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Forest Hills Cemetery: Stories Behind the Stones

Forest Hills Cemetery entrance gate

Although 155 years old, Forest Hills Cemetery still inspires awe in those who enter Jamaica Plain’s garden cemetery. After visitors approach the grand gothic gate, they can choose from a variety of paths that snake throughout the 275-acre landmark.

“In the 19th century, Bostonians would walk up the winding path to the gate, which is like a portal to Heaven,” says Al Maze, a Boston native and tour guide at Forest Hills Cemetery. “After you enter, you don’t immediately see headstones, but pathways meandering all over the place.

“What you see is a metaphor for death,” adds Maze, who leads Stories Behind the Stones, a variety of tours that touch on the great history housed within the cemetery’s walls. “Once you die and you pass through the Gates of Heaven, you don’t know what’s beyond.”

Founded in 1848, 17 years after Cambridge’s Mt. Auburn Cemetery, the nondenominational Forest Hills Cemetery has long had a reputation as a democratic burial ground. Although anyone can be buried at Forest Hills, it’s best known for its wonderful collection of Victorian sculpture, the eight works of renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French, and the variety of political, cultural and artistic luminaries interred there.

Although he claims no favorites, Maze does get a chuckle out of famous poet E. E. Cummings’ headstone. Known for an unorthodox approach to capitalization in his works, Cummings often, not always, signed his name in lower-case letters. The man who carved Cummings’ headstone etched his name in capital letters, ironically giving the unconventional poet a very conventional burial marker.

There is a strong contingent of progressive women resting at Forest Hills, which is still an active cemetery. Lucy Stone, a suffragist who maintained her maiden name after marriage, is among the best known. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who is also buried at Forest Hills, called her one of the finest women he ever met. For years, women who kept their maiden names after marriage were known as “Lucy Stoners.”

Boston native Clarence Walker Barron, who established Barron’s financial weekly in 1921, is buried there. Seeing the need for a daily financial news bulletin, Barron first established the Boston and Philadelphia news bureaus. In 1901, he purchased Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal. “He’s considered the father of modern business journalism,” notes Maze.

Mount Warren, traditional burial place of Revolutionary War hero Dr. Joseph Warren and his descendants.

The final resting place of Revolutionary War hero Dr. Joseph Warren is on Mount Warren, the family plot established by his nephew, Dr. John Collins Warren, in 1852. A well-traveled corpse, Joseph Warren was first buried where he was felled on Breed’s Hill in 1775. His body was then moved to the Old Granary Burial Ground, the family crypt below St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Boston and the family’s Roxbury backyard before being laid to rest at Forest Hills.

“At Forest Hills, I constantly find new stuff that knocks my socks off,” says the enthusiastic Maze. “I’m always trying to find new angles for the tour. Recently, I’ve been working on a ‘shady’ tour for hot, sunny days.”

Tours cost $5. For tour dates and times, call (617) 524-0128, ext. 22, or visit foresthillstrust.org.