inspired by Sarah Stewart Taylor, Mansions of the Dead (2004)
– Ms. St.George, who are you?
– I am an art history professor teaching in Cambridge, specialized in burial and funerary objects. Not only am I interested in graves, but also in the mourning objects, basically pieces of jewellery made of a deceased’s hair.
– Hair? Now this is quite peculiar. Is this a very backward custom?
– No, it used to be very fashionable in Victorian Boston, mid 19th century. Death was very much part of life and wives and daughters actually stitched and made these jewels to keep their beloved close to them, beyond death.
– So I guess you’re quite attached to the Boston area?
– Not only Boston and Cambridge, but Newport, Rhode Island too. I used to spend summer there and have strong family memory about it. I also love to visit St. Joseph cemetery there for my research. But foremost, I love historical places that remind me of Victorian Boston, like the Museum of Fine Arts, and particularly Mount Auburn Cemetery, which is in my opinion a landmark in the way Americans consider death and organize graveyards. It’s one of the first garden cemeteries in America and is completely different from the earlier overcrowded churchyards.
– How did you get involved in the Putnam case?
– Brad Putnam was a student of mine. He signed up for my seminar on Mourning objects and he was the most seriously interested. But when the police called me after his death, they didn’t know about this connection, they only called me because he was found dead wearing these objects, and they wanted to know how to interpret it.
– So you helped the police with the mourning objects, and I understand you played an important part in the investigation. Were these hair objects the decisive clue to find the killer?
– Indirectly so. The killer made him wear them after he died, but it’s not one of those kinky sex crimes you would imagine. I can’t really tell the whole story, but as Brad’s teacher, I was invited to his memorial service and I got to know his family better.
– The Putnam family is a very rich and famous one, but they have had their share of tragedies, haven’t they?
– The Putnams are indeed a powerful family with ancestors among the early settlers and Irish early immigrants. They are now well represented in the local politics and economy, with one brother in real-estate development and a sister leading the state senate. It’s well known that they lost a younger brother five years ago, in unexplained circumstances. The siblings were all involved in a fatal car crash, but nobody ever admitted who among them drove the car.
– Do you know now what really happened?
– I can’t tell anything about it. But alcohol was certainly the cause of the accident, and the Putnam family has been known to have problems with alcohol abuse.
– I hear you got involved with Jack Putnam, the sculptor…
– I can’t deny that I’ve been with him, but we’re definitely not in a relationship. This is all too complicated.
– Isn’t the Mount Auburn Cemetery the place where the Putnam ancestors are buried?
– Yes, the family has a plot there, except for Belinda Putman, who lived mid-19th century. A mysterious woman, this Belinda…
– During the whole Putnam investigation, were you ever afraid for your security?
– At first my interest was scholarly, but later on it was more about Brad and it became more personal. I didn’t think about my own security so much, I was seeking the truth.
– Isn’t your interest for cemeteries and mourning objects too morbid?
– Some people may think so, but those who know me better definitely change their minds. I also have a private life, you know…