Tales from the Tombstones

This month AAS produced four short videos introducing collections related to gravestones and cemeteries in the United States. Old burial grounds are treasure houses of American sculpture and of historical and genealogical information. Documenting gravestones through rubbings and photographs became popular at the end of the nineteenth century, and the Society preserves several collections of photographs that record stones ranging in date from 1625 to 1815.

The series — written by the Society’s Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren B. Hewes and produced by AAS Photographer and Media Producer Nathan Fiske — introduces viewers to Worcester area photographer Harriette Merrifield Forbes who worked from the 1880s to 1945, and Daniel and Jessie Farber who spent more than two decades making photographs of gravestones starting in 1958.  Forbes wrote a treatise on gravestone art in which she stated, “I wish that it was possible for us to look at these old stones with the eyes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries . . . They honored the dead and they taught the living.”

In keeping with the Society’s focus on the history of printing in America, the series also takes a closer look at the burial places of two well-known American printers: John Foster (1648-1681) and Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831).  Foster, who is buried in Dorchester, Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard in 1667 and ran a printing press in Boston starting in 1675.  Thomas, who is entombed in Worcester, published the Massachusetts Spy and was active as a patriot during the Revolutionary War.  In his retirement, he founded the American Antiquarian Society.


Tales from the Tombstones:  Harriette Merrifield Forbes


Tales from the Tombstones:  John Foster


Tales from the Tombstones:  Daniel and Jessie Farber


Tales from the Tombstones:  Isaiah Thomas

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