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My former professor, mentor, and friend Laura Prieto has recently published an essay in the digital humanities project Subjecting History titled “In Loving Memory of Her Little Girl: Past, Present, and Place in the Gladys Potter Garden.” The piece explores how a memorial garden in Laura’s neighborhood came to be, and what it has meant over time:

Surely I cannot be the only person who has noticed the pair of stone plaques outside one of the heavy wrought iron gates. The inscription on the left side reads: “The Gladys Potter Garden. Dec 4, 1883 – Nov 16, 1891.” Its companion plaque on the right is much more weathered and thus harder to read. But if one squints a bit, one can make out the explanation: “This garden was given by a mother in loving memory of her little girl, who loved this spot and who loved to walk here with her father when it was part of an attractive ravine. MCMXX” [1920].

I am a historian. I am a mother. The inscription knocks the breath out of me. Among so many boys and girls who have played here, there was Gladys Potter, and she died at my own son’s age. I know how frequently parents have suffered the deaths of their children throughout history. I can prepare myself for these awful object lessons in a cemetery (where I’ve also been known to walk and explore the past). But I do not expect this sharp announcement of grief, this intimate and generous act of mourning, to arrest me at the gates of my children’s playground.

Hanna and I first heard this piece when Laura read an early version of it as her presidential address before the New England Historical Association several years ago. We are so happy to see it find a home!

Please go enjoy the essay in full at the Subjecting History interface. The digital volume is currently open for comment and will eventually, with revisions guided by that commentary, be published as a physical print volume. The scholars who are participating hope for broad public involvement — go help them hone their work!