“Anybody who recommends meeting in a cemetery has gotta be a really interesting character.”
Kim Nagy is reflecting on the first time she met John Harrison, with whom she worked as a co-editor on the recently published essay collection Dead in Good Company: A Celebration of Mount Auburn Cemetery. It was 2011, and Nagy was going through a tough time—she had lost her job as a regional sales manager, and her mother, who had recently moved to Massachusetts, was struggling with dementia. So when Harrison suggested that the two get together to explore Mount Auburn Cemetery, she was intrigued.
Nagy didn’t know much about the cemetery at the time, but she loved owls, and this was the first year they had nested there. (Her contribution to Dead in Good Company is titled “The Owls,” and touches on this tumultuous period of time in her life.) It was the beginning of a lovely friendship—one that became a great creative collaboration in early 2012, when Harrison shared with Nagy his plan to publish a collection of stories about the cemetery where they first got together. Harrison was in publishing, Nagy worked in sales, and it seemed like the perfect combination of skills. The two began connecting with area writers and photographers, and their collection was published in August.
Dead in Good Company is packed with essays, poems and remembrances by area writers. Dan Shaughnessey’s “Hi, Neighbor. Have a ‘Gansett.” honors famed sportscaster and Peabody Award-winner Curt Gowdy, who was laid to rest in the cemetery after his death in 2006. In “Life at Mount Auburn,” Connie Biewald reflects on the cemetery’s flora, the passing of time and her favorite gravestone, which simply reads, “She Tried.” The stories are poignant, reverent and often deeply personal. In “No Kin of Mine,” Pulitzer Prize winner Megan Marshall writes, “Although I have no ancestors or family members buried here, Mount Auburn Cemetery still serves as a lush garden of memories for me. Does it matter that none of them are my own?”
“Our goal with this whole project is to show Mount Auburn Cemetery as a place of life and death and rebirth and transformation … it’s really a beautiful place,” Nagy says. “We wanted things that were respectful and things that were personal.”
The collection is also packed with color photographs of the cemetery’s wildlife—foxes, coyotes, raccoons and birds—although Nagy jokes that those haven’t been a hit with everyone. During a recent book signing, one less than enthusiastic customer who bought Dead in Good Company on Amazon had some choice words for her and her co-editor—specifically, that the book contained “too many effing birds.”
“I looked at John, and I said, ‘You know what? We’re in business now,'” Nagy says, laughing. “We have people specifically come up and complain to us that there are too many birds in the book.”
Dead in Good Company is available locally at Porter Square Books, Out of the Blue Too Art Gallery and Brookline Booksmith. If you’re not keen to step out from behind your laptop, you can also snag a copy on Amazon.