Forest Hills Cemetery

 Forest Hills Cemetery. Photograph courtesy of Charlie Rosenberg.

Forest Hills Cemetery. Photograph courtesy of Charlie Rosenberg.

Crematory. The very word tends to conjure up a feeling of mystery and the unknown.

Forest Hills Cemetery held a public program in October that successfully laid to rest (so to speak) the participants' fears and questions about crematories and cremation, and shed light on the little-explored procedure.

A talk on cremation and the history of cremation at Forest Hills was given by Rachel Sideman, a former intern at the cemetery who wrote on the subject for her Simmons College master's thesis. The talk was followed by a comprehensive tour of the cemetery's cremation facilities, led by Anthony Hollingshead, cemetery superintendent.

Bud Hanson, president of Forest Hills Cemetery, opened the program. "We're all touched by mortality," he said, as he welcomed the two dozen or so curious participants.

Sideman explained that Forest Hills Cemetery led the region in cremation, building the first facility in New England, in 1893.

Suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stone expressed her desire to be first person cremated in the new facility. The problem was, she died before construction was completed. Her body was stored on site for a short time, and when the facility was ready, she was cremated on Dec. 30, 1893.

"Lucy Stone's cremation was front-page news," said Sideman. Following Stone's lead, 87 people were cremated at Forest Hills in the first year. (Stone's remains now reside in a large urn in a Forest Hills columbarium.)

In the early years of the Forest Hills Crematory, cremations cost $30. Those who pre-paid received a ticket that could be redeemed at the time of death.

Cremation Past

Cremation is believed to have begun around 3000 B.C., most likely in Europe and the Near East. The practice spread around the world, until the modern cremation movement was launched after a cremation chamber was displayed at the 1873 Vienna Exposition.

In America, the popularity of cremation got off to a strong start in 1876 when Dr. Julius LeMoyne built the first crematory in the country in Washington, Pa. The second crematory opened in Lancaster, Pa. Among the forces that led people to embrace cremation were concerns about the health issues surrounding early cemeteries and a desire to reform funeral practices.

By 1900, 20 crematories were in operation in this country and by the time Dr. Hugh Erichsen founded the Cremation Association of America in 1913 there were 52.

In 1998, over a half-million cremations were performed in North America.

Cremation Present

Cremation is growing in popularity because it is less costly than traditional burial and the practice conserves land.

"By the year 2010, one out of two people will be cremated," said Bud< Hanson.

The facilities at Forest Hills are "state-of-the-art," said Hollingshead as he started the tour. The units, which reside in a spotlessly neat and clean room, work by introducing high heat (1400 degrees). The units are considered the best technology available, he said.

Next to the cremation units is a room where technicians process the remains by removing foreign materials. Then the remains are further processed by a machine that reduces them to a fine consistency.

At this point, a number of options can be pursued. Forest Hills Cemetery offers scattering, in-ground burial and columbaria (columbaria allow for memorialization of the deceased through a display of the urn). The cemetery also offers a range of urns.

By Rhea Becker

The cremation talk/tour was presented by the Forest Hills Educational Trust on October 14, 2001.

Boy in the Boat Statue

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society recently toured a part of the Forest Hills Cemetery, originally set out by the City of Roxbury in 1848 for a city cemetery. In the cemetery's Walk Hill/Canterbury section may be found the glass-enclosed white marble statue titled "Boy in the Boat" and marked LL on the cemetery's map of curiosities. Books on Boston's statues unfortunately bypass its cemeteries' sculptures. This statue is as fresh, pure and lifelike as the day it was erected due to its covering and, in addition, it has a most interesting story to tell.

Its brief frontal text proclaims-uniquely in French-that it is the grave of Louis Ernest Mieusset at nearly five years of age, erected by his mother for her

fils bien aime

(well-beloved son). How does Louis, a little French boy of the high Victorian era, with his rowboat and tennis racquet happen to rest in Forest Hills? He indeed was born in France in 1881, but his mother and father had a parting of the ways and Mme. Mieusset brought her young son to the United States.

On September 26, 1886, while in a small boat near the shore of a little pond, Louis noticed his pet rabbit running along the bank. Wishing to bring the rabbit with him, he tried to reach for his pet, but lost his balance and fell out of the boat and drowned. It is this last moment of life that Mme. Louis Hellium Mieusset chose to commemorate in her son's last resting place in Forest Hills Cemetery.

Also erected with the monument was a marble bench with a moveable drawer (since removed), where the grieving mother could come to clean the glass, polish its brass fitting, place flowers, and do other duties as she saw fit. Due to financial reverses, Mme. Mieusset's private income ceased, and she went to work as a domestic on Beacon Hill. She lived on Kirkland St. in the South End, becoming increasingly frail but ever attending her son's grave by scrimping and saving.

After breaking a leg, she went to the City facility on Long Island and died of complications from that accident. Having no heirs and not having told the hospital about her grave lot at Forest Hills, Louise Mieusset was buried in a pauper's grave in Potters Field on Long Island. Fortunately, a neighbor, Mrs. Jackson knew Mme. Mieusset's tale and wrote ex-Mayor Curley. Within 24 hours she lay next to her son awaiting eternity.

Perhaps the loveliest element about this tale is that it has no ending. For even after the death of his mother (whose grave is not specifically marked) fresh flowers are left at the site almost daily, anonymously. Even stakeouts at the site have never revealed whom it is that keeps the site so dutifully. Those who know the sculpture of the cemetery well rightly match Louis with Gracie Allen (marked HH on the map of curiosities): another mint marble statue preserved in a glass case, a young girl who had died in 1880 at nearly the same age as Louis. These extraordinary statues are only two of the sculptural highlights that can be seen at Forest Hills.

By Walter H. Marx

Reprinted with permission from the August 3, 1989 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.