Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Headstone Art in Stow's Lower Village Cemetery

Stow's Lower Village Cemetery, burials 1700 to present.
Slate headstones meant to be read while standing opposite
the grave. Click on photos to enlarge.
In the early Stow years, when people died, they were buried in the Lower Village Cemetery with their graves oriented east-west, feet pointing east, so that on Resurrection Day, when “…the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised…” they would arise facing the new day. Headstones were inscribed on the far side of the deceased. This way, a person reading the inscription would be standing on the other side from the body.

The Lower Village Cemetery was located near the original meeting house. A kiosk on the south side of the cemetery has a map on one side with numbers for the graves and a numerically ordered list of the 500-odd burials on the other side, showing names, dates of death, ages and dates of birth. The list is not up to date, as there are at least a half-dozen 21st century burials not shown. The earliest interment on record dates to 1711. Given Stow was settled in the 1680s, either everyone was preternaturally healthy or else earlier burials were not properly recorded. 

UMK for graves without headstones
Colonial era graveyards were not as tidy as now. Families did not own plots, graves were dug between graves, and over long periods of time stones were lost and burial spaces reused. Bones of the previously deceased were dumped in a common pit, burned, or left under where the new coffin would go. Stow's oldest cemetery is not quite that ancient, but there are many spaces where gravestones had once been, the only evidence now being a circular metal marker flush with the ground, lettered "UMK" for unmarked.

One of the few skull motif headstones in Lower Village Cemetery

The great majority of the headstones in Lower Village are made of slate, many obscured by over-growing lichen. Fewer are marble. Fewer still, granite. Familiar names include Brooks, Brown, Conant, Gates, Goodnow, Hale, Randall, Taylor and Whitney. Among the Whitneys, one stone is for Richard Whitney (1692-1775), next to it Hannah, his wife, and next to her Hannah, his wife. Richard and Hannah-1 had eight children before she died at the age of 50. Two years later he married Hannah-2, a widow who had five children from her first marriage. Richard and Hannah-2 had no additional children. They both passed away in 1775, after 30 years together.

Eastern Massachusetts headstone art changed through the centuries, the changes usually beginning in Boston and the neighboring cities, then radiating outward. The 1600s were characterized by a death's head - a toothy stylized skull flanked by wings. By the 1700s another iconographic motif took over. Called a winged cherub or a soul effigy, this motif was characterized by a fleshy face and life-like eyes, again flanked by wings. Many of the headstones in the Lower Village Cemetery display this image. By the late 1700s and early 1800s headstones featured a willow tree, an urn, or often the combination of the two. The willow was an ancient symbol of mourning. Urns were symbols of Roman-era items used to contain the deceased's ashes.

Headstone art in the Hartshorn/Mullicken style
A small subset of stones in Stow present an entirely different direction - a simplified, mask-like face, no wings, with much of the rest of the stone showing circles filled with spirals or stylized flower outlines. These look very modern, but date to 1700-1760. Massachusetts stone carvers associated with this style were John Hartshorn, Robert Mullicken and Mullicken's three sons.

To visit this cemetery, park at Shaw's Plaza and walk over. Its layout predates the Rural Cemetery Movement, which made its first appearance in the United States with Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge (1831). That innovation called for a site distant from the immediate neighborhood of meeting houses or churches, either town owned or privately owned, often on a hillside near the outer edges of town, with winding paths and extensive landscaping. Cemeteries became not what you passed on your way to Sunday service, but rather a place you might visit to honor the departed, take a meditative walk, or even have a picnic. Stow's newest cemetery - Brookside (1864) - is more aligned with the latter concept while Hillside (1849) - Stow's second cemetery - is more of the old style.

Cupid design for headstone; popular in the 1700s
Tombstone art has become common again. Headstones now tend to be long-lasting granite. Rather than being hand-carved, these very hard stones are etched with a computer-guided laser. Images can range from simple information to portraits of the departed, or perhaps something important from their life. In Matinicus Cemetery, Matinicus Island, Maine, some of the stones include an image of the lobster boat that belonged to the deceased.  

Maynard's Glenwood Cemetery was dedicated in 1871, so it contains none of these old-style slate stones or headstone art. There are 20-30 stones dated earlier than 1871; either these were buried in anticipation that the town would purchase the land for a town cemetery or else they were relocated from family plots on family land after the cemetery was open for business. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hidden History of Maynard


Cover photo from 1910

128 pages. 54 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.62619.541.7
Price: $19.99 (e-book $9.99)

The book is available in Maynard at The Paper Store, as e-book at various venues, or directly from the author.

Maynard resident David A. Mark brings his years of experience as a writer to create this fact-populated collection of fifty short essays gathered into seven theme-linked chapters. The contents were originally published 2012-14 as Mark’s column in Maynard’s newspaper, the Beacon-Villager.

I continue to write for the newspaper.
My more recent columns are posted at

In this, his second book, the content is 100% history. Chapters again cover the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, plus a focus on the unusual people and unusual businesses that prospered here. So, from the question as to why there was a mink ranch in Maynard, to whether Babe Ruth came a-drinking here when he lived in Sudbury, here is David Mark with his well-researched and entertaining answers to those questions.  

Only in Maynard
Meet the Maynard Family
19th Century
20th Century
Unusual Businesses
Unusual People
21st Century
Click on photo to enlarge


MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors (2011)
128 pages. 53 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.60949.303.5
Price: $19.99

Maynard: History and LifeOutdoors mixes 2/3 local history with 1/3 observations on nature and local recreational activities as a means of exploring what Maynard, Massachusetts offers to anyone willing to get away from too much time looking at screens and not enough time spent seeing, hearing, touching and smelling the life going on outside. History starts with eighteenth century stone walls, then carries forward to twenty-first century river clean-ups and farmers’ markets. Nature spans skunks to skunk cabbage, deer to deer ticks, and birds to bird food. Recreational sports essays range from describing the slow-motion, nightmarish feel of snow shoeing to how to avoid overhydration – the potentially deadly opposite of dehydration.

Author selfie, one fine cold morning (5ยบ F)
Maynard – Why “Outdoors”
Eighteenth Century
Birds and Bugs
Nineteenth Century
Assabet River 
Twentieth Century
Marble/Whitney/Parmenter Farm
Twenty-first Century

Monday, November 21, 2016

My Adventures in Ego-Surfing

The term "ego-surfing" dates to 1995 and refers to using internet search software to find public information about yourself. The main reason people search for themselves is that they're curious about what other people see when they search for their name. And the truth of the matter is that unless you are famous or have an unusual name, there is always someone of the same name more famous than you, a person who dominates the first screen of search results, and possibly every screen after that. (Imagine being one of the dozen or so Donald Trumps in this country.)

Let's start with my exploration at www.howmanyofme.com, a site that identifies frequency of first names, last names and full names without delving into any identifying information. According to this site, David is the seventh most common given name in the United States, given to a tad over 3.8 million men. Wow! Mark is far less common as a surname, with an estimate of 19,100 (Marks scores 58,000). The website goes on to estimate that there are 226 people in the country named "David Mark." A cruise through Facebook and LinkedIn confirms multitudes. Could be worse: being named "John Smith" means you share a name with approximately 47,000 other men. Or be among the 37,600 women who share the name "Mary Smith."

A pivot to the search engines confirms that I am by no means the most famous, most searched, David Mark. Foremost among my name-mates is David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, a senator in the Nigerian government since 1999. Depending on which accounts you read, he has been either a pillar of stability and competence in a tumultuous government, or a volatile and perhaps corrupt official who has accrued a fortune in offshore accounts. Senator Mark was a strong champion of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, passed into law in 2014.

Even for searches for "David Mark" limited to authors I am not first nor second nor third. David Mark is a U.S. born, Scotland residing, one time crime journalist, now novelist, known for his D.S. Aector McAvoy series of crime fiction books. Mark's debut novel, entitled The Dark Winter was published in 2012. The lead character is a Scottish policeman in the city of Hull, employed in the Serious and Organized Crime Unit. Mark types fast, as his fifth and sixth McAvoy books saw print this year and he is already working on a seventh.

Next on the authors' list is David Mark, political journalist, author and public speaker. His career began as a reporter in Washington, DC. For six years he as a senior editor at Politico. Mark's latest book is Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs and Washington Handshakes (2014). It decodes what politicians really mean when they use odd-sounding, insider-ish phrases. His first book was Going Dirty (2006), a history of negative campaigning in American politics and an examination of how candidates and political consultants have employed this often controversial technique. He may need to come out with a revised version after this most recent election.

Third on the authors' list is David Mark, founder and chief editor of Israel Rising, an Israel-based, pro-Israel media organization. And then me. 

Finally, I searched records at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to see if I share my name with other alumni. Turns out David Mark got a BS in electrical engineering and is now with The Boston Consulting Group, a second David Mark was a Research Associate at MIT while completing a fellowship at Harvard Medical School, and a third David Mark completed a Harvard-MIT MD and PhD program. Add me, and there are enough of us for our own reunion.  

So, set out on your own adventure in self-Googling, but expect to be surprised, perhaps dismayed, by the antics of your doppelgangers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Acacia Communications, Maynard, MA

A Billion Dollar Company in Maynard (again)

Acacia Communications is one of the tenants in Mill & Main, and until May of this year has been a 'stealth' company, meaning privately owned by founders, employees and venture capitalists and thus below the news radar nationally and locally. All that ended when Acacia (hard C and long A, accent on second syllable: a-KAY-sha) conducted an initial public offering (IPO) of stock.

Suddenly, Acacia had become a technology unicorn, defined as a newly listed company with a valuation in excess of one billion dollars. Acacia is rare among tech unicorns with recent IPOs in that it is already profitable. Which begs the question - what, exactly, does Acacia Communications do?

From a non-technical interpretation of the company's website, Acacia appears to make really, really, really fast devices that send and receive bits of information. A more technical description: signal processing devices that utilize silicon photonics - integrating light signals and electronics using semiconductor technology - to simultaneously lower power consumption and increase speed over fiber optic cable. From the company's website: "Connecting at the speed of light."

Speed is of paramount importance as more and more information is in the cloud, meaning in remote storage, rather than on individual computers. The current product line includes devices operating at up to 400 Gbps (gigabits per second). 

It is traditional for the U.S. stock markets (Dow Jones, NASDAQ...) to
invite staff from the company that is having its initial public offering (IPO)
of stock to be at the stock exchange and ring the opening bell. This internet
downloaded photo is from May 13, 2016. Acacia's stock symbol is ACIA. 
Acacia started at Clocktower Place, now Mill & Main, in 2009 with 8,000 square feet of office and laboratory space. Product sales began in 2011. As of this fall the company has grown to 257 employees - the majority in Maynard - and is actively hiring. The company occupies 58,000 square feet with expansion plans that will almost double that.  

Mehrdad Givehchi, co-founder, and Vice President of Hardware and Software, was asked how the company got started, and why it is in Maynard. He and his co-founders had been with Mintera, in Acton, doing much the same type of research and development. They left around the time it was acquired by Oclaro, a California based company.

According to Givehchi, "We were attracted to Maynard for its location in the greater Boston area and the potential for expanding office, R&D and manufacturing within the mill complex." He added, "In Maynard we support research, development, initial manufacturing, new product introduction, sales and financial operations. We believe that having these functions under one roof has helped to improve our efficiency."  

As for involvement in the local community, Acacia indicated that it intends to be more active now that it is a publicly help company. Acacia is one of the sponsors for the 2017 Maynard High School Band and Chorus trip to Disney World, which includes performing in a Disney park.

Other one-time billion dollar tenants in the mill complex were DEC and Monster. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) started in the mill in 1957 with an initial rental of 8,680 square feet and rose to be the second-largest computer company after IBM, with annual sales in excess of $10 billion and 130,000 employees worldwide. It owned all of the mill complex plus other facilities in Maynard, including a helicopter landing pad. Downsizing and spin-offs began in 1992 and continued until the last core of DEC was purchased by Compaq in 1998. Many local residents were once Digital employees. Most still remember their badge number.

Monster Worldwide, known for its jobsearch website Monster.com and its entertaining commercials premiering during Superbowl games, moved to Maynard in 1998 and remained headquartered at Clocktower Place until March 2014, when it relocated to Weston. As recently as ten years ago it was valued in excess of $5 billion and occupied 250,000 square feet of office space in the mill complex, but this significantly downsized company was purchased in August 2016 for only $429 million. Monster continues to exist as a profitable international jobsearch company.

Stratus Technologies moved into the mill complex in 2016 with the rental of 100,000 square feet, so not quite the same origins story line as DEC and Monster. Stratus began as Stratus Computers in 1980 in Natick. A part spun off as Stratus Technologies in 1999. The core of ST's business is fault tolerant computers and operating systems that are "Always-on," with extremely rare down time. Stratus is not a publicly held company, so harder to get a grip on the history of its financial arc, but the company was acquired in 2014 for $350 million.

I wish I had bought Acacia stock back in June. I also wish we had kept the 200 shares of Apple we bought in 1983 rather than selling for a modest profit in 1984. With all stock splits that 200 shares has become 5,600 shares, and...  well, you figure it out.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Assabet River Rail Trail - Nov 2016

Photos on status of Assabet River Rail Trail, Maynard and Acton, Massachusetts, as of mid-November. There has been a tremendous amount of work done in Maynard, much less in Acton. In Maynard, all parts widened (resulting in removal of >600 trees) and all railroad ties removed. Two-thirds of the Trail has received preliminary paving (there will be another layer added later). Curb cuts and street-crossing lights are being installed. The old footbridge was removed and abutments are in place for the new bridge. In Acton, the focus has been on the boardwalks over wetlands in front of and to the north side of The Paper Store building, on Route 27. There is also work on the north end, from Maple Street. Click on any photo to enlarge:

This is the Stow end, at the Maynard/Stow border. In the opposite direction the future path of the Rail Trail continues as unpaved 'Track Road.' Access to this end is via White Pond Road. No parking allowed at the Trail end, but there is a lot a short distance south in the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. Dogs (leashed) allowed on Trail but not in Refuge. 
This sand, soil and gravel site near the DPW garage, at the end of Winter Street, is a future ARRT parking lot. From this location it is a short portage to the Ice House Landing canoe and kayak launch site on the Assabet River.
Complicated construction at the 117 end of Winter Street, with the road on one side and the canal on the other. The canal connects the Assabet River to the Mill Pond. Water from that pond was used to power waterwheels and wash wool. The complex of mill buildings was a woolen mill from 1847 to 1952 (starting small, enlarged as years passed). The existing brick buildings of the mill complex date from 1859 to 1918. 

Road crossings will have flashing lights activated when someone wants to cross. This one is next to the former Knights of Columbus building. That building is on the site of  the Riverside CO-OP, which burned January 30, 1936.

Bike crossings will be indicated on the pavement approaching the crossing. The view is from the Nason Street intersection with Summer Street, looking west (uphill) on Summer Street. The brick building on the right is apartments, occupied 2004.
Acton, parallel to Route 27. The light-colored material on both sides of the trial is an erosion barrier, temporary until after the paving and landscaping are completed. This section is bordered on both sides by wetlands. 
Pilings will support a boardwalk over a stormwater retention pond next to The Paper Store building on Route 27, then continue along the north side over 150 yards of wetlands before reaching dry land again.