ex and sculp



The Warren family lot is a good example of the dramatic changes in funerary sculpture that took place from the colonial era to the Victorian era.

General Joseph Warren was one of the heroes of the Revolutionary War. He was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill (to be more precise, Breed’s Hill) in 1775 and was first buried there. Warren’s remains were moved several times (including to the Granary Street Burying Ground, to a family crypt in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and briefly, to the family backyard in Roxbury), until the family purchased this lot at Forest Hills Cemetery in 1852. Remains of other family members were moved here also, along with their original headstones.

Before the nineteenth century in New England, graves were usually marked with slate slabs showing what Nathaniel Hawthorne once called the “lugubrious emblems of mortality”—mainly skulls, skeletons, hourglasses and other frightening symbols, known as memento mori, or reminders that death overlooks no one. The portal-shaped stones represented the doorway through which one exchanged their earthly life for the hereafter.

Calvinist theology concerning the afterlife seems harsh to us today. Puritans did not believe in excessive funerary ritual. Their belief in the doctrine of predestination meant that the fate of the deceased in the afterlife (Hell or Heaven) was out of their hands, so it seemed pointless to spend time visiting a gravesite, or to provide an inviting, beautiful burial ground.

By the end of the eighteenth century, such ideas were in decline, and newer Romantic ideas about spiritual uplift and heaven as attainable for all began to take hold. You can see this progression in the motifs on the old slate stones, which changed from the scary death’s heads to the winged cherubs and willow-and-urn motifs. (The willow-and-urn motifs first became popular in America at the same time as Grief and her urn.)

Also during the same period, light-colored marble started to become more popular than slate, which is of course a very dark material, so even the change in color and stone seems to have gone along with changing ideas about spirituality and the afterlife. You can see this dramatic change when you look at the Italian white marble stone for Susan Lyman and Mason Warren Dwight in this lot. If you look carefully you’ll find the sculptor’s signature in the lower right-hand corner: “G. Nucci, Scul. ROMA 1868.”

One other feature of this lot is the large mound of Roxbury puddingstone. You will find these rock formations composed of small stones all over the landscape at Forest Hills, since it is one of the unique geological features of this area of Boston, and in particular of the Cemetery. It was called “puddingstone” because it actually looked like nineteenth-century pudding. Every family had their own recipe at the time, but in general Victorian “puddings” were full of plums, figs, raisins and other fruits, and cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves—very sweet, lumpy and dark—hence the name given to this very special, native type of stone.

And, one other fact about Roxbury Puddingston--it is the official state rock of Massachusetts!

The next stop is just a few steps away--the Hosea Fisk Family lot.