PA-PHILA-MOUNT-MORIAH-CEMETERY-L ArchivesArchiver > PA-PHILA-MOUNT-MORIAH-CEMETERY > 2005-11 > 1131123940
From: "Eugene Stackhouse" <>
Subject: End of the Road-Philadelphia Graveyards
Date: Fri, 4 Nov 2005 12:05:40 -0500
Date: Thu, 3 Nov 2005 10:09:03 -0500
From: Anthony Waskie <<about:blank>>
Subject: End of the road - Philadelphia's graveyards
End of the road - Philadelphia's graveyards
By: Nicole Clark / Staff Writer
Look into the Delaware River at the Betsy Ross Bridge and you might
catch a glimpse of gravestones, their names and dates still readable. They
were dumped there as foundation for the bridge footing.
Behind a strip mall off Route 1 in Neshaminy stands a small brass
plaque marking the mass grave of 47,000 people. Their bodies were dug up
and moved because their graveyard was turned into a playground.
Buried in cemeteries throughout the Northeast are names you
recognize: Castor and Cottman, Unruh and Kerper. Those names on street
signs-they were real people.
In his new book, Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries (Arcadia
Publishing, $19,99), Thomas H. Keels explores nearly 100 of the city's
final resting places, telling fascinating stories in the 128-page
Choosing which ones to include among the city's scores of cemeteries
depended on how well a graveyard's archives were kept.
"It was really sort of a juggling act between their historical
importance and what was available on them," Keels said.
The Northeast provided plenty of detailed records.
"The Northeast, because it was rural really up until the mid 20th
century, was, along with South Philadelphia and West Philadelphia, one of
the biggest cemetery spots," Keels said. "You have so many graveyards that
are up there," most notably in Frankford, one of the biggest early
communities in the Northeast when much of it was farmland.
The Frankford Presbyterian Church has tombs dating back to the late
18th century, many belonging to names of prominent families like Castor and
Foulkrod. At Trinity Church, Oxford, Cottmans, Kerpers, Unruhs and
Overingtons are buried alongside Aeneas Ross, the father-in-law of Betsy
Ross, and Edward Buchanan, brother of President James Buchanan.
A number of Jewish cemeteries in the area-Cedar Hill, North Cedar
Hill, Har Nebo-"sort of mirror the migration of the Jewish population from
Center City up to the Northeast, especially in the 20th century," Keels
Mount Sinai, founded in Frankford in 1853, was the country's first
independent-not affiliated with a synagogue or congregation-Jewish
cemetery. In 1973, Rodeph Shalom relocated 1,206 bodies from its Kensington
cemetery to Roosevelt Memorial Park in Trevose. "That's probably the
leading Jewish cemetery in the area today," Keels said.
Each of the book's nine chapters, broken down by categories such as
Victorian cemeteries, African-American burial sites, and Catholic and
Jewish cemeteries, includes an overview and captioned photographs taken by
Keel or provided by Friends groups and historical societies.
Keels said he included a chapter on Catholic and Jewish cemeteries
because Catholics and Jews were often excluded from existing cemeteries. At
the same time, they had a need for separate cemeteries. "It was very
important for them religiously to be buried in consecrated ground," he
For slightly different reasons, he included a chapter on black
In the 18th century, the city, he said, had the largest population of
free African Americans in the country. Early black churches such as Mother
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church were founded in Philadelphia, yet
few African- American cemeteries remain.
"Because the population was poorer for much of their history because
they were sort of victimized by the powers that be, their cemeteries were
the most vulnerable to being demolished or taken over for development,"
The way cemeteries and their occupants were treated after World War
II was shocking, Keels said.
"The city was in flux. It was losing jobs, it was losing people and
there was a decision early on that the city was going to redevelop at least
its central area," he said. "It was going to reinvent itself as a neo-
Society Hill and Independence Mall were constructed, while hundreds
of Victorian buildings were razed "because 18th century was good, Victorian
was bad. Unfortunately, this extended to many Victorian cemeteries," Keels
Parking lots were in need and families wanted playgrounds for their
children. Those resting in peace were about to be disturbed.
In the 1950s, Temple University launched a campaign to dig up
Monument Cemetery across the street on North Broad. The college was
expanding as a commuter school and needed land for parking.
Founded in 1837, Monument was the city's second rural cemetery behind
Laurel Hill. "They're the large, very beautifully landscaped cemeteries
that you think of when you think of Victorian cemeteries," Keels said.
Neighbors wanted to keep the cemetery, but Temple held public
hearings and brought in local church people to convince the city to condemn
it and let the school buy it. They claimed it was attracting teenagers who
drank there then went out and robbed people.
"The tone was that not only was Monument Cemetery an eyesore, it was
a moral blight," Keels said. "It was bringing down the entire North
Philadelphia neighborhood. Of course, every single person I've spoken to
who lived and worked in the Temple area at the time says it was a little
rundown. The lawn needed mowing, but it was where they went to have lunch.
It was the only quiet green place in the neighborhood."
In 1956, Temple succeeded. About 20,000 bodies were moved to Lawnview
Cemetery in Rockledge. The gravestones at Monument, including major works
of art by 19th century sculptors, were dumped in the Delaware as foundation
for the Betsy Ross Bridge, then under construction.
"If you go down to the Delaware River today near Castor Avenue you
can still see them," Keels said. "Today they probably wouldn't be able to
get away with that, but in the 1950s it was, 'This is an old moldy
Victorian cemetery. Who cares.'" He includes the story in his "Vanished
Cemeteries" chapter, along with the tale of Lafayette Cemetery in South
Philadelphia and Franklin Cemetery in Kensington.
During the 1940s, a real estate developer and cemetery owner struck a
deal with the city that granted him the titles to the two decrepit
cemeteries. He planned to build apartments on the land and agreed to move
the bodies to individual graves with individual markers in a new Bucks
At the time Republicans ran the city. When the Democrats heard about
the deal, they cried corruption, Keels said, prompting the city to take
back the land, condemn it and turn both sites into playgrounds.
"In all the political fuss, the location of the bodies was
forgotten," he said.
About 15 years ago, the foundation was being dug for a shopping mall
in Neshaminy when the coffins of 47,000 people moved from Lafayette
Cemetery were uncovered.
"They had basically been dumped into mass unmarked graves by this
developer," Keels said. "When he didn't get his deal, he said, 'The heck
with this, I'm just going to bury the evidence.' He just dumped them into
In the strip mall's backyard, today a brass marker reads "Here lie
the remains of the 47,000 people who were buried in Lafayette Cemetery."
"It's the only monument to nearly 50,000 people," Keels said.
Although 8,000 bodies from Franklin Cemetery were relocated to suburban
cemeteries in 1947, many were buried near the Lafayette bodies in
Neshaminy. There is no marker for them, Keels said.
In doing his research, Keels came across a slew of horror
stories. "Stephen King would have very fertile ground," he said.
But it's not all Poltergeist material.
"As you get to know the history, you find out the unknown stories,
the lesser known stories," Keels said. "Those are just as fascinating in
their own way as the rich and famous people buried in our cemeteries."
While Keel, a Wynnewood resident, works full time at Reimbursement
Technologies, a financial management company in Conshohocken, he is also a
tour guide at Laurel Hill Cemetery in East Falls, the first garden cemetery
in the nation to be designated a national historic landmark.
Keels' interest in cemeteries stems from firsthand experience. He
grew up on a farm in Princeton, N.J., with an 18th century graveyard a half
"It was my one claim to being cool as a kid, that Tom had a graveyard
in his backyard," he said. "We spent a lot of time there playing cops and
robbers and ghost stories. I think somehow that sank in and gave me an
appreciation for historic graveyards."
If you would like to order a copy of Philadelphia Graveyards and
Cemeteries, visit www.phillygraves.com<about:blank> or call Arcadia Publishing at 888-
Gene Stackhouse, Germantown
Happiness is a full beer fridge.
|End of the Road-Philadelphia Graveyards by "Eugene Stackhouse" <>|