Husband and wife Paul Francis and Olive (“Tommie” Fox) Colburn were active members of the Association for Gravestone Studies from the 1980s. Natives of Lowell, Mass., and long-time residents of Berwick, Me., the Colburns shared an interest in New England gravestones and marker symbolism, with Tommie enjoying a particular specialty in metal-based markers.
The Colburn collection represents a cross-section of the couple’s work documenting and lecturing about New England grave markers and marker symbolism as well as Victorian funerary practice. Of note are a small number of items reflecting Victorian mourning culture, including images of funeral wreaths and arrangements, three mourning handkerchiefs, and a funeral card.
Background on Paul and Olive Colburn
Husband and wife Paul Francis and Olive (“Tommie” Fox) Colburn became involved in the Association for Gravestone Studies in the 1980s along with Tommie’s cousin, Catherine Goodwin. The Colburns toured northern New England, giving presentations on gravestones and their symbolism to local historical organizations. Metal-based markers were a particular interest of Tommie’s, and she traveled throughout New Hampshire and southern Maine in search of them.
The Colburns were childhood friends growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts. Paul (born in 1923) and Olive (often known by her nickname Tommie) were married in 1946 following Paul’s service in the Maritime Service in the World War Two. The Colburns moved to South Berwick, Maine in 1952, where they would live the rest of the lives together, raising three children and becoming deeply involved in civic affairs and their church.
In addition to holding a number of local elected offices and philanthropic positions, Paul was involved with the Olde Berwick Historical Society and served as president for fifteen years. He also attended and taught classes at Springvale Senior College, and visited schools to introduce young people to local history.
Tommie died in 1998. Paul continued lecturing until his own illness prevented him from doing so. Paul Colburn died in 2009.
The collection represents some of the Colburns’ work documenting and lecturing about New England grave markers and marker symbolism as well as Victorian funerary practice.
A large portion of the collection is comprised of labeled 35 mm slides the Colburns used in their presentations. The slides predominantly depict Victorian-era markers in Massachusetts, particularly Lowell, where the Colburns spent their childhoods; New Hampshire; New York; Rhode Island; Vermont; and coastal Maine, where the Colburns settled in the 1950s. The slides are divided into four sets, one of fifty slides, the second of sixty-two slides illustrating a talk titled, “Victorian Cemetery”, and two binders of slide sheets.
Other materials in the collection document not just grave markers, but other aspects of Victorian funerary practice, such as notes on symbolism, photographs of wreaths and flower arrangements, and mourning handkerchiefs.
Also included is an article about New Hampshire carver Paul Colburn by Theodore Chase and Laurel Gabel, former AGS Research Clearinghouse Coordinators.
Acquired from Association for Gravestone Studies, 2014.
The collection was initially offered to the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) in 2010 by Catherine Goodwin, Olive Colburn’s cousin, following the death of Paul Colburn. However, Goodwin died in 2011 before she was able to transfer the collection to AGS. In 2012, Goodwin’s daughter Jean Demetracopoulos delivered the collection to AGS trustee Joshua Segal, who transported the collection to the AGS office in Greenfield, Massachusetts. In 2013, after AGS established contact with one of the Colburn’s heirs, Lucinda Colburn transferred ownership of the collection to the AGS and thence to UMass.
Processed by Nancy Adgent, with assistance of I. Eliot Wentworth, 2015.
Cite as: Paul and Olive Colburn Collection (MS 860). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.
- Gravestones--New Hampshire
- Gravestones--New York
- Gravestones--Rhode Island
- Colburn, Olive
Types of material