Death Salon Boston (2018)




Photo courtesy of Mount Auburn Cemetery

For our 8th Death Salon we are partnering with the historic Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This year we will not only be offering a varied and robust lineup of death positive innovators, artists, and advocates, but also events and activities that take advantage of Mount Auburn’s unique, atmospheric grounds.

The main ticket ($225) will cover the Saturday September 29th and Sunday September 30th daytime sessions, as well as a tour of Mount Auburn’s grounds on Friday September 28th. Lunch on Saturday and Sunday is included in the main ticket price (vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options will be available). Unless they are marked as free, the rest of the events will have à la carte ticketing so that you can choose your own Death Salon experience. Note: Some of the add-ons may have limited ticket availability; we recommend adding the activity at the time of your main ticket purchase. See below for add-on events denoted by *.

Here is an at-a-glance look at the events and presentations taking place between September 27 and September 30, 2018. For the full, detailed Death Salon Boston Guide [PDF] click the link.


This is an optional add-on day to Death Salon Boston.

9:30am to 4:30pm

The Natural Deathcare Collaborative – In Loving Hands: A Practical & Community Approach to Deathcaring SOLD OUT

A one-day hands-on training on home, family, and community-based after-death care

Maximum participants: 25 Cost: $165 (Lunch included in cost)

Join us for an intensive, hands-on workshop focusing on the essential non-commercial elements of caring for the dead, preferably at home or a community venue. This training is ideal for anyone seeking to help family and friends, for those of you considering your own end, as well as for those offering community-based deathcare support. The emphasis will be on the skills and materials used in natural after-death care of the body, and considerations for offering ethical, practical support to families, including:

  • Preparation and preservation of the body naturally, for final disposition. Including understanding decomposition, difficult cases, challenging situations and ethical concerns. Demo and experiential body care, community care circle models, and resources. By Heather Massey, Death Educator, Home/Family Deathcare Consultant, & Funeral Consumer Advocate
  • What you need to know about legal rights, paperwork, resources and non-consumer options (a la Funeral Consumers Alliance) by Sharon Ponciano, Licensed Funeral Director, Death Education Advocate, & Orphan Wisdom Scholar
  • Defining green burial and natural burial practices and options by Judith Lorei, President, Green Burial MA
  • Creative DIY memorialization ideas and rituals to strengthen meaning and healing in the grieving process, by Jasmine Tanguay, Funeral Celebrant and Sustainable Legacy Facilitator

Ruth Faas, of Mourning Dove Studio will discuss biodegradable coffins/containers and shroud options, including DIY; Linda Hirschberg, Registered Apprentice Funeral Director & Embalmer and adjunct funeral service faculty, will assist with demos and bodycare tips; and Kenyon Massey, Orphan Wisdom Scholar, will provide youth community deathcare stories and practical assistance.

The Natural Deathcare Collaborative offers trainings for families and community care circles, as well as educational programs locally and nationally. Participants will be sent a questionnaire in advance of the workshop to further refine material to be presented.

Earnings from this NDC fundraiser will be used to purchase equipment and supplies for educational training and community lending.

Porte Cochere 1

Courtesy of Mount Auburn Cemetery


9:00am to 4:00pm

Death Salon Field Day

Tour of Mount Auburn Cemetery 

An exclusive for Death Salon Boston ticket holders – guided tours of Mount Auburn’s verdant, historic grounds. Tours are booked on a first come, first served basis, so please arrive at Mount Auburn around 9am to pick up your Death Salon credentials and sign up for a tour time. The main hour-long tours take place on the hour, beginning at 10am with the last tour beginning at 2pm. 

Note: There will be one golf cart available for each tour time, in order to accommodate those with accessibility/mobility needs. Each golf cart can accommodate three (3) tour takers. Please let a Death Salon staffer know when you sign up if you would prefer a cart.

11:00am & 3:00pm Just up the hill from the entrance gates, Mount Auburn has completed their most ambitious project yet: the Bigelow Chapel crematory addition and stained glass window restoration. Join a tour of the newly renovated and restored Bigelow Chapel and crematory viewing room–as well as a short Q & A session with Mount Auburn’s crematory manager. Limited space available for Death Salon Boston ticketholders only.

All Day Friday – Additional Field Day Activities FREE & OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Speakers and activities will be spread throughout the grounds of Mount Auburn Cemetery. These will be open to Death Salon attendees as well as to the general public and proximity to the speakers and performers is on a first come, first served basis. Maps and directions will be provided at the registration desk.

Speakers and Events

9:30am & 11:30am Candace Currie – Natural Burials at Mount Auburn Cemetery (weather permitting)

Mount Auburn was awarded hybrid burial ground certification from the Green Burial Council in 2014.  Candace Currie, former director of planning and cemetery development at Mount Auburn Cemetery, will give a demonstration of what a simple, natural burial grave at Mount Auburn looks like. Take this unique opportunity to ask questions and see how these burials differ from conventional graves in other parts of Mount Auburn (and the country). In case of rain, this talk might be moved indoors where Candace can share her experiences and answer questions.

10:30am & 1:30pm Colin Dickey – Philosophically Opposed: The Garden Cemetery through the Eyes of America’s Early Philosophers and Writers

“I have not taste for such collections as they have at the Catacombs, Pére Lachaise, Mount Auburn, and this Dunstable graveyard. For my part I had rather walk where there is no carrion.” -Henry David Thoreau

Mount Auburn, dedicated in 1831, was the first garden cemetery in the United States, a radical re-design of funerary architecture away from cramped, foul and gloomy city cemeteries in favor of green rolling hills–places where mourners could be with their loved ones in a more natural setting. This turn to nature in cemetery constructions accompanied another turn to nature: the writings of Transcendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, who were looking to nature for enlightenment, self-reliance, and a new sense of America. We don’t think of these writers as particularly morbid, perhaps, but their writings were not only heavily informed by attempts to confront mortality, and many of their works responded directly to this changing face of cemetery architecture. Colin Dickey will offer a brief history of cemetery criticism from America’s early philosophers, and how our changing attitudes toward burial and the dead body influenced American literature.

12:30pm & 2:30pm Patrick Gabridge – All the Cemetery’s a Stage: Mounting Site-Specific Plays at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery artist-in-residence Patrick Gabridge, a Boston-based playwright, will discuss his research and writing of a collection of short site-specific plays. These will be fully staged on the cemetery grounds in 2019 and will cover a range of topics, including the founding of the cemetery, grief and mourning, poetry, bird watching, and maybe even salamanders.  Actors will be on-hand to give sneak peek readings of some of the forthcoming works.

2:30pm-4pm Caitlin Doughty Book Signing 

Caitlin Doughty will be signing her New York Times bestselling books Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory and From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. Bring your copy or buy one on site. Note: This time period will be the only time during Death Salon that Caitlin Doughty will be available for signing books. Caitlin’s books and titles from other Order members will be available for purchase thanks to the Harvard Book Store during this time only.



Art by Landis Blair

*7pm A Gorey Evening: A fundraiser for the Order of the Good Death and the Edward Gorey House $100 

Reading in Story Chapel, Cocktail party in Bigelow Chapel at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Join us for A Gorey Evening!

Kick off Death Salon Boston in gashly style with an evening of drinks, music, Edward Gorey artifacts, original art by Landis Blair, and the good company of your fellow Death Salon attendees and organizers. Gorey-themed attire is strongly encouraged.


7:00pm Story Chapel

The evening begins with author Mark Dery reading from his upcoming book, Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, and taking questions about the “Grandfather of Goth”.

From The Gashlycrumb Tinies to The Doubtful Guest, Edward Gorey’s wickedly funny and deliciously sinister little books have influenced our culture in innumerable ways, from the works of Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman to Lemony Snicket. Some even call him the Grandfather of Goth.

Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Born to Be Posthumous draws back the curtain on the eccentric genius and mysterious life of Edward Gorey.

Mark Dery is a cultural critic. He coined the term “Afrofuturism,” popularized the concept of “culture jamming,” taught at Yale and NYU, and has published widely on pop culture, the media, and on the mythologies (and pathologies) of American life. His books include Flame Wars, a seminal anthology of writings on digital culture; Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the end of the centuryThe Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink, and the essay collection, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams. Like Gorey, his mission in life “is to make everybody as uneasy as possible.”

After the talk, ramble up the hill under cover of night to the newly renovated Gothic splendor of Bigelow Chapel. Enjoy our Edward Gorey themed cocktail party with real artifacts from the Edward Gorey House. Ticket price includes snacks and 1 free drink, cash bar also available. Featuring a bespoke beer by local brewers Bone Up Brewery. All proceeds benefit the Edward Gorey House and the Order of the Good Death.


Photo courtesy of Mount Auburn Cemetery




8am to 4pm

Breaks: 10:30am to 11am, 2:30pm to 3:00pm

Lunch (with optional discussion groups): 12:00pm to 1:30pm

The day’s presentations will include:

8:00am Registration and Breakfast

9:00am Welcome

9:30am Dr. Kami Fletcher – Baltimore’s Mount Auburn Cemetery: Using the City’s First Autonomous Black Cemetery to Explore the African American Experience

Founded in 1807, Mount Auburn Cemetery was simultaneously a) a call for humanity in a society that dehumanized and comprehensively oppressed black personhood as well as b) a physical manifestation of burial rights for Africans and people of colour.  Tracing the burial ground from its early origins through to the mid 20th century, this talk will focus on just what one burial ground can illuminate about the African American experience in one of the nation’s oldest cities. The talk will show how Dr. Fletcher’s research — steeped in 3,170 pages of microfilm which covers the founding, development and growth as well as the financial aspect of Baltimore’s oldest Black cemetery – uses death and burial as a lens to historicize 19th to mid 20th century Black Baltimore.

10:00am Feminist Death Work Panel – moderated by Sarah Chavez with Dr. Kami Fletcher & Alua Arthur

Before funerals became an industry, death work was women’s work, and these skills armed women with a level of social and economic equality otherwise missing from their lives. Order of the Good Death Executive Director Sarah Chavez will lead a discussion with African American History professor Dr. Kami Fletcher and death doula Alua Arthur about the history of women’s death work from the 19th century shrouding women to today’s death doulas.

10:30am BREAK

11:00am Robyn S. Lacy – An Inconvenient Corpse: Winter Dead in Colonial Canada

In the winter of 1629, nine or ten people died at the settlement of Ferryland on the east coast of the island of Newfoundland, and no record can be found to suggest to what was done with their bodies. While archaeological evidence suggests they were buried, visitors and academics repeatedly propose a burial at sea. This talk will address why burial at sea was not common for colonial settlers, and what the more likely solution was: storage. In cold, frozen places like much of Canada, winter body storage has a long history and much can be learned about corpse care in colonial settlements from these early examples, right up into the 20th century.

11:30am The Unwanted Dead: Burying Tamerlan Tsarnaev – Sarah Chavez in conversation with Peter Stefan

Many consider a proper burial to be an inalienable right, but what happens when a person commits an act so heinous that the community sees proximity to his grave as a disgrace to their dead buried nearby? Order of the Good Death Executive Director Sarah Chavez will talk with funeral director Peter Stefan about his decision to provide services for the Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the community’s response, and the ethical obligations of funeral directors surrounding the most controversial dead.

12:00pm LUNCH

1:30pm Michael Dowling – Holding the Human Condition: Art and Grief Around the HIV/AIDS Epidemic and Beyond

Artist and advocate Michael Dowling will discuss using art to create a space that holds the human condition, as well as creating spaces to support grief and remembrance specifically around HIV/AIDS, and more recently opioid addiction and gun violence.

2:00pm Alua Arthur – Gently Opening the Doorway to Existence: Psychedelics and Death

This talk will support participants in creating perspectives on the use of psychedelics through contemplation of death and the dying process. Considering DMT, LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, peyote, and Ayahuasca, we will cover the relevant research on the psychedelic experience and its use in easing symptoms nearing death. This is not an endorsement for or against psychedelics, but rather an entry level look into the emerging research and how it can affect societal understandings of psychedelics.

2:30pm BREAK

3:00pm Natural DeathCare Collaborative panel: Unconsuming Death: Reclaiming Funerals from Commercialized Culture

The Natural Deathcare Collaborative was formed a decade ago to help bring under one umbrella advocates for family-led, community-based deathcare, home funerals, green burial, funeral consumer rights, reclaiming traditional cultural death practices, and natural commemorative and memorial arts to coordinate educational efforts and offer a broad spectrum of choices available in after death care. The NDC offers trainings in natural death care for families, community care circles, funeral service providers and other organizations, as well as educational programs locally and nationally. The panel members will each speak briefly on their area of expertise and then open up a discussion between the panel members and the audience.

Karen Smith: “Radicals, Resisters and our Rights: Funeral Consumers Alliance Holding the Line Past and Present”

Heather Massey:  “Collaboration, Community and DIY Deathcaring Reclaimed”

NoorudDean Rabah: “The Janazah Project: Affordable for Those Who Have and Free for Those Who Need”

Jasmine Tanguay: “Unconventional Commemoration: Reclaiming How We Memorialize Our Dead”

Judith Lorei: “Natural Burial Education, Advocacy, and Activism at the Local Level”


Those interested in dining at a restaurant in the evening in small groups of other attendees will have the opportunity to sign up for a meetup.


Photo courtesy of Mount Auburn Cemetery


8am to 4pm

Breaks: 10:30am to 11am, 2:30pm to 3:00pm

Lunch (with optional discussion groups): 12:00pm to 1:30pm

The day’s presentations will include:

8:00am Doors Open and Breakfast

9:00am Liz Padula and Artemis Yoga – Guided Mindful Walking session on the grounds of Mount Auburn Cemetery (outdoors)

Walking meditation is one of the most accessible ways to start a Mindfulness practice, and the tranquility of Mount Auburn is an ideal location for seasonal contemplation. Please join us for a brief introduction to Mindful Walking, followed by an opportunity to practice it in the beautiful surroundings.

9:45am Liv Schaffer – Deadication & (de)Composition: Creative Movement Session (outdoors – Hazel Dell)

Performance art mirrors the ephemeral reality of existence; it derives from its vanishing. A dancer is bound to the given form of the human body, and the dancing body practices creation and destruction with immediacy as a lesson for comprehending inevitable endings. Liv will discuss the marriage between death and dance, and facilitate a creative movement session for Death Salon attendees. Going back and forth between doing and discussing, participants will draw on their own relationship with death as source material for an embodied creative experience accessible to all bodies and movers.

10:30am BREAK (all remaining presentations will be indoors)

11:00am Nancy Frumer Styron – The Developmental Stages of Grief in Children

Children’s developmental stages can greatly impact their understanding of death, the ways they exhibit grief, and the words we should use to best meet them at their time of need. Representatives of Children’s Room, a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization providing grief support for children up to 19-years-old, will provide examples of the tools they use to guide children and families through loss.

11:30am Jillian Tullis – The Google Earth Approach to Talking about Dying in Healthcare

Many of us count on our physicians to guide us through the illness experience. We expect doctors and nurses to tell us what we need to know to make informed decisions about our care. Too often this is not the case in the face of life-threatening illnesses. Jillian will discuss how a type of collusion and silence about dying persists in medicine and outline why healthcare practitioners should take a “Google Earth” approach to talking about dying and death.

12:00pm LUNCH

1:30pm Elizabeth Cardaropoli – Stone Symbols: Grave Iconography in New England

Elizabeth Cardaropoli leads us through the meanings and metaphors carved into gravestones of New Englanders gone-by. She will also touch upon how the simple Colonial markers transitioned into the mammoth monuments of the Victorian era and how those transitions were a reflection of the shifts in perspective on death and death rituals throughout the centuries.

2:00pm The Lady Aye – Alive on the Inside: Life, Death, and the Sideshow

Located squarely between our fear and fascination with death lies sideshow; it’s daring working acts, natural-born oddities, and macabre display items. Between all of that lies the sad life and even stranger afterlife of Elmer McCurdy, wild west outlaw, object of fascination, and forgotten funhouse prop. This talk examines the crux of of our attitudes toward death in performance and on display, while weaving together pickled punks, sword swallowing, freaks and sad story of Elmer’s ill-fated television debut.

2:30pm BREAK

3:00pm The Death Positive Award – Caitlin Doughty in Conversation with Lisa Carlson

The Death Positive Award honors someone whose work inspired the leaders of the death positive movement and paved the way for the work being done today. Our inaugural honoree is Lisa Carlson, funeral consumer activist, tireless lobbyist, and author of four books on death care including Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death and Caring for the Dead: Your Final Act of Love. Order of the Good Death founder and mortician Caitlin Doughty will talk with Lisa Carlson about their shared passion for activism in the American funeral industry, bringing their humor to their advocacy, how far we’ve come away from death denial and how far we still need to go.


An informal happy hour gathering will take place in the early evening, location TBD.

Please Note: All speaker and presentation details are subject to change prior to their scheduled appearance at Death Salon Boston.



In addition to the speakers and events at Death Salon Boston, we will also have a marketplace populated by hand-picked death positive artists, artisans, and creators.

Days and times vendors will be on-site:

Friday September 28, 1pm-4pm

Saturday September 29, 8am-4pm

Sunday September 30, 8am-4pm

Vendors include: Poison Apple Prints, Resting Waters Aquamation, Nicole Antebi, Burke & Hare Co., Landis Blair, AJ Hawkins Art, The Order of the Good Death, Amber Carvaly, FloMade, Laurel Witting Designs, Rebecca Reeves, and more!


Photo courtesy of Mount Auburn Cemetery

Arriving in Boston early? Live in the Boston area?

Check out Mount Auburn’s Cemetery Cinema!

Mount Auburn Cemetery is thrilled to partner with The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline for their second Cemetery Cinema outdoor double feature! For Boston locals and early arrivals for Death Salon Boston, please do join us the Wednesday before Death Salon on September 26th (Rain date September 27th) for a night of contemplating mortality through film with Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries and Rob Reiner’s adaptation of a Stephen King novella, Stand By Me.

Tickets ($23) available here.

Mount Auburn’s Cemetery Cinema event is not affiliated with Death Salon Boston or The Order of the Good Death. Tickets must be purchased separately.

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Logo by AJ Hawkins Art