Thursday, October 30, 2008

Six Feet Under

What a great presentation by Tom Keels last night. He spoke for about an hour, and I felt my brain filling up with all sorts of helpful information while I busily scribbled notes.

One thing I learned that seems unique to Philadelphia (or perhaps big city graveyards)--it's a pretty safe bet that if your ancestors were buried within the original city limits, they've been moved around! So many downtown graves have been relocated, sometimes to other counties. So if you're looking for such a grave, you might have your work cut out for you.

And then of course there are the folks who weren’t fortunate to even have a grave marker. I think of all the people buried in Washington Square that were buried in mass graves. Criminals, the poor, Catholics, African Americans...anyone who might have been considered "lesser than" or didn't have the money to pay for interment got buried in unmarked graves. Of course, from what Tom says, it sounds like our ancestors had less of a preoccupation with having a final, permanent resting place, but even so, it's sad that so many people don't have any sort of marker to show that they were here. (Or, they rather unceremoniously ended up dumped in a trench in Bucks County, or with a headstone that became part of the foundation for the Betsy Ross Bridge or helped assist with flood control in the Schuylkill. But to hear more about those stories, you should go hear Tom the next time he speaks.)

I feel strongly that I would like this blog to provide information about Philadelphia graveyards, but I'd also like it to be a catalyst for preservation, both of the graveyards themselves and the cemetery records. To that end, I hope to either try and arrange a tombstone transcription project (possibly of the Woodlands or Mt. Vernon cemeteries, or maybe some smaller ones not identified yet), or to help assist the friends of Mt. Moriah in their efforts to improve the cemetery's upkeep. More about that in later posts.

In the meantime, if you'd be interested in any of those projects, please feel free to email me at!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Field Trip Potential

I recently read about the Museum of Mourning Art.  It's close to Philadelphia, in Drexel Hill, a nearby suburb.  I haven't been there yet, but it seems like it's definitely worthy of a trip.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lost Cemeteries

I'm really looking forward to this upcoming talk about lost cemeteries at the Wagner Free Institute of Science this week. I hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Rest in Pieces: Philadelphia's Lost Cemeteries
An Illustrated Presentation By
Thomas H. Keels, writer and historian
4:00 - 7:00 PM
Lecture at 5:30 PM

Wagner Free Institute of Science
1700 West Montgomery Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19121

From Philadelphia's founding, the need to venerate the city's dead has battled with the need to provide its living with open space. "Rest in Pieces: Philadelphia's Lost Cemeteries" tracks how the city's development has caused the destruction of many historic burial grounds. Monument Cemetery, the second rural cemetery in Philadelphia, was founded in 1837 on North Broad Street, across from Temple University. In the 1950s, it fell victim to the school's need for parking lots. Thousands of those interred there were transferred to a mass grave in the suburbs. Their monuments were dumped into the Delaware River, where they are still visible today.

Other vanished cemeteries include Glenwood at Ridge Avenue and 27th Street, which gave way to the Philadelphia Housing Authority's first housing project in the 1930s; Odd Fellows at Diamond and 24th Streets, displaced for the Raymond Rosen towers; and Franklin Cemetery in Kensington, whose 8,000 bodies disappeared in the 1940s as part of a political swindle gone bad. "Rest in Pieces: Philadelphia's Lost Cemeteries" provides an overview of the life and death of urban cemeteries, and the ways in which Philadelphians have honored and dishonored their ancestors.

Thomas H. Keels is author of four books on the history of Philadelphia, including Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries, the first visual history of the city's burial places, and Forgotten Philadelphia: Lost Architecture of the Quaker City. Mr. Keels has been a tour guide at Laurel Hill, Philadelphia's premier Victorian cemetery, for over a decade. He has lectured at the Free Library of Philadelphia, as well as the Union League, and his media appearances include Radio Times, Action News, and Good Day Philadelphia.


I was very excited when I first read about Terry Thorton's idea to start The Graveyard Rabbit. I've been a passionate hobby genealogist for a few years now, and an interest in cemeteries and preservation, markers, and burial customs goes hand in hand with that. Philadelphia is rich in cemetery history, and has some of the oldest burial grounds in the nation, so I'm pleased and excited to be a part of this project, and glad you're here and reading.

Let the graveyarding begin!