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Rose Shadows and Cowpox

Thursday, January 13, 2011

All aboard the S. S. Sleeper! She sails tonight. Or perhaps tomorrow, or in the next century or so. Very, very slowly.

There are so many lovely and poignant moments in a walk through Mount Auburn, it's hard to pick favorites. Here's a monument to a man lost at sea. I liked the verse. It's about the lack of closure that goes with such a tragic event:

He sleeps beneath the blue lazy sea
He lies where pearls lie deep
He was the loved of all, yet none
O'er his low bed may weep.

Everywhere, you see graven evidence of people searching for closure, for a way to be at peace with losing the ones they love. It's hardest, perhaps, for people who lose young children, but there was a terrible lot of that going around in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Influenza epidemics, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever...they took an awful toll.

I could hardly look at this little sculpture of two children sleeping, imagining the loss behind it,

for they were often lost in twos and threes as an epidemic swept through a household. The idea of such a thing happening today is very remote to us, but was very real then.

Climbing roses, planted so many decades later, cast a beautiful shadow, a shadow of remembrance and sorrow, and life blooming perhaps again, somewhere.

And here is the grave of someone who did something about it all. Benjamin Waterhouse, of Harvard College, introduced to the United States a vaccine for the devastating disease of smallpox. English physician Edward Jenner had noted that milkmaids seemed to have an immunity to smallpox, and went from there. He hypothesized that their exposure, in the course of their work, to the biologically similar cowpox virus armed their immune systems against the human variant of this horrid virus. My father loved to tell us about Jenner, as a way of telling us that we must notice things, connect things that seem unconnected, and thereby do much good. (Thanks to Tim who gracefully and quietly corrects the S.S. Sleeper's course from time to time).

Waterhouse's stone reads:

In 1800 he introduced to the New World 
the blessing of vaccination,
overcame popular prejudice and distrust
by testing it on his own children,
and thus established a title 
to the gratitude of future ages.

This memorial was erected by his wife, who doubtless appreciated more than anyone the sacrifice he'd made in testing it on their own children.

But I'm getting too ponderous; these stones haunt me. So I'll leave you with the monument Kris calls 
The Celestial Wedgie. Ow! Lemme go!


I kind of hate to interfere with a memory of your father, but in the interest of Science Chimp accuracy, the smallpox-cowpox story, and the popular introduction of smallpox immunization, came from Edward Jenner in England. Waterhouse was the first to introduce the practice to America--in itself a very important innovation, but he didn't invent the vaccine.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Duly and humbly corrected. Thanks, T.

Gotta love the marble wedgie, though.

I've enjoyed this tour of Mount Auburn esp. the celestial wedgie.

The celestial wedgie monument falls into that quirky category of kinda sorta famous folks buried at the Mt. Auburn. Name recognition falls off precipitously, once you've rattled off Winslow Homer and Buckminster Fuller and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and even those fall into the "bookish types only need apply" category.

The next tier is people whose names are only vaguely known, and only if you've lived in New England forever. The wedgie monument, for instance, is part of the Chickering family plot, which might ring some bells if you grew up playing a Chickering piano. It's right next door to Peter Bent Brigham, he of the Brigham and Women's Hospital fame. Well, okay, famous at the Longwood Avenue green line MBTA stop. Then there's that guy that Ferris Bueller played in "Glory." Oh, and the guy who spoke for two hours before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, but I'm backtracking now.

I'm pleased as punch that you've gotten five posts out of our visits to the Mt. Auburn, jz. Well done!

xox Hodge/Kris

Posted by Anonymous January 15, 2011 at 5:45 PM

In one of my childhood cemetery wanderings, I was shocked to see so many children's headstones (I was little then, me own self.) My mother then told me about epidemics and diseases that we don't even think about. In a cemetery in Maine, my great-grandmother's sister lost all 7 children in one. Her own story is sad too.

I discovered memento mori a few years ago. Photographs, generally the only one grieving parents ever had taken, of their child after death. Some are posed to look living, and surprisingly enough, many are posed with surviving siblings. Some are simple and some are elaborately staged, and many examples can be found on the net. Fascinating and heartbreaking all in one.

Posted by holly-the-person January 17, 2011 at 3:55 PM
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