Gravestones

Gravestones

Worcester’s Harriette Merrifield Forbes (1856-1951) was an historian, photographer and author. Her book Early New England Gravestones And the Men Who Made Them, 1653-1800, published in 1927, was the first to treat early American gravemarkers as art objects, the country’s oldest sculpture. Harriette’s pioneering work is the foundation upon which all subsequent study of American gravestones rests.

Daniel Farber (1906-1998) was born in Worcester and worked at his family’s shoe components factory. He began taking photographs in the 1920s, but it was not until the 1950s that his avocation became a serious one. One winter day in 1958 while looking for a subject to photograph, he came upon an 18th century graveyard in Paxton and discovered a new subject-early American gravestone art.

During the next 40 years Dan, together with his wife Jessie Lie, photographed more than 7,500 gravestones in locations along the eastern seaboard, as far west as Texas, and in many foreign countries.

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, founded in 1831 in partnership with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, was the first “rural” cemetery in the United States. Worcester’s Rural Cemetery, founded in 1838, is the second oldest in New England.

The carved faces of early American grave markers tend to face west. Headstones were placed so that the carved face was away from the grave, so the viewer would not have to walk on the grave to read the inscription. The body was buried with the head to the west so that when the cock crowed on Judgement Day the deceased would sit up facing the rising sun in the east.

Dan and Jessie Lie Farber encouraged and energized gravestone studies nationally and internationally. Both were founding members of the Association for Gravestone Studies, which was created in 1976-77.

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