Thursday, October 23, 2014

Halloween is Cancelled!

Let’s face it – the “Cemetery Traveler” blog is not all that scary. I mean, its mostly about making photographs in graveyards. Maybe a little creepy at times, but it won’t typically scare you out of your wits. I’m guessing that a lot of people find my blog and browse a few articles, hoping to be scared, but then leave somewhat disappointed. So why is it that people like to be scared?

A good topic to cover as we approach Halloween. Its all about controlled fear, isn’t it? A vast subsection of the American population likes to be scared a little. They like to be frightened – but on their terms. That’s why horror movies and novels are so popular, not to mention “fright nights” at mock-up “haunted houses” around Halloween. There are even people who will PAY to walk around in a cemetery at night! (Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia offers night photography tours through the grounds. People sometimes show up without cameras just for the experience! Now that’s controlled fear.)
Night photographers at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia
 A friend of mine, who works at Laurel Hill, called me on his cell phone the other day. The connection was rather choppy, so I asked him if he could call me on a land line. He said, “Sorry, I’m out in the middle of the cemetery and there’s a dead zone here.” He’s probably used that line a million times but I always fall for it! Cemeteries can be frightening places for many people. There is a different kind of fear there – fear of the unknown. What’s happening there under our feet, what will happen to us after we die. Even after traveling to hundreds of cemeteries internationally over the last fifteen years, I still run across graveyards that just look creepy! Its like they just can’t help themselves.

Cemeteries may not look so forbidding in the summer, but in the fall, when things are beginning to die (at least here in the northeast portion of the U.S. where deciduous trees abound), they take on a more stark appearance. Sure, the orange and red leaves dress them up a bit, but that only lasts a few weeks. Then the trees are bare, the air gets cold, and soon the snow begins to fall.

Not many people crave real fear, the actual thing. Consider the current (October 2014) situation in the counties in northeast Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountain region, where Halloween has been cancelled. Suspected murderer Eric Frein (who supposedly ambushed PA State Police officers and killed one on September 12, 2014) is still on the loose. There have been two sightings near the Pocono Mountain East High School (Swiftwater, PA), where a witness described a rifle-toting man with mud on his face. Think those residents are thinking about trick-or-treating?

Suspected killer, Eric Frein (ref)
Thanks to Eric Frein, there’s no Halloween. It's been cancelled. The fact that controlled fear has been replaced with the real thing might get people thinking about fright nights a little differently. The manhunt continues as I write this, six weeks later. Schools have been closed, hunting season has been cancelled. Again, there will be no Halloween. Night time, as usual, is the scariest time. Consider this account of a Swiftwater resident interviewed by CNN:
"Every night, every day, but mostly at night, the helicopters would be flying over our house, waking us up at 1 o'clock in the morning," said Cory Batzel, in Swiftwater.
He said he's not afraid, except at night, when he believes Frein might be on the move.
Reference and further reading:

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Dearly Departed Players

2013 Performance of The Dearly Departed Players
This coming Sunday, October 12, 2014, the Cemetery Traveler will be traveling to Scranton, Pennsylvania (from Philadelphia, where I live) to attend the annual “Dunmore Cemetery Tour.” This is actually in Dunmore, PA, a suburb of Scranton. And it’s really not so much a tour, as it is a a tour-d-force performance by the Dearly Departed Players, a theatrical troupe headed by Julie Snell-Esty.

Julie Esty (r) with daughter Megan during a performance

"Dearly Departed" cast member
The free tour is held on two weekends every October. This year, it was held on Sunday, October 5; next weekend, it will be held on Sunday, October 12. To give you an idea of the size of this event, about 400 people showed up last Sunday! This is typical. The Dearly Departed Players are a cast of about fifteen amateur and professional theatrical performers who enact scenes at different spots in the cemetery. The crowd is led to each of maybe eight sites where it stops to witness a (audio amplified) short play, monologue, reenactments, ballet, or a Spoon River Anthology-type presentation.

Wendy Conrad Belaski performing at Dunmore Cemetery
The crowd enjoys a witty and historically accurate script written (a new one each year!) by the troupe's artistic director Julie Esty. Some of the stories of those interred here in the Dunmore Cemetery have been published in Julie’s two books, listed below. As with her books, Julie bestows upon the audience an abundance of humor, tears, and history, all the while raising the public's awareness to the importance of cemeteries. The enthusiastic cast of Dearly Departed Players brings her script to life - so to speak.

Books by Julie Snell-Esty
Stories in Stone: Tales of Life from the Dunmore Cemetery
Stories in Stone Volume II: Tales of Life from the Dunmore and Forest Hill Cemeteries
(Please contact Julie Esty directly to purchase.)
This will be the third year I have attended the tour, officially as a guest artist, but I do tag around after the crowd to enjoy some of the entertainment. I set up on the lawn near the entrance about an hour before the crowd arrives (noon), along with a few other artist/vendors. So basically, I create a freestanding exhibit of my photographs, greeting cards, jewelry, books, etc. on a table and display racks on the lawn at the cemetery entrance. Then, busloads of people show up. It is in this short interval of time that I try to make my sales! I do spend quite a bit of time, however, chatting with folks about cemeteries in general. The tour begins at 2 pm.

Ed Snyder's "Stone Angels" sales display at the Dunmore Cemetery

Ballet during 2012 Dunmore Cemetery Tour

It is fascinating to see how many people show up for the performance, attesting to the quality of the production and the dedication of the Dearly Departed Players! You may notice from my photos that the performers typically dress in period costume, with the Victorian era being a quite popular one.

Performer entertaining an audience of hundreds at Dunmore Cemetery

After the two-hour tour/performance, the main thing on the minds of those hundreds of people is a bathroom! So while the cemetery for the most part clears out quickly, I tend to chat with many hangers-on, whether they be genealogists, actors, historians, or just regular people sharing ghost stories! There has traditionally been a dinner afterword and I am grateful for the invitations I have been extended by the Dearly Departed Players. They are such a joy to spend time with!

2013 cast of the Dearly Departed Players at the Dunmore Cemetery

More information!

Around the Towns, Sept. 28, 2014
The Dearly Departed Players on Facebook
The Dunmore Cemetery Tour on Facebook

Creepy Halloween Photography Exhibition

"Leg Up," by Veronika Schmude
When I asked some photographer friends of mine to participate in a “Creepy Halloween Photography” exhibition, I was surprised by the submissions. I thought MY work was creepy! I certainly expected some cemetery work, but half the entries are non-cemetery images – and they are downright frightening. A few of them (along with the artist’s name) are sprinkled throughout this article. Even the cemetery images are unusual, e.g. night scenes from Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery and Jonathan Klein's piece (below) -  a community mausoleum in Poland! I really am awestruck by the depth and breadth of people’s creativity.

"House of the Dead," by Jonathan Klein

I curate monthly photography exhibits at the Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk, PA (a Philadelphia neighborhood), and I thought the October show should have a spooky theme, what with Halloween and Day of the Dead looming. I set up the exhibit Saturday, October 4 (2014), and I must say, it is exactly what I hoped it would be!

"The Portender," by Marietta Dooley
I especially like this one by Marietta Dooley (at right) - I have no idea what it is, but it is downright ghoulish, in a Blair Witchy-kind of way. And Veronike Shmude's "Leg Up" image (at top) from New Orleans' St. Roch Cemetery chapel is just wonderful. It's odd how half the (lucky) thirteen images involved people (or some semblance of a person), while the other half were basically still lifes. My brother Tim Snyder's "G.I. Jerrys" is an eerie little piece - sixties-era G.I. Joes dressed as WWII German soldiers.

"G.I. Jerrys," by Tim Snyder
If you’ve ever seen the original version of any artwork, you know that it is always superior to a reproduced image. So please come out to the Dawson Street Pub and see these macabre images in person! You can stroll to the back room gallery any time the bar is open (every day from noon to 2 a.m.) or you can join us at the free reception on October 18. during the reception, most of the artists will be present so you can pick their brains about their work. There's always a story behind every photograph!

FREE Reception/Halloween Party!
Saturday, 2- 4 pm, Oct. 18, 2014
(in conjunction with award-winning Philly Blind Pig BBQ  event)

Dawson Street Pub, Manayunk, PA

"Concrete City, Thanksgiving Day," Patricia Kinsman
The stories behind some of the photographs are in some cases scarier that the images themselves. For my money, one of the best offerings might be Patricia Kinsman's "Thanksgiving Day, Concrete City" (at left). This subtle image has a wild story behind it. An actual all-concrete village of was built in 1911 in northeast Pennsylvania, then abandoned in 1924. It is so out in the woods, it is unnerving. Hats off to the intrepid explorers and abandoned site photographers who traverse these Texas Chainsaw-like woods to visit the ruins.

The “Creepy Halloween Photography" exhibit will be up from October 4, 2014 until the Day of the Dead – November 1, 2014. Free Opening Reception Oct. 18, 2 - 4 pm (in conjunction with award-winning Philly Blind Pig BBQ event, for which I suppose I should post an "excessive meat warning"). All the images are framed and available for immediate purchase.

Dawson Street Pub, Manayunk, PA (with the Philly Blind Pig)
Participating Artists:

 Veronika Schmude
 Frank Rausch
 Karen Schlecter
 Jonathan Klein
 Ed Snyder
 Patricia Kinsman
 Emma Stern
 Karen Schlecter
 David Swift
 Tim Snyder
 Marietta Dooley
 Maria Rose                

Friday, October 3, 2014

It's October, and things are beginning to Die

Its October, and things are beginning to die. Nature, however, is quite selective in that regard. Here in the northeast portion of the US, summer is dying fast. In this particular temperate zone in which I live, leaves change their colors, flowers and people die.

In many areas of the country, nature-lovers like to tour about and see the wonderful fall colors provided by the deciduous trees. One area which depends somewhat on this seasonal tourism is the Pocono Mountain region of northeast Pennsylvania. This year, however, such activity may be limited due to the massive manhunt currently in place for the suspected killer, Eric Frein. So intense is the situation that the state has suspended game hunting and trapping seasons in Pike and Monroe counties. The intent is to keep people out of the woods.

According to PAHomepage:

 “The closure was initiated after the Pennsylvania State Police advised on Tuesday that troopers who are part of the search for fugitive Eric Frein had uncovered explosive devices that apparently were left behind in wooded areas by the fugitive, and would pose an obvious danger to anyone who would encounter them."

Billboard depicting the subject of manhunt in northeast PA (ref)

"Frein is wanted in the Sept. 12 [2014] ambush-shooting death of Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson II outside the state police barracks in Blooming Grove, Pike County. Trooper Alex Douglass was wounded in the attack. The search for Frein has continued since, and police recently discovered explosive devices – at least one of which was attached to a trip wire – in the area they were searching.”

Halloween and Day of the Dead are supposed to be pretend frightening events, not real ones.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Rescue of Mount Moriah Cemetery

September 17, 2014 was a landmark day for Mount Moriah Cemetery (which resides partially in Philadelphia, and partially in Yeadon, Pennsylvania). In Philadelphia City Hall, Room 416, Honorable Judge John W. Herron heard the petition by the newly-formed Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation to dissolve the Articles of the legacy (1855) Mount Moriah Cemetery Association and name the newly-formed (2012) corporation as the receiver. After hear an hour’s worth of testimony and reviewing the documentation, he gave his approval.

What does this mean? "Receivership," by legal definition, refers to a "court order whereby all the property subject to dispute in a legal action is placed under the dominion and control of an independent person known as a receiver.” In this action, Judge Herron dissolved the 159-year-old Mount Moriah Cemetery Association, whose last officer died in 2004. The Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation now has legal custodial responsibility for the property, including its tangible and intangible assets and rights, since the original company could not meet its obligations.

Mount Moriah's historic brownstone gatehouse, Kingsessing Ave., Philadelphia

From the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. website:
“In December of 2012, Yeadon Borough and Philadelphia established the Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation. This not-for-profit organization will likely become the Receiver of the property whereby it will be authorized to act on behalf of the Court for the Mount Moriah Cemetery Association in specified areas of business operations. Because of the complexity of the issues and in order to insure a similar situation does not occur in the future, ongoing municipal involvement is important. While the organization would be led by the municipal governments, the organization’s board is diverse in experience and ethnicity.”
Mausoleums on Yeadon side of Mount Moriah Cemetery
For this overgrown several-hundred-acre cemetery that was abandoned in 2011 (see link for history), the appointment of a receiver for the property means that now there will be a legal entity to “begin the process to operate the cemetery, conduct business and wind up the affairs of the old [Mount Moriah Cemetery] Association.” (ref.) It also means, and is hoped, that Mount Moriah can once again become an active cemetery, meeting the needs of several racial, religious and socioeconomic stakeholders. Mount Moriah is one of the few cemeteries in the Philadelphia area known to accept Muslim burials and is one of two in the vicinity known to accept “communal” burials – burials where three bodies share one grave and are a less expensive option for many families (ref).

College student volunteers on a cleanup day at Mount Moriah Cemetery
The appointment of the receiver does not affect the rights of anyone who has a contract to be buried in Mount Moriah – it actually makes it more likely that this can legally be accomplished in the near future. While the cemetery was closed, burials could not legally take place. The new non-profit organization is dedicated to securing the future of the Mount Moriah Cemetery. With its a seven-member board, it will assume responsibility and report to the court twice a year on its progress in restoring the grounds and improving business operations.

The receivership hearing barely lasted an hour. On hand were members of The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. (FOMMCI) Board of Directors (myself included), members of the Board of Directors of the new Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation, and legal representation by Matthew N. McClure and other attorneys at Ballard Spahr L.L.P. (ref.) As part of the attorneys’ prepared argument as to why the receivership should be granted (with the goal that Mount Moriah would be saved from further deterioration), Mr. McClure stated that the cemetery has 5,000 veterans, including 23 recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. In response, Judge Herron made the pointed comment that all those buried at Mount Moriah deserve sanctity and respect, whether they have medals or not.

Masonic Circle of Saint John, winter 2012, prior to clearing by FOMMCI

From about the time it was abandoned in March of 2011, until the September 17, 2014 hearing, the cemetery has been maintained primarily through volunteer efforts organized by the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, with assistance from the City of Philadelphia. Since 2011, the Friends have organized events with thousands of volunteers who have participated in cleanups, restoration, grave location, genealogical research, and historic tours.This will likely continue into the new era. Major fund-raising efforts will now be underway to make more significant improvements, for instance in the areas of security and infrastructure.

Masonic Circle of Saint John, spring 2014, after clearing by FOMMCI
Brian Abernathy, president of the new organization, (and current executive director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority) was one of the witnesses called to testify at the hearing, basically to ensure that the City of Philadelphia would play a managing role in the continued operation of Mount Moriah. Other witnesses (all of whom occupy Board positions with the Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation) were Yeadon Borough mayor Rohan Hepkins, Nevin Mann (president of the Pennsylvania Cemetery Association and resident expert in the death care industry), and Paulette Rhone. Paulette, whose husband is buried at Mount Moriah, is president of the FOMMCI.

Yeadon Borough is now expected to take a greater role in preservation of that portion of Mount Moriah that resides within its borders. Mayor Hepkins stated that Mount Moriah Cemetery is a vital part of Yeadon and contributes to the quality of life in the community.

Several members of the FOMMCI were present at the hearing in addition to Paulette Rhone: Ed Snyder, vice president Bill Warwick, Treasurer Ken Smith, and Secretary Sue Facciolli. All were overjoyed at the outcome. It felt like a successful culmination of three years of hard work. Yet this is just the beginning of a new era in Mount Moriah's existence.

Mount Moriah's historic brownstone gatehouse
Mr. Abernathy has written that, "There are several opportunities to fund the new organization and improve the cemetery’s current conditions. Historic preservation grants, storm water management fees, funding as a portion of the East Coast Greenway, environmental protection grants and donations from stakeholders like the various churches, masons and veterans’ organizations are all potential funding sources."(ref.) "While it's only been abandoned for a few years," he points out, "it's been decades that it's been mistreated." 

“This is the largest cemetery that we know of that has been abandoned and left to die on the vine, for lack of a better term, that has been complicated by the history surrounding the site, by the political infrastructure surrounding the site and just by how truly bad conditions were at the site.” ... Abernathy says the cemetery was placed in his in-box when he worked in the Managing Director’s Office, but he took it with him to his new job in part because he was so impressed with the quality of civic leadership being brought to bear to rescue Mt. Moriah." (CBS news)
References and Further Reading:
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. website
Visit The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. on Facebook