Virtual Tour Explores Evolution of New England Cemeteries

An illustrated virtual program coming Wednesday, Oct. 14, will explore the evolution of New England cemeteries and pay a visit to Cambridge’s storied Mount Auburn Cemetery – the first rural cemetery in the U.S., and the final resting place of several members of the Nichols family.

Nichols after Dark (under of the auspices of the Nichols House Museum) is partnering with Mount Auburn Cemetery to sponsor the event, which will be guided by the Gravestone Girls (, Massachusetts-based experts in New England cemetery and gravestone history who offer a variety of programs, lectures, tours and workshops with gravestone rubbings, as well as create and sell sculpted artwork based on imagery from New England gravestones.

During the program, the Gravestone Girls will trace the evolution of cemeteries from colonial burial grounds to the rural garden movement of the 19th century, as represented by Mount Auburn Cemetery, up until 21st-century practices.

“The program gives an evolutionary look at New England gravestones and cemeteries and how the Nichols family and their history at Mount Auburn Cemetery fit into the narrative,” said Brenda Sullivan, one of the Gravestone Girls’ founding members.

Several members of the Nichols family are buried in two plots at Mount Auburn Cemetery, according to Laura Cunningham, the Nichols House Museum’s curator of collections and education, including Arthur, Elizabeth, Rose and Marian Nichols, who are all interred in the Nichols family plot, while Margaret Nichols Shurcliff, who married venerable landscape architect Arthur Shurcliff, is buried alongside him in the Shurcliff family plot.

“The program looks at why [members of the Nichols family] chose the Mount Auburn Cemetery and the role it played in Boston in 19th and 20th centuries,” Cunningham said. “We’ll also look at their individual gravestones and those styles of gravestones.”

While Nichols After Dark has previously explored myriad other historic topics (e.g. 1920s fashion), this marks the first time that the ongoing programming series will tackle the evolution of New England cemeteries as its subject matter.

“We, as New Englanders, live in one of the oldest parts of the country, and we have a long track of history,” said Sullivan of the Gravestone Girls. “There are gravestone and cemeteries in almost all our communities that we pass regularly…and we want folks to understand what a valuable resource they are for art, history and entertainment. They’re an integral part of the community, not these creepy, scary places, but we don’t necessarily see it that way.

“There’s a lot we can learn from the dead,” Sullivan added.

Nichols after Dark and Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Virtual Cemetery Tour with the Gravestone Girls takes place on Wednesday, Oct. 14, from 6 to 7 p.m. Register through Eventbrite at Attendees will be provided with a link to access the program the week of the event.

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