Friday, June 24, 2022

Allentown Presbyterian Church Graveyard

And we find ourselves in Allentown - not the one that Billy Joel sings about in southeastern Pennsylvania, but the one in central New Jersey. You probably wouldn’t know it was there unless you saw the exit sign off the New Jersey turnpike. On my way from Philly up to the Freehold area in mid-April, 2022 (to meet a large group of people for a cemetery tour), I had a discretionary hour along the way, so I thought I’d check out A-Town. A quick one while he’s away, as the song by The Who goes. My neighbor told me the town was totally quaint, with Victorian style homes and old mills. 

Well, my neighbor was right. Cool old small town, great place to retire to. More of a draw for me, though, was that Google Maps showed a cemetery there. A full course in noetics would be required to understand what drives me to do such things. 

So about 9 A.M. one sunny spring Saturday, I jumped off the turnpike and headed into Allentown. The town itself is a couple miles off the highway, but certainly worth a cemetery road trip. The Allentown Presbyterian Church (founded 1756) has one of the most lovely and cared for graveyards I’d ever seen. Meticulously maintained, this relatively small (a few acres) plot of land has gravestones from all the major eras, beginning with colonial times, all the way to the present day. And by the way, a churchyard burial place is technically called a graveyard, not a cemetery.

Allentown Presbyterian Church

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Finding the graveyard was a bit challenging, as Google Maps got confused as to which side of the millpond the property was actually located. After three U-turns in the middle of the downtown area (which gave me ample opportunity to scope out the many coffee shops and diners open this fine morning), I finally spotted the tombstones through the trees, up on the hill across the pond.


Maybe you’ve been in this situation yourself – a new cemetery presents you with so many fresh opportunities, you’d don’t quite know where to start. The old church was an architectural gem, gleaming wooden white steeple, well-preserved, surrounded by dogwood trees in pink and white bloom. I immediately began photographing the wolf-table grave markers under its side windows, but then realized people were looking out at me from inside the church. Oops - there was a service was going on!  

Soul effigy stone, 1762
By the way, wolf tables are called that because the design prevented wolves from digging up the freshly buried bodies for food. (See photo at end for a better look at this open-pillared style grave marker.) Luckily, there were many interesting things to see and photograph away from the church. I really got carried away by the wonderful colors of the blooming dogwoods, and so veered toward the back of the church, overlooking the pond. This old brownstone death's head angel grave marker was probably the oldest on the property, and the ages of the various stones spanned the mid-1700s to the present day. There was a zinc monument from the late 1800s, many intricately-carved bespoke white marble markers from the Victorian era, and several old stones that had been carefully repaired. 

Zinc, granite, and marble grave markers

The gentle grassy hillside was perfectly manicured, the turf clipped neatly around each grave marker and monument – no small feat - and no grass clippings anywhere. Truly, as great an effort is put into preserving this remarkable graveyard, as is put into the preservation of the church building itself. It just invites people to explore and enjoy.

Shot with Leica R5 film camera

I spent my entire discretionary hour here in this graveyard, walking, reading the stones, enjoying the view. I got to test out my new forty-year-old Leica R5 film camera with some black and white film. Here’s an image of headstones behind the church – overlooking the millpond – lit by the morning sun. I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

"Jesus is Condemned."
Many of the carved marble headstones were quite unique, as were the Stations of the Cross signs placed throughout the graveyard. The latter was a first for me – my visit being just after Lent and Easter, it appeared that the church would hold stations in the graveyard, with small groups of praying congregants moving from one station to the next, amidst the tombstones. Each station had a sign with the religious precis describing that particular station. Interesting way to give people the opportunity to explore the church’s burial ground – something not everyone would think of doing, or might even avoid doing.

You typically won’t see a crucifix in a Presbyterian church (or its graveyard, I assume), as they are not totally acceptable here. Why, you may ask? Presbyterians, like most Protestants, will typically use a cross, but not a crucifix. Their theology focuses on the risen Christ as opposed to the crucified Lord. (ref.)

When I first began printing my cemetery photography (which was initially only black and white images of stone angels) back in the early 2000s, I tried to get art galleries to exhibit my work. Many turned me down saying the work was “too religious.” Now, twenty years later, I come across this 2022 article in the National Review, “The Specter of Christianity,” in which the author, Kevin Williamson, opines that “Western civilization is Christian civilization.” He states that “Christian culture, Christian philosophy, and Christian themes dominate our art, literature, and political thinking.” So, really, there is no getting away from religion.

I suppose I could photograph the plain grave markers in non-religious cemeteries, “Strangers’ Burial Grounds,” as they used to call them. However, that would STILL refer to Christianity in much the same way that demonic metal bands like Judas Priest would have no basis for their rebelliousness if they did not have Christianity to rebel against. 

Judas Priest in their current 2021-22 Fiftieth Anniversary Tour (yes, I went!)

Williamson’s perspective on anti-religious subjects is interesting. Rob Halford, singer and songwriter for the band Judas Priest, for all their doom metal, totally define themselves in terms of what they reject. Same for Black Sabbath, Slayer, and so on. Their symbol, seen here above the stage, is of course, a variation of the cross. “The underside of Christian civilization is still Christian civilization: The Omen is a scary movie because of its religious context; we don’t have scary movies about liberal humanism or yoga, says Williamson.” We are “powerless before the cross,” he adds. To paraphrase Williamson, Halford can mock the cross or reject it, but he cannot escape it, because he has nothing to put it its place.

Wolf table graves alongside church
Soon, the congregation let out and so I ambled up the hill to the church to make some photographs of it. Noticed this historic sign nearby – I had walked right by the grave of William A. Newell (1817 – 1901) – Father of the United States Coast Guard. I walked past the few people who were gathered outside the church, chatting. Jumped in the car and took off so I could reach my next cemetery destination on time. Grab coffee at the smalltown diner in the center of town and then head out to the highway, I got nothing to lose at all...

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Uvalde and the Cathedral of San Fernando


Cathedral of San Fernando
During my trip to San Antonio, Texas, at the beginning of June, 2022, I stopped by the Cathedral of San Fernando (est. 1728) to visit Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. This was the day after a marathon day of visiting all the cemeteries of Old San Antonio (which I will write about another time). Given that it was only a bit over a week since the massacre of the school children and teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, my Mom asked me to say a prayer for those 22 victims of senseless gun violence. 
Uvalde is only about 65 miles west of San Antonio.  

I'm not religious, but I told her I would do this for her. (I was raised Catholic - fourteen years of Catholic school and church that I've been recovering from all my life.) I figured I would say a prayer for her at the cathedral since I was going there anyway. When I was here last, about fifteen years ago, there was a service going on, so I did not get to see the inside of the church. I did get to see the sepulcher, however, in the vestibule of the church, that supposedly holds the remains of Crockett, Bowie, and William Travis – heroes of the Alamo (they all died, in case you didn’t know, defending the Alamo mission from Mexican General Santa Anna’s army in 1836 – this, part of the struggle to achieve Texas’ independence from Mexico). The sarcophagus was still there where I’d remembered, and there was a guy photographing it. There was a donation box nearby, so I dropped in a couple bills and snapped some photos.


There was no service in session, so I explored the church. It was quite large and well cared for. I walked the outer aisles so I could better appreciate the stained glass windows along the sides of the building. There were stations of the cross sculptures and several of the Mexican-style religious statues with the glass eyes.

As I made my way to the altar, I noticed a large wooden cross in that area – maybe twelve feet tall. As I got closer, I was startled to see stuffed toy animals surrounding its base, each with a slip of paper with a different typed name attached to it. These were the first names of the 19 children and two teachers killed in the Uvalde school massacre on May 24, 2022 (ref.). My heart went to my throat. Seeing such a memorial, so close in time and location to the tragedy, makes the abstract instantly real and scary.


I walked around to the other side of the altar, where in a small chapel, there were votive candles and the sign you see above, “Prayers for Uvalde.” I donated some money, lit a candle, and offered a prayer on my Mom’s behalf. Many of the glass-eyed statues seemed mournful, as they seemed to pity their lowly, faulty human counterparts who knelt before them. 


When I was at my hotel later, there was a man and woman, of obvious Spanish descent, leaving with their two little boys. The boys were maybe four and six. I instantly pictured them dead. Not something I would normally do in my wildest dreams, but the reality of Uvalde gripped me – these kids were no different than the 19 innocents who were shot. I imagined for a second the horror the parents would be subjected to.  

As I heard someone say in the news the following week, the time for thoughts and prayers is over. Politicians, get off your asses and change the laws that will prevent such things from recurring. I have an idea for a punishment for shooters, which would easily act as a great deterrent to future criminals. Describing that here would probably ban me from social media for life. At the very least, card-carrying NRA members should have been forced to attend all the funerals associated with the Uvalde massacre. So lets just make sure we all recall the phrase “Remember Uvalde” as often as people repeat, “Remember the Alamo,” and don't let the politicians sweep Uvalde under the rug like they've done with all the other mass shootings.

Link to "Thoughts and Prayers"

The author, remembering the Alamo, in San Antonio, Texas, June 2022



Saturday, May 28, 2022

Black Swamp Cemetery and Annie Oakely

Community mausoleum, Black Swamp Cemetery

Back in early April 2022, I flew to Versailles on business. Not France, unfortunately, but Ohio. Where they pronounce it “Ver-SALES.” Private jet, strictly a one-nighter, no time for cemetery travel. Bummer. The real kicker is that the factory I was visiting had a cemetery right behind it, Black Swamp Cemetery, though I would have no opportunity to visit. The overnight accommodations were in a fancy lodge type deal a few miles away, so I couldn’t even get to the cemetery on my very little time off. Sigh. 

Cemetery enthusiasts have been in this situation many times – they drive by an interesting graveyard, and are not able to stop. Pining for the grave. The photos you see here, actually, are photos of Black Swamp Cemetery in Versailles, Ohio, the main one that I didn’t get to visit. I snapped these out the van window as our small group was en route to the lodge after leaving the factory tour on the day of our arrival. 

Versailles is a small mid-Western town surrounded by thousands of acres of cornfields. Old Victorian-era downtown buildings and old wooden houses. Another cemetery I didn’t get to visit is just outside Versailles in Greenville - Brock Cemetery, where Annie Oakley is buried. Super bummed about that. 


The lodge where we stayed outside Versailles was creepy, though, so the trip was interesting in that regard. An absolutely vacant, private lodge owned by this company to board its short-term guests during factory visits. There were six of us in our party, and we were the only guests. There was no check-in desk, no personnel. We were each shown by the van driver to a private suite on various levels of the building. It was cold outside, the lake behind the building was being rained on. The doors to the rooms had no locks. Weird.

The huge dining area was empty – oddly, there was an acoustic guitar on a stand off to the side of the room. I asked if there was going to be entertainment later. Our driver pointed out, that no, anyone can pick it up and play. Again, weird.

As we were being led around to our rooms (hopefully not our final resting places), I felt like we were in the hotel from the movie, “The Shining.” I dumped my stuff in room 13 – a ground-level room with a private door out to the lake – perfect access for the madman to gain entry to my room in the night. Our driver said dinner would be served at 7 pm and there was an open bar. Shortly, I headed up to the bar, hoping that it was not us on the menu.

Turned out to be a completely unattended fully-stocked hotel-style bar, that was, well, open. You just went behind the bar and helped yourself. Truly fine choice of bourbons, I must say. We gathered there for an hour, in the emptiness, wondering where the dinner would come from. I went over and grabbed the guitar, slid the capo up the neck and played “Here Comes the Sun” to dispel the gloom.

At 7, the kitchen opened and a chef with full crew began serving a fine five-course meal. Truly sumptuous. Afterwards, a few drinks and off to bed - fattened up, hoping I would actually wake up alive in the morning.

A random lake in Ohio, outside my room, in the bleak dawn.

Which I did, and strolled out into the dawn to shoot a few photos of the still lake. Got Wordle in four tries. We packed, were fed breakfast, then were picked up and taken to the factory for the second half of the tour. Lunch and then back to the little Darke County Airport in Versailles and the trip home (you’ll agree, I’m sure, that “Darke County” is a great name!). We didn’t even get to fly over a cemetery at take off.


We cracked open a bottle of champagne at altitude, nibbling fresh fruit. Here’s my cup and the book I was appropriately reading during this whirlwind of a trip, William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive. The flight was only about forty minutes between Darke County Airport and Philly International. And I have to say – don’t ever feel sorry for those rock stars touring across the country in a private jet. There’s no baggage claim, TSA, fighting over masks, stowing luggage, barf bags. Just hop on, have a chat with your mates, and get off at the next stop. 

My next business trip, to San Antonio, Texas, will definitely include a planned cemetery excursion. Planning is good. Hell, when Mott the Hoople toured the U.S. for the first time, maybe in 1973, the band planned all their free time hitting pawn shops looking for cool guitars. That is where Ian Hunter, according to his autobiography (Diary of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star), found that weird “H” shaped electric guitar he played – I always thought it was custom made for him. As Space Ghost says, you gotta make your own fun.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Old Tennent Church and Graveyard

While procursive behavior can potentially lead to defenestration, running to the cat lady posed no such issue. When our informal tour guides led us to her final resting place in the graveyard at Old Tennent Church in Tennent, New Jersey, I just had all these catastrophic thoughts going through my head. I could not help but think of Mark Twain’s cat story, “A Cat Tale,” in which he composes a bedtime story for his young daughters based on words beginning with “cat.” They would pick a word from the dictionary, and he would use it in the fictitious story, even if he did not know its meaning. Then the daughters would catch him in his fib and make him alter the story to make the word fit into the story! I actually know the meaning of the two five-dollar words in the first sentence, by the way.

Cat Lady

Old Tennent resides in Manalapan Township in Central New Jersey (my Jersey-native neighbors can actually pronounce “Manalapan”). This is near Freehold, which I suppose is where Bruce Springsteen’s ranch is – I probably drove past it on the way. 

Zinc memorial marking family plot
I don’t know the story of the woman who has cat reliefs carved in her granite memorial, it was just our first stop on our wonderful spring walk through a colonial-era graveyard. There was so much more to see – the old church which was built in 1753 (https://www.oldtennent.org), the death’s head soul effigy gravemarkers, the mausoleums, and so on. The Old Tennent graveyard was established in 1731, and is STILL an active cemetery, i.e., there are still new burials. 

Old Tennent Presbyterian Church, Tennent, New Jersey
The property is quite large, and the grave markers are arranged in sort of a timeline, with the oldest around the church, and branching out by era (and that era's symbolism) as the stones appear to orbit the church. The newest stones are in the outermost orbit. There are even a few zinc, or "white bronze" markers to be found near the church (these were popular from the late 1800s until about 1930).

"Starfish" angel soul effigy?
Most fascinating for me were the soul effigy brownstone carved stones. I had never seen so many in one place – there were dozens. Most seemed to be carved by two or three carvers, as the styles were all quite similar. The state of preservation of most of these stones is intriguing. Some have lichens growing on them, but are for the most part in great condition. There is a caretaker of the graveyard, and that person obviously does a wonderful job. Simply keeping the grass cut between all these stones and monuments is, well, a monumental task!

I must mention the reason I was here in the first place. Some friends who are part of the Instagram Cemetery Meetup group we formed last year live in the area and have suggested we all meet there for a walking tour. The group has done this about six times so far, congregating in various cemeteries between Philadelphia and Perth Amboy, New Jersey. About fourteen of us met on this sunny spring Sunday in Tennent – one of the largest attendances we’ve had. There are about twenty people who are part of the group and maybe ten on average will attend a meetup.

Some members of our meetup group outside church

We had hoped, as our guide had planned, to see the inside of the church. We arrived as a service was letting out and we asked if we could go inside. The people in the church politely declined, so we went about the grounds exploring and photographing. I made these group photos with my iPhone 12 on self-timer. I also brought my new old camera, a forty-year-old Leica R4 35mm film camera, which I needed to test before the warranty expired. A few members of our group graciously posed for photo portraits, as I wanted to test out the camera’s (with Leica 28-70mm f3.5 lens) ability to capture humans, which I have seen can be done with astounding crispness on a shallow depth of field.

Someone asked me how the camera has been performing, and I said, “I’ll let you know in a week when I get the film back.” I don’t photograph live people, generally, so the results will also reflect my paucity of skill in that regard. I say “live” people, because I intend to visit the dead as well at Saint John Neumann church in Philadelphia soon. One of our group mentioned that in addition to his headless corpse which is preserved in state behind glass under the altar at this national shrine in Philadelphia  (https://stjohnneumann.org/our-st-john-neumann/about-st-john-neumann), they’ve also put on display Neumann’s personal collection of saint’s skulls. I mean, what’s not to like there?! Oh, and if you go, this IS the place “where prayers are answered” (https://stjohnneumann.org).

A bit later, I was surprised to see members of our group filing into Old Tennent church! It seemed that our guide somehow convinced one of the church volunteers to not only let us in, but to also give us a half-hour tour! This was wonderfully educational and totally appreciated by everyone. The old wooden structure has been kept in fine shape, inside and out. The subscription pew boxes are labelled with small bronze plaques indicating the name of the person or family who pays “rent” on the box. 

Notch in church pew caused by saw used in amputation

The church had been used as a hospital for the American army (led by General George Washington himself) during the Battle of Monmouth, which was fought on the hill opposite the graveyard on June 28, 1778. As you would expect, then, there are many Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Old Tennent. Our guide pointed out blood stains on a wooden pew seat and another pew with a notch in it’s seat – supposedly this was made by a saw as a soldier’s leg was being amputated.

So that’s all very sobering, right? There was also a display case with cannonballs, rifle shot, and other historic memorabilia from the local battle. The Monmouth fight was pivotal in Washington’s career, as he, personally, along with his army, successfully drove the British farther from Philadelphia (which the British had occupied), a victory which prompted people to begin describing Washington as the Father of Our Country (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Monmouth).

After our tour of the church, our group continued its exploration of the grounds. We all posed for a group photo (again, taken with my iPhone 12) in front of a mausoleum. I’ve noticed that many members of the group sport great T-shirts and other items of clothing which serve as an effective starting point to begin a conversation with someone you’ve only ever met on Instagram! The social media platform is being used to create and nurture actual social in-person relationships. I look forward to our next planned meetup, which may be around Elizabeth or Newark, New Jersey. Our friends (and we truly have all become friends) from that area are anxious to show us two cemeteries that boast even more gravemarkers with angel and death’s head soul effigy carvings. 

In parting, let me just say that it always pays to look inside mausoleums. You can see some amazing stained glass, or even engraved crypt covers such as the one you see below. Seriously, would you ADVERTISE that you were a descendant of witch burners Cotton and Increase Mather? This Puritan clergy father/son duo was responsible in large part for the witch hunts and resulting murders in New England during the late 1600s. But seriously, if it hadn’t been for the Salem Witch Trials, how would we ever have known that witches can’t swim? Turns out that the Monty Python witch trial scene from the movie, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” was a fairly accurate depiction of how skewed this Puritanical logic was (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJFA6uEfUlM). As an aside, “Cotton Mather” is also the name of a pretty cool power pop band. 


Thursday, March 3, 2022

Secrets Revealed from Philadelphia's (Underwater) Monument Cemetery

On Saturday, March 12, 2022 – at 6 p.m. –  I will be giving a virtual presentation on the 1956 destruction of Monument Cemetery in Philadelphia. Many of you have seen my photographs or read my blogs from 2011 and 2012 (see links at end) concerning this landmark event in the city's history. Some of you have probably attended one of my physical or virtual presentations, which I've been calling, "Secrets Revealed from Philadelphia's (Underwater) Monument Cemetery." With each successive presentation, I update the content based on new research. 

The 2022 edition will follow suit and is being sponsored sponsored by the Philadelpha bookstore, A Novel Idea. I appreciate their help and urge you to visit this lovely boutique bookstore in the Passyunk Avenue neighborhood of South Philly. 

A Novel Idea
1726 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148 
(267) 764-1202

Each time I make this presentation, I advertise the event on social media. I typically get a slew of comments from people who were unaware of the situation. Last week when I posted the event, someone wrote, “How could this happen?” Another person responded quite succinctly:

70 years ago Temple needed parking. A cemetery was in the way.

That is, of course, the gist of it. However, my presentation fleshes out the story, covering the history of Monument Cemetery (established in 1837), its destruction, and the aftermath of its obliteration. 


Above you see the Monument Cemetery gatehouse is it stood on North Broad Street in Philadelphia, in 1852 (Gleason’s Pictorial, Vol. III, No. 9, Aug. 28, 1852).



The comments people make (at both my in-person presentations as well as in Zoom virtuals) often provide me with missing details or ideas for further research. Examples include eye-witness accounts by people who were Temple students at the time the cemetery was razed, which certainly casts doubt upon the care which was supposedly exercised in the removal of the bodies.

When I advertise this presentation on Instagram or Facebook, I might get thirty comments, 95% of which will be in the “OMG-how-could-they-let-this-happen” category (which I expect), but there might be another 5% that will go something like this:

“…the graves were relocated, the headstones were used as backfill - no disrespect ...”

Gravestones along the Delaware
So yes, many of the gravestones were dumped into the Delaware River to help create a strong foundation for the Betsy Ross Bridge (which was then in the planning stage). Dozens of gravemarkers can still be seen at low tide under the bridge. There are differing points of view on this situation, and I am certainly open to everyone's opinion. We learn more about ourselves when we listen to others. Removal of cemeteries happened on a grand scale across the United States after the Industrial Revolution, as cities grew. Small church graveyards as well as large cemeteries often found themselves occupying land that was valued highly by developers. Probably the most disruptive example of this was in 1912 when San Francisco evicted all existing cemeteries - and those buried in them - from within the city limits. In 1929, it began moving the majority of its cemeteries to the town of Colma, California, just outside San Francisco. About 150,000 bodies were moved and many of the gravestones ended up in San Francisco Bay, where some can still be seen today. All in the name of progress.

Monument Cemetery was no different. It sat squarely in the way of the city’s expansion. Like San Francisco, Philadelphia’s population was growing, housing and factories needed to be built. And Monument Cemetery was not the only Philadelphia cemetery moved in that time period. While Monument held about 28,000 bodes, Lafayette Cemetery held about 47,000. Lafayette occupied the land where the present day Capitolo Playground sits in South Philly, next to the two famous cheese steak emporiums – Pat’s and Geno’s. The city paid a contractor to relocate the bodies, but wasn’t much concerned about their actual, eventual destination. But that's another story…

Vault being excavated from Monument Cemetery, Philadelphia, in 1956

And as you might guess (or maybe you might not), when cemeteries are moved, they never seem to move all the bodies. Which may be one reason Temple never went ahead with its plan to build a massive football field on the site previpously occupied by Monument Cemetery. You may have heard of the 2017 discovery of hundreds of bodies in a construction dig at Third and Arch Streets in Philadelphia, the site of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia's burial ground. The bodies were supposedly relocated to Philadelphia’ Mount Moriah Cemetery in 1860. Well guess what - hundreds of bodies in wooden coffins were excavated from that construction site in 2017. Even when written accounts say that all the bodies were moved, well, all the bodies are never moved. Which is one reason they seldom build anything other than a ball field, playground, or parking lot over an old cemetery.


In conclusion, I try not to be critical. I just present the facts. We would all like to believe that we are, for the most part, good, honest, well-intentioned people. The actions described above were made by our ancestors, not us, right? 

Beware the Ideas of March! 

When I gave this presentation last year to an audience of about 175 attendees (hosted by the Athenaeum of Philadelphia), there was a comment in the Zoom chat – “We should raise money to have a commemorative bronze plaque made and attached to the original cemetery wall on the Temple University campus.” Yes, oddly, the cemetery’s stone border walls were kept in place! They are still there! What a fitting memory to this historic cemetery to have an historic marker or plaque placed on or near that wall.

Please join me at 6 p.m. on March 12! Here is the registration page for the presentation:


Further Reading:
My original three blog posts on the destruction of Monument Cemetery from my Cemetery Traveler blog:




If you want to read about the destruction of Lafayette Cemetery, please follow this link:



Also, my book, The Cemetery Traveler, which includes excerpts from these blogs, is available from Amazon: