Sunday, March 12, 2017

Restoring Gladwyne, PA's formerly abandoned Jewish Cemetery

The densely forested Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery
Dragging tarps loaded with dead tree branches up the hill and out of the old graveyard didn’t seem like such a big deal. However, this was definitely work! My new volunteer friend and I took about six loads over a course of two hours before we finished the job – or more realistically, before the job finished us.

Wood cuttings awaiting removal
About thirty of us showed up on this cool Monday morning, MLK Day in January 16, 2017, volunteering our efforts to cleanup an old abandoned graveyard. Why? Respect. Respect for our history, respect for those who came before us. The event was organized and led by the Beth David Congregation, of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. It's synagogue is a little way up Conshocken State Road, walking distance from what is now being called The Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery.

Beth David was recently granted legal ownership of Har Hasetim Burial Ground, this forested gem of Jewish history  (the cemetery had been active from about 1890 to 1945) in the deep woods of Gladwyne, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia). Its past is checkered and colorful, and someone must someday write its full history (portions of it can be read at this link). In the meantime, its decay has been stalled, and in fact, reversed. A considerable effort has been put forth over the past few years by Beth David’s “Friends of Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery,” a community partner of West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA.

Volunteers clearing weeds from graves on MLK Day, 2017

About twenty of our MLK Day group were here thanks to “Repair the World,” a volunteer organization that “works to inspire American Jews and their communities to give their time and effort to serve those in need. We aim to make service a defining part of American Jewish life” -

Central area of the property
I’ve written previously on The Cemetery Traveler about this formerly abandoned Jewish graveyard in the woods, and you’re certainly welcome to reread those posts listed at the links at the end. They’re in a chronological order that, well, chronicles my experience with this wonderful chapter of our history. In short, I found it in 2010, after hearing about its fabled existence for five years prior to that. To say that Har Hasetim, or “Mount of Olives” Cemetery is in a secluded location, is to underestimate its inaccessibility.

Har Hasetim is in the woods, surrounded by multi-million dollar private homes, in the Philadelphia suburb of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The obvious question on many peoples’ minds is, “How do I get to it?” Well, you don’t. At least not without an escort, for the time being.
Entrance to the cemetery
Organized tour of Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery in 2015

Currently, if you want to see the property, you need to attend one of Beth David’s tours, which are typically associated with a cleanup event. Typically, people meet at the synagogue (1130 Vaughan Lane, Gladwyne, PA 19035), then walk down the horse trail through the woods to Conshohocken State Road. A few hundred feet down the road, you file up into the driveway of a private home (a right of way to the cemetery that has existed since the surrounding properties were subdivided many years ago - the neighbor has been gracious in recognition of that right of way and is a supporter of the Friends' efforts), through the back yard, past the wood pile, and into the cemetery. A pair of crumbling stone posts flank the entrance to Har Hasetim. There is no automobile access to the property at this point in time.

(Check the Friends’ Facebook and website for scheduled events and get on their mailing list. See link at end.)

Invasive wineberry plants in lower portion of cemetery, winter, 2013

The request on this 2017 MLK Day by the Friends group was to focus on pulling the prickly red wineberry plants from the grave sites. Heavy gloves were distributed. Truth be told, at this point the cemetery looks rather good, the result of many prior cleanup efforts. I made the photo above in the winter of 2013, showing the immense wineberry tangle obscuring the majority of the graves in the lower section of the graveyard. Today, it looks like this, below. Still, there is much work to do. 
Absence of wineberry plants in lower portion of cemetery, winter, 2017

"Ecograss" test patch in upper portion of cemetery
The invasive trees and vines that have grown wild on the property will eventually be taken down. On this MLK Day, there was a tree cutter with a chain saw felling dead trees. In the future, weeds and other invasive growth are expected to be kept in check with “Eco grass,” a low maintenance, drought tolerant, durable mix of lawn grasses. In fact, there are a few test patches near the cemetery’s entrance that had been test planted in the fall of 2016, by the Philadelphia-based non-profit LandHealth Institute (, which is consulting with Beth David on the restoration of the property. If it was green in mid-winter, it does indeed seem to be a hearty variety of grass.

Below you see a photo of the same section from 2014, prior to weed removal and planting of the Eco grass. Its also worth noting that all the rusty sections of old fencing seen throughout the cemetery will remain. Originally, they delineated family plots and organizational plots.
Same section as shown in photo above, but made in 2012.

Log trail through cemetery
Sounds like I've spent quite a bit of time researching this place, doesn’t it? I have, in the past. During previous visits, I’d learned much about the cemetery’s history, and plans for its future from the dedicated members of the Friends of Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery. However, on this MLK Day, all I did was help drag and carry dead branches from the lower graveyard to the upper region so that the wood chipper people can turn them into chips to line the log-bordered path that meanders through the property.

At end of MLK Day, "Repair the World" leader addresses volunteers

After my teammate and I finished clearing the branches, I spent an hour or so pulling weeds and wineberry stalks from graves. I stopped every so often to take a photo of the other volunteers doing the same. It was heartening to see children helping as well. At the end of the day, Neil Sukonik (president of the Friends group) and the leaders of Repair the World addressed the volunteers, thanked them, and ended the event with a prayer.

References and Further Reading:
Friends of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery on Facebook
Friends of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery Website

For a fascinating bird‘s-eye-view of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery, click this YouTube link from the Beth David Reform Congregation website:

Ed Snyder's “Cemetery Traveler” blog posts about the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery in chronological order:

Holocaust Remembrance Day, posted April 30, 2016
Graves Beneath the Snow, posted March 9, 2014

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Jewish Cemetery Vandalized in Philadelphia

This has been a busy week for the small (Jewish) Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia. You’ve no doubt heard of the desecration - it became national news: 75 to 100 headstones were knocked over sometime Saturday evening, February 25, 2017. This follows on the heels of similar vandalism in Missouri, from February 20, when over 100 headstones were toppled in the Jewish Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in University City, Missouri (see story at this link:

Philadelphia Daily News
To fuel the fear of a “hate wave” spreading across America, about thirty bomb threats were made at the end of February to Jewish schools and community centers in eighteen states (see link). As of this writing, the case has been solved and seems to have been the work of one person, not related to the incident at Mount Carmel Cemetery.
A portion of the damage in Philadelphia's Mount Carmel Cemetery

Bad stuff, any way you look at it. However, I’m not going to jump on the hate crime bandwagon just yet, even though the FBI is investigating the vandalism. Why? Well, for one thing, thirty-three headstones were toppled last month in the Holy Redeemer Catholic Cemetery in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia (see link), less than two miles from Mount Carmel. So it may not be antisemitism, just cowardly aggression toward those who cannot defend themselves – the dead. In both Philadelphia situations, communities have come together to repair the damage.

Volunteer registration at Mt. Carmel coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

I’m still (perhaps naively) thinking it was a small group of drunken kids with beer muscles, at least in Philadelphia. Should the people responsible be caught and punished? Damned right. A $69,000 reward (it increases each day, see link) is being offered through a variety of sources for the apprehension of those responsible. 

Headstone fallen and broken in half
Looking at the situation from a vandal’s perspective, Mount Carmel was, unfortunately, an easy target. And that may simply be the main reason it WAS targeted. If you wanted to topple headstones, Mount Carmel would be a better choice than any of the cemeteries on the other three sides at this intersection (Cedar Hill and North Cedar Hill) of East Cheltenham Avenue and Frankford Avenue in north Philadelphia. At Mount Carmel, you are hidden from the road by the densely-packed headstones, making it easy to do your dirty work without being seen.

Mount Carmel Cemetery also has no road inside it so neither police, nor any other cars, can drive through it. Besides, the gates are left open at night, unlike the other, better cared for and more secure cemeteries. The rear gate opens up onto a parking lot and there is quite a bit of tree cover. These many drawbacks will be remedied, however, through the generosity of many donors - significant improvements will be made to the cemetery going forward. 

Wide open rear gate at Philadelphia's Mount Carmel Cemetery

Throughout this past week, hundreds of people have volunteered their time to help repair the damage done at Mount Carmel Cemetery. 

On March 1, 2017, I visited and spoke with members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, who were organizing the volunteer effort. A registration table was set up at the cemetery’s entrance, bottled water and bags for trash, branches, and weed clippings were provided. Dozens of volunteers (all races and religions) spent the day cleaning up debris, raking leaves and dead branches, and marking and cataloging the damaged grave stones. The Federation has been receiving calls from individuals asking if their ancestors’ headstones had been knocked over. They took it upon themselves to gather this information. Someone had placed cut flowers on all the damaged headstones and monuments. People are upset, but have joined together to correct the situation.

Philadelphia Inquirer,

I’ve seen damage in cemeteries, but I was not prepared for this. You can't really grasp the magnitude of the damage through on-the-ground newspaper photos. A hundred headstones does not seem like a lot, but Mount Carmel is not a large property. This may amount to a tenth of all the stones in the cemetery. The swath taken by the vandals is obvious, as you walk the length of the property. Stones are toppled throughout the center portion of the rectangular cemetery (east to west). The aerial photographs published by the newspapers give the best depiction of the extent of the damage. Seeing this atrocity in person is jaw-dropping – cracked stones, large monuments pushed off their pedestals, grave markers of all shapes and sizes knocked over.

From the Philadelphia Police Department
Anyone with information on the suspect(s) involved in this crime, please contact either:

·         Northeast Detective Division – 215-686-3153/3154
·         Philadelphia Police Tip Line – 215-686-TIPS (8477)
·         Tips via email –
·         Citizens Crime Commission – 215-546-TIPS (8477)

Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Donation page for Mount Carmel Cemetery:

Preventing Future Damage
There is a clear message being sent to the criminals responsible for the Mount Carmel damage – the greater community will repair the damage and will prevent such damage in the future. Police will patrol the property 24x7 until the criminals are caught. Fencing will be improved.

“… the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council offered to replace the toppled headstones and … the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 98 offered to install additional lighting and security cameras." -

Mount Carmel is apparently an active cemetery, as I was told of a relatively recent burial here, 2015. There is a bit of pre-existing damage (a few fallen headstones), a bit of overgrowth, and some areas where the ground has subsided, causing a handful of grave markers to tilt. Clearly, work needs to be done here, especially if families have paid for “perpetual care.”
Volunteers bagging debris at Mount Carmel Cemetery

The lopsided headstones made me realize that before members of local labor unions are allowed to reset the fallen headstones, someone needs to consult a professional about a safe and secure way of doing that. Even if the stone base of the headstone is level, the headstone should be pinned to its base with steel or fiberglass rebar to prevent future damage. Believe it or not, many extremely heavy granite headstones simply sit on their bases! They are not fastened in any way, which is why people are injured or killed when headstones fall on them! If the base is not level, it needs to be leveled first, as shown in this video:

Pinning a headstone to its base is not an unusual practice, but it does cost more money, which is probably part of the reason it is not always done. Two holes are drilled in the base and the underside of the headstone, ... rebar is used to attach the stone to the base, then the joint is sealed to keep water from seeping into the joint between the stones.

“Blind Pinning is exactly what it implies, pins you do not see once the stone is installed. The concept is very simple. Holes are drilled in both the [headstone] and base at exactly the same locations so they match up when joined. Then metal [or other material] pins are placed in the holes, and usually mortared in place. The basic thinking was that if the monument was knocked or began to lean the pins would prevent a complete failure, and the damage this may cause.”International Southern Cemetery Gravestones Association, “HOW TO INSTALL A GRAVESTONE”

References and further reading:

Mount Carmel Cemetery 5722 Frankford Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19135. Phone: 215-535-1530. Fax: 215-535-5192 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Gatehouse in the Snow

What you see here is the 1855 brownstone gatehouse at Philadelphia's Mount Moriah Cemetery. I've photographed it many times over the years, under many environmental conditions. The photo above is one of my favorites, one that I made in the winter of 2015-16. Its is one of the last images I made of the historic structure in its crumbling, original condition. It was shored up with braces and scaffolding a few months after I took the photograph, as you can see below. A wonderful sight, from the perspective of historical preservation, but less picturesque, as I'm sure you'll agree.

Taking a Photograph
I purposely used the words "taking a photograph" in the paragraph above. The phrase, which many people use, feeds the misconception that the snowfall photo was there for anyone, with any level of photographic ability, with any camera, to simply "take." Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, I had to care enough about my subject to want to make the image. I serve on the all-volunteer Board of Directors of The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. whose express purpose is saving this formerly abandoned, Victorian-era cemetery, from ruin. Documenting our progress in an artistic yet journalistic fashion is important to me.

A Bit about Photography
One of the reasons I wrote my book, Digital Photography for the Impatient, was to help the novice digital point-and-shooter get the most out of that expensive digital camera they just purchased. Invariably, novice photographers are dissatisfied with the results they get from today's digital point-and-shoots (which includes camera phones). Why is that?

Purchase Ed's book from
Well, regardless of what the advertisements would lead you to believe, most cameras are not smart enough to compensate for the user's lack of photographic knowledge. Except outdoors in the bright sun - then ALL cameras work just fine! Even the five-dollar throwaway cameras. That's because the photographic process depends on light, and lots of it. So in a nutshell, if you want to make successful photographs under all conditions (birthday parties, portrait settings, group photos, pets, concerts, to name a few), you need to know a bit about basic photographic principles. For this reason I dedicate a few chapters of my book to such things as available light photography, depth of field, composition, shutter speed, etc.

It  would be wonderful if your camera would just automatically make the photograph you see in your mind, but cameras don't do that. They still require human input, most obviously in terms of composition. I could own the most expensive camera in the world, but it alone could never have made the snowfall image of the old gatehouse. I had to make the conscious decision to drive out to Mount Moriah Cemetery WHILE it was snowing for the express purpose of capturing the image I had in my mind's eye. Cameras are simply tools, a means to a creative end. Some are more fun to use than others, some are more expensive.While I own a myriad of cameras, ranging from toy film cameras to full-frame digital SLRs, I did in fact choose to use a cell phone camera for the gatehouse image.Why?

Some cameras happen to be more convenient than others, like the one in my iPhone. I always have it with me, right? It's always there just in case. By virtue of its size, I can carry it through the snow, hold an umbrella over my head, and very easily make the photograph I want. I can't hold my expensive DSLR with one hand in a snowstorm to make such a photograph - its too big and heavy. I also don't want to risk dropping it. The other interesting thing about smartphone photography for me, is that it has lured me into the realm of social media-shared color photography. Prior to digital photography, I created mainly black and white film images, mainly of cemetery statuary (see my book, Stone Angels). Digital photography got me interested more in color imagery, and the iPhone got me interested in sharing these images with a wider social audience (e.g. Instagram, Facebook, Flickr, etc.).

Purchase Ed's Stone Angels from

So as much as I love the snowfall image of the gatehouse, there are severe drawbacks to smartphone cameras. I could go on forever about what they are, but suffice it to say that the image quality is not very good. Forget that megapixel count - the smaller the image sensor, the smaller the individual pixels; therefore, the less information they can store. Smartphone camera images cannot compete with the image quality of a full-frame DSLR.'s 645 Pro app
You can tinker with your smartphone camera to make it behave better, to allow greater flexibility and creativity, by installing an app such as's 645 Pro. I used this in my iPhone to make the snowfall image. Another option to improve your smartphone photos is with after-capture photo-editing software, either in-camera or externally, afterwards, on a computer.

The Future?
An intriguing product is about to appear on the market that may give us the best of ALL worlds - The Light company's soon-to-be-released multi-lens L16 camera. While I have not used this camera, it has some features that are well worth exploring. For one, it is about the same size as a smartphone, captures video, and is web-enabled.

The Light company's L16 camera

The compact camera, due out in 2017, uses multiple lenses to capture various focus points in the image scene (see the Light company's website for more detail). It boasts a 28-150mm optical zoom equivalent (optical zooms being superior to digital zooms, which smartphone cameras use). PetaPixel says the L16 "packs 16 separate cameras across its surface that simultaneously expose photos at different focal lengths. The resulting images are combined into high-resolution, 52-megapixel photos." The multiple lenses of the camera supposedly allow you to adjust depth of field after capture, a very cool feature. This solves one of the great problems with digital cameras, especially smartphone cameras: due to their design, they cannot provide the shallow depth of field we like in our macro, sports, and portrait photographs.

Now, you should realize by now that high resolution does not a good photo make. You can have a poorly composed, exposed, or focused image with very high resolution. Objective sources will of course analyze, quantify, and publish their results relating to the L16's image capture capabilities after the camera is released.

I personally, would love to put this new technology through its paces. Listing at $1699, it is no amateur's camera. If in fact it provides the same image quality as a DSLR, in addition to all the other advertised features, the price is a bargain. For more information, please see the Light company's website and this Digital Photography Review article (check this site for a review in the future).

Related websites:
Ed Snyder's
Ed Snyder's

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Business Obituary - TearDrop Memories

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the closing of the best “mourning arts” retail store in the known galaxy. My friend Greg Cristiano is retiring and closing his New Hope, Pennsylvania store doors forever. I am reposting his self-penned obituary here on The Cemetery Traveler. Good luck Greg, feel better, and thank you for many years of enlightenment!- Ed Snyder

TearDrop Memory Post Mortem Gallery Shop Closing - A Business Obituary

TearDrop Memories NorthFork Pet Antiques, a long-time New Hope tradition is closing its Post Mortem Gallery on Mechanic Street. R.I.P.  A major tourist destination in town for more than a decade, owner Greg@TDM is closing down his one of a kind retail shop, due to major health issues. His museum-worthy treasures and historically-based traveling talks will remain available on his four websites (linked below).

Detail of Victorian mourning artwork (TDM collection)

A Business Obituary

Queen Victoria mourning pin (TDM collection)
TearDrop Memories has been a leading organizer of in-town events. It’s resume includes the Almost Art Show, Liberty Festival, High Heel Drag Race, Liberty Pole, Monroe Crossing, National Honey Bee Day, Coryells Ferry Militia, New Hope Meter Angels and Colonial Christmas. As advisor to the New Hope Chamber of Commerce, Greg fought hard for New Hope businesses and against the town’s repressive regulations. In the style of the Late Captain Bob Gerenser, Greg remained one of the town’s last curmudgeons, NRA and Tea Party Conservative.

Greg Cristiano holding court in Teardrop Memories
Many will miss Historian Greg’s cheeky greeting, “Can I be of any help or make up a story?” A line that while eliciting smiles, really exemplified the store’s main talent, storytelling. “I never wanted to be a cashier, as most of today’s wannabee antique stores are. I wanted my customers (friends) to feel the same passion for the past as I do,” said he. A shop crowded with everything from antique coffins, Victorian bird cages, real gothic Georgian mourning jewelry, ancient hair art memorials, early medical tools and antiquarian books, became a wealth of material for his epic tales. The shop’s motto “Nothing with a barcode or ‘Made in China’ label” was rarely equaled in Town. This unusual shop and his reenactments of both Revolutionary War Rebellion hero Capt. John Fries and a 19th century Victorian Undertaker, drew visitors to New Hope from around the world.

Post-mortem portrait (TDM collection)

Survived by his 4 websites and traveling talks, the B&M Post Mortem Gallery; TearDrop Memories will close in October [2016]. Gone but not forgotten, Memento Mori!

TearDrop Memories NorthFork Pet Antiques

(215) 862-3401
12 West Mechanic St. 1C
New Hope Pa. 18938
We Speak Antique You Tube 
Greater New Hope Chamber Of Commerce
U.S. Chamber Of Commerce

Sunday, September 11, 2016

So when you die ...

So when you die, will you waft gently to immortal life, or will it be like moving to a new house or apartment? I would assume the latter, and specifically, to an apartment. It takes you a few weeks to get used to the new layout (and months to get used to the new fridge). The door lock keys don’t work properly, of course, but who would you call to report that anyway? Nothing is where you think it should be. It’s like driving an American-made car all your life and then you rent a Subaru – all the same stuff is there, just in slightly wrong places.

I’m sure its disorienting to wake up dead. One moment you’re say, having sex, the next moment you’re dead (this actually happened to someone I know). Are you out of body watching the scene or does everything just go dark? And then, as Woody Allen said, “when you’re dead, it’s hard to find the light switch.


When you come to, do you know where you are? Are there signs? Writer Neil Gaiman wrote  (in his book, Coraline): "It is astonishing just how much of what we are can be tied to the beds we wake up in in the morning, and it is astonishing how fragile that can be."

I hope Neil continues writing cool stuff in his afterlife. Its awesome to think that only the dead will benefit from his genius from that time forward. Maybe that would be Heaven for his readers? I used to think that the only difference between Heaven and Hell is the type of music they play. Now, after recently moving from a house to an apartment, I think there may be more to it than that.

Wherever you land, you have no idea who your neighbors are. You say, “Hi. Just moved in.” You shake hands. I wonder if its politically correct to ask, “How long have you lived here?” Does time exist after you die? Is there night and day? Seasons? ATM machines? You can’t just Google this stuff anymore. Where do you get your hair cut now? I'm writing this mainly from a guy's perspective, but I realize the hair issue is much more complex for women. For all of you women out there, where will you get your hair colored, foiled, double-processed, or even just blown out? After life's fitful fever, she many not, actually, sleep so well.

Relative to your prior corporal address, trash collection is on a different day of the week - assuming there is such a thing as trash (and days, for that matter). Do we consume things in the afterlife? And what about grocery stores and a good auto mechanic? It’s always tough to start over with these things in a new locale. One thing is for certain, however - if there is a God, there will be no dentists in the afterlife. To my mind, this is the single greatest advantage to being dead – no more dealing with your teeth.


But once you get used to your new environs, many things fall into place. Some that do not fall into place are the coins from your pocket when you get into your car. There is no longer a need for money after you die, although you will indeed have a car. In Heaven, you may once again have your long-lost favorite, perhaps that green ’67 Mustang 289 with the rust around the quarter-panels. The rust will still be there, unfortunately. The afterlife is not a miracle-cure, people. In Hell, you’ll drive a Yugo.

Why are all the electrical sockets in your new digs so loose that the plugs just want to fall out? Tough to properly adjust this weird cranky tub faucet to get the right temperature water in the tub – man, you think they would have at least cleaned that after the last people left. And where did they go…? Maybe this is Purgatory, or Limbo? No, wait, the Catholic Church did away with them, right? Was that like a marriage “annulment,” where the Church doesn’t actually cancel something, they just say that it never existed in the first place? I wonder if I can put in a request to have certain people annulled.

So if this is Purgatory, the congested parking situation is only temporary. If I go to through the hassle of acquiring a residential parking permit (good for a year), I might be moved to the next place tomorrow!

And who do you call to order a pizza? HOW do you call? Dying idiot that you are, you forgot to bring the cord to charge your iPhone. Where could you buy a new one? Can’t just go down to the lobby or the gift shop. Or can you? After a couple months, you’re used to your surroundings and it just becomes your normal mode of existence. It’s the opposite of economist Adam Smith’s free market adage, “adapt or die” – here, you just die and adapt. See you there - I'll save you a parking space!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ebeneezer Price, Colonial-era Gravestone Carver

My knowledge of eighteenth-century American headstone carvers is rather limited. What I do know has been gleaned from my relationship with the Association for Gravestone Studies. This organization publishes such scholarly information in their quarterly journal (see link at end). So when I personally happened upon evidence of such a headstone carver right before my eyes, I became immediately interested.

Pennington Presbyterian Church, Pennington, New Jersey.

Walking through the Presbyterian Church graveyard in Pennington, New Jersey, I noticed seven red sandstone grave markers all in a row – six large (standard-sized), and one small. Recognizing them as the oldest on the site, I thought perhaps they might have the old “angel-head” carving at top (I initially spotted them from behind). I walked around the thick (three inch) slabs with the roughly carved backs and, lo and behold, three of the large stones had angel heads carved at top, while two had a sunrise! I get rather excited to find these as they are quite uncommon outside New England. New Jersey cemeteries seems to be the southern cutoff point. Why is this?

Rear view of red sandstone grave markers

Well, New England was one of the first areas of the north American continent to be settled by Europeans and the first to become densely populated. Therefore, the oldest graveyards are there. The Puritanical flair of the headstone artisans and craftsmen is evident on early headstone carvings throughout that region. As time went on, populations grew and spread out from New England. Belief systems changed, different materials were used for grave markers, and this particular type of angel head was replaced with other symbolism (or none at all).

"Sunrise" symbolism

White marble became a popular choice as a replacement for red and brown sandstone, as Vermont and Philadelphia quarries boomed in the late 1700s. Angel heads appear on old marble stones too, but marble wears easily and detail is quickly lost. Sandstone retains detail better, but cracks more easily. Central and northern New Jersey’s sandstone quarries supplied the need for grave marker material from the end of the seventeenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Small headstone, perhaps a child's
While red sandstone grave markers can be found geographically south of central New Jersey, they are usually devoid of ornamentation (i.e., angel heads, flowers, and other designs). The reason is that Philadelphia-area stone carvers (from 1785 onward) usually did not exhibit the artistic flair, or skill, of their northern counterparts. Still, fanciful headstones from the northern and central New Jersey carvers found their way to cemeteries all over the east coast.

"E. Price" signature engraved at bottom of 1775 headstone

Ebeneezer Price

As I photographed the seven red sandstone markers in Pennington’s Presbyterian Church graveyard, I realized two things: one, they all marked graves of members of the same family, the Muirheids; and two, the markers were all signed by the same stone carver! This latter point is rather unusual in my experience.

“E. Price,” as you can see in this photo, stands for Ebeneezer Price, “New Jersey’s most prolific eighteenth century gravestone carver” (so described by Nonesteid and Veit in their fascinating 2011 publication, Carrying On the Stone Cutting Business.) describes Price as a “Master Craftsman, Folk Artist. One of the most skilled and prolific gravestone carvers in colonial America, Price's work began to appear in the burial grounds of northern New Jersey in 1757… 

Ebeneezer Price, this engraver from Elizabeth, New Jersey, was born in 1728 and created masterpieces such as those you see here from 1744 through 1787. These intricate soul effigy engravings, lettering, and other designs were amazingly done by his own hand and chisel. His style influenced many other stone carvers of his time.

Note "E. Price" engraving at bottom right

It happens to be well-documented that Price signed, or initialed his work, which was unusual in that industry, or craft. I found it interesting that during the Revolutionary War-era that Price was in business, he would barter for payment of a carved headstone. Barbara Schaffer’s 2013 Quilts, Gravestones, and Elusive Ancestors blog post, “Signed by Carvers,” reproduces a 1786 newspaper advertisement for Price’s engraving business. He would accept any of the following in exchange for an engraving job: “timber, stone, brick, boards, window-frames, doors, sashes, shutters, hinges, carting, labor.” The article shows further examples of Price’s intricate carvings of angels, flowers, and letters.

Seven Ebeneezer Price-engraved sandstone grave markers, Pennington, New Jersey

Ebeneezer Price’s workshop was in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but his engraved headstones – wonderful examples of early American folk art - traveled to such places as New York City, Long Island, the Carolinas, Georgia, and the Caribbean (ref.)

Price died in 1788 and is buried at the First Presbyterian Churchyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

References and Further Reading: