the Union victory in the war, but it also shows Victory with downcast eyes, representing the loss of life that was required in order to win the war.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed here in this scene. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was designed as a natural, park-like cemetery that could be used by both the living and the dead, and it has retained that same appearance over the years. Even the tree in the center of the first photo appears to be the same one that is still standing here in the 2020 photo. As for the memorial itself, it underwent a major restoration from 2018 to 2019, including cleaning, repointing, and repairing the marble, along with replacing the tablets beneath the sculpture of Victory. As a result, the memorial now looks essentially the same as it did the first photo, and it stands as a significant work by one of the nation’s leading sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Melvin Memorial, Concord, Mass

The Melvin Memorial at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, around 1909-1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2020:

This monument in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was dedicated in 1909 in honor of Asa, John, and Samuel Melvin, three brothers who died during the Civil War. All three were Concord natives, and they served in Company K of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. Their deaths represented three of the leading causes of death in the war: disease, combat, and poor conditions prisoner of war camps. John died of dysentery in 1863, Asa was killed in battle during the siege of Petersburg in 1864, and Samuel died of disease and malnutrition in 1864 at the Andersonville prison in Georgia, following his capture after the Battle of Spotsylvania.

A fourth brother, James C. Melvin, was too young to join older siblings at the start of the war, but he enlisted later in the war once he was old enough. He was the only one to survive the war, and he went on to become a businessman in Boston, where he was involved in a cold storage company. One of his goals was to create a memorial in honor of his three older brothers, so in 1897 he commissioned prominent sculptor Daniel Chester French to design one.

Although a native of New Hampshire, French was no stranger to Concord. One of his first major works was The Minute Man, a bronze statue dedicated in 1875 at Old North Bridge, at the site of the Battle of Concord. That iconic symbol of the American Revolution has remained one of his most famous works, perhaps eclipsed only by one of his last works, the 30-foot marble statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

For the Melvin Memorial, French drew little inspiration from existing Civil War monuments, which typically featured some variation of a uniformed soldier holding a rifle. Instead, he took inspiration from classical art, creating a relief sculpture that he titled Mourning Victory. The design features a seven-foot-tall figure of Victory emerging from the marble, draped in an American flag and carrying a laurel sprig. These symbols express patriotism and the triumphant victory of the Union during the war, but French also portrayed Victory with downcast eyes, mourning the human cost of that victory. Directly beneath the sculpture are tablets for each of the three brothers, with inscriptions identifying them and the circumstances of their deaths. The other inscription on the memorial, located below Victory, reads:

In memory of three brothers born in Concord who as private soldiers gave their lives in the war to save the country this memorial is placed here by their surviving brother, himself a private soldier in the same war.

“I with uncovered head
Salute the sacred dead
Who went and who return not”

The memorial was dedicated on June 16, 1909, in a ceremony that was well attended by surviving members of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery. The first photo was taken shortly after the dedication, and it shows the monument in its location in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. However, while it is in a cemetery, none of the brothers are actually buried here beneath the memorial. Only John’s body was returned home during the war, and he is buried elsewhere in the cemetery in the family plot, alongside his brother James, who died in 1915. As for the other two brothers, Samuel is buried in the Andersonville National Cemetery, while Asa lies in a mass grave in Petersburg.

Today, more than a century after the dedication of the Melvin Memorial, it still looks essentially the same as it did in the first photo, thanks to a restoration project that was completed in 2019. It is regarded as one of Daniel Chester French’s finest works, and a replica of it—which was also commissioned by James Melvin—is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Overall, perhaps the only thing that has changed here in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery since the first photo was taken is the number of gravestones, which has obviously increased over the years. Appropriately enough, one of these stones is for Daniel Chester French himself, who died in 1931 and is buried up on the ridge behind the memorial.

Josiah Gilbert Holland Gravestone, Springfield, Mass

The gravestone of author Josiah Gilbert Holland in Springfield Cemetery, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2020:

Josiah Gilbert Holland was a prominent author during the second half of the 19th century, writing a variety of works, including novels, poems, history books, and advice books. He was also an assistant editor of the Springfield Republican, and he was one of the founders of the magazine Scribner’s Monthly. Born in Belchertown in 1819, Holland moved to Springfield as an adult, and he spent much of his literary career here, before moving to New York in the early 1870s. He died there in 1881, but his body was returned to Springfield, where he was buried here in Springfield Cemetery.

Holland’s books are rarely read today, in part because of the overly sentimental and moralistic style of his writings. However, these same qualities made his works very popular with the general public during the Victorian era, and after his death he was memorialized here at his gravesite with a bronze bas relief sculpture by prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. It features a profile image of Holland, with a sprig of lily-of-the-valley behind him, and the inscription “Et Vitam Impendere Vero,” which translates to “To devote one’s life to truth.” Beneath the bas relief, the base of the monument features another inscription that reads “For the great hereafter I trust in the infinite love as it is expressed to me in the life and death of my lord and saviour Jesus Christ.”

The first photo was taken only about a decade after Holland’s burial. Since then, several more gravestones have been added to this scene, but otherwise very little has changed here. Holland himself has been largely forgotten by readers and literary scholars, but his monument has been well-preserved throughout this time, and it remains one of the most artistically-significant gravestones in Springfield.

Civil War Soldier’s Monument, Springfield, Mass

The Civil War monument at the soldiers’ plot in Springfield Cemetery, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2020:

Springfield has three major Civil War statues in honor of its veterans. Of these, the one at Court Square is by far the largest and most visible, but the city’s first monument was the one shown here in these two photos. It was dedicated in 1877, and it stands in the soldiers’ plot in Springfield Cemetery, near the main entrance. It features a granite base topped by a bronze soldier, which was designed by noted sculptor Henry J. Ellicott and cast by Maurice J. Power at the National Fine Art Foundry in New York City. The funds for the monument came from the Soldiers’ Rest Association, which had been established during the war to provide assistance to soldiers. At the end of the war, a little over $4,000 remained in this fund, and this money was used to commission this monument.

The first photo shows the monument in the early 1890s, less than 15 years after its dedication. At the time, it was joined by four bronze cannons that had been donated by the United States government, but these have since been removed. Otherwise, the only significant difference between these two photos is the number of headstones here, as there were many Civil War veterans who were still alive when the first photo was taken. There are now about 200 veterans buried here in the soldiers’ plot, with some here in the upper section next to the statue, and others in the lower section on the other side of the trees.