Leaving a Mark on History
American Antiquarian Society and
David Rumsey Provide
Collection of Historic
Gravestones a New Resting Place Online
WORCESTER, MA & SAN FRANCISCO, CA – October 29, 2003 – A
unique collection of historic gravestones has found a new resting place
online. The grave markers, which are subject to vandalism and
deterioration, have been preserved in photographs and are now available on the
Internet for the entire world to pay its respects by examining and
appreciating these extraordinary objects.
More than 13,500 images documenting the sculpture of more than 9,000
gravestones, most of which were made prior to 1800, make up the Farber
Gravestone Collection. The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) converted
the photographic collection to digital form, and now, with help from David
Rumsey’s Cartography Associates, a digital publishing company, this unique
collection is available for free public access online.
“We are thrilled to have the Farber Gravestone Collection
online, so people have the opportunity to freely explore the rich early
history of our country and its founders, many of whom are memorialized in the
grave markers that make up this fascinating collection,” says AAS President
The Farber Gravestone Collection reflects the work of the late Daniel
Farber of Worcester, Massachusetts, and his wife, Jessie Lie Farber, who
photographed historic gravestones for more than 20 years. The collection
can be found online at www.davidrumsey.com/farber/.
Others whose work is incorporated into the collection include Harriette
Merrifield Forbes, who worked in the 1920s mainly in Massachusetts, and Dr.
Ernest Caulfield, who documented Connecticut grave markers.
These gravestones, America’s earliest form of sculpture, are a
significant form of artistic expression and serve as precious records of
biographical information. Now subject to vandalism and deterioration
from the environment, the photographic records help preserve a perspective of
our nation’s history.
In a description she wrote of the collection, Jessie Lie Farber said
the digital images of the gravestones show “the sternness of the Puritan
seventeenth century, replaced by the ‘Age of Reason’ of the eighteenth
century, and that in turn replaced by the nineteenth-century’s extravagance,
love of nature, and free expression of sentiment. The twentieth century,
punctuated by two world wars and a depression, is by comparison secular,
straight-forward and business-like. Death has become more distant.”
Map collector David Rumsey, owner of Cartography Associates and a
member of the AAS Council, says the unique nature and rich history contained
within the collection inspired him to donate the resources needed to bring it
to the Internet. Rumsey’s own historic map collection is available for
free public review online, and he has supported Internet access to other
important cultural heritage resources, including a collection of historic
Japanese maps from the East Asian Library at Berkeley.
“In many ways the grave markers are similar to maps because they
combine historical events and artistic expression, and they also embody
location because they are about places,” Rumsey says of his fascination with
The collection provides some insight into the private lives of
historical figures, such as Paul Revere, Sr., the father of the legendary
silversmith who warned of the coming British. Upon viewing this grave
marker and rechecking historical facts, one quickly realizes that Paul Revere,
Sr., never knew of his son’s contribution to our nation’s history, having
died a year before his son’s well-known ride. The collection also
confirms that John “Grizzly” Adams is not a work of fiction. He died in
1860, and a carving of a hunter with a bear appears on his marble gravestone
where he is interred in Charlton, Massachusetts.
Many of the early grave markers give evidence of our past by relating
stories of death by such means as disease, falling from a horse, fording a
river, raising a barn, being cast away in a storm or slain by Indians.
John Stockbridge’s death in 1768 was documented as “sudden,
premature, awfull (sic) & violent, providentially occasioned by the fall
of a tree.” But in case those paying their respects misunderstood the
epitaph, the marker also contains an illustrated carving – presumably of
Stockbridge – showing a tree limb striking his head.
The data accompanying the photographs in the online collection
includes the name and death date of the deceased, the location of the stone,
and information concerning the stone material, the iconography, the
inscription, and – when known – the carver.
Like the award-winning David Rumsey Map Collection, Los Angeles-based
Luna Imaging's (www.lunaimaging.com)
Insight software is being used to allow Webviewers to experience this unique
collection of historic gravestones in a revolutionary way. Using
Insight, users can zoom in, pan and do side-by-side comparisons of grave
markers simultaneously. Users can save groups of images to create their own
customized collections. They also can crop or magnify areas of gravestones
that otherwise would be difficult to decipher, and discover details that
reflect artistry, culture, theology, precision and history.
The launch of the Farber Collection online reflects AAS’s
commitment to use technology to make historic resources more widely available.
This is in keeping with the tradition of the Society, one of the first
research libraries to use microfilm to preserve and provide wider access to
important historic works.
The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is an independent
research library and learned society founded in 1812 in Worcester,
Massachusetts. The library's collections document the life of America's people
from the colonial era through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Collections
include some three million books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals,
broadsides, manuscripts, music, children's literature, graphic arts, genealogy
and local histories. The Society is located online at www.americanantiquarian.org
Cartography Associates (CA), founded in
1996 by map collector David Rumsey, promotes the distribution of digital
facsimiles both in print and electronic media. Specializing in both primary
source documents and cutting-edge technology, CA (www.davidrumsey.com) is
committed to developing tools that integrate cataloging with visual images on
the Internet. CA's vision is to offer users the best of both worlds: the
powerful searching, access, and user functionality made possible by
technology, combined with the visual beauty, technical mastery and
intellectual richness of original source materials.