Monday, December 12, 2011

175 Years of Reflections, Laurel Hill Cemetery

This year, the commemorative book 175 Years of Reflections, Laurel Hill Cemetery, 1836 – 2011 was published. It’s lovely, coffee table-sized, and hard-bound, filled with personal reflections on Laurel Hill by scores of (mostly live) people. A few years prior, I was asked if I would donate one of my Laurel Hill photographs to be in it − quite an honor. My image, “Colder than Ice on a Tombstone (2008)” appears on page 125.

Ed Snyder's "Colder than Ice on a Tombstone"

Available at
It’s one thing to force your own art on the world by writing your own book, but to be asked to be in someone else’s book is very flattering and meaningful. I do want to thank all the people involved in putting the book together, and for recognizing the emotional connection of all the contributors.

The format of 175 Years of Reflections is quite clever – “ … a collection of 175 remembrances about the cemetery, dating all the way back to its founding to the present day and includes poems, journal entries and much more.” (The website Geekadelphia continues,) “Through these you get a picture of what the Laurel Hill Cemetery has meant to people and to the city of Philadelphia. It really is a unique way to understand something that has been a part of this city for so long.

Image by Frank Rausch (p. 110)
In April 2011, the Friends of Laurel Hill held a book launch at the cemetery. All contributing parties were invited. I knew one or two of my compatriots, but was not prepared for the dozens of people who showed up. Many of whom I’d only known through the press, such as Tom Keels (author of several books, including Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries), as well as others whose art was familiar to me, e.g.  internationally known photographer Bob Reinhardt.

Image by Marietta Dooley (p. 155)
It was a great social event for Philadelphia artists and writers - I made new friends like Marietta Dooley (whose photograph in the book graces the cover of Laurel Hill’s current tour guide) and enjoyed talking with familiars Frank Rausch and Scott Kreilick. Frank’s always got great stories as he lives in the cemetery, and Scott’s historical conservation company is responsible for restoring  the “Old Mortality” statue grouping housed at Laurel Hill’s entrance.

A copy of the book was very generously given to each contributing artist and author, whose work exemplified their own personal reflections of Laurel Hill Cemetery. As we lined up to receive our copy, people were thrilled to find that the organizers had taken the time to mark the page of the contributor’s work with a tall bookmark bearing the contributor’s name. Talk about attention to detail!

Image by Bob Reinhardt (p. 165 )
The event was incredibly well organized. Yards beer (Philadelphia’s best) and oer d'oeuvres were served, name tags given out, a tent and chairs to listen to the speeches. Gwen Kaminski (Laurel Hill’s Director of Development & Programs) read her poetry and Tom Keels spoke touchingly about his early visits to Laurel Hill. I remember quite vividly a line from one young man’s speech in which he mentioned  “the very human desire to be remembered after death.” The note included in each book from the “Friends of Laurel Hill” organization seemed to expand on this philosophic idea:

"Well beyond the year of Laurel Hill Cemetery’s 175th anniversary and, indeed, well beyond the life spans of those of us who are here to be part of it, this book will remain an enduring symbol of the language and art, of the life and death embodied by Laurel Hill. As a permanent addition to our archives, its words and images will inspire future generations of the living, and your own name will be forever linked with the history of America’s first National Historic Landmark cemetery." - Friends of Laurel Hill

What a wonderful sentiment! As far as my own photography and writings, I’ve leaned heavily on the creepiness of cemeteries, but that can be an unsteady rail. There really is just too much beauty and life in and around a cemetery like Laurel Hill to dwell on negative aspects. 175 Years of Reflections pulls together poems, stories, historical family photographs, fine art images, paintings, old lithographs, even children’s drawings  − REFLECTIONS, quite literally, on people’s POSITIVE experiences at the cemetery.

Cover detail
After the formal presentations outdoors, people were invited to stroll the grounds on this lovely spring day, or adjourn to the museum/gallery in the gatehouse. One could view the exhibits of historic memorabilia related to everything from Harry Kalas (the late Phillies sportscaster) to George Meade (lauded Civil War general), both of whom are buried at Laurel Hill.

During the informal milling about - and much to my surprise - various people came up to me and asked if I would sign page 125, on which my photograph was printed. Quite flattering, I must say. By the way, the title of my image, “Colder Than Ice on a Tombstone," is not dedicated to my ex-wife, as some might imagine. It was quite literally how I felt that winter's day in 2008 as I lay on Laurel Hill’s ice-encrusted snow to make the photograph. Quite opposite of the warm and friendly ambiance everyone enjoyed at Laurel's book launch party!

Books by Ed Snyder

Available at
Available at
Further Readings:

175 Years of Reflections, Laurel Hill Cemetery , 1836 – 2011 available at Laurel Hill Cemetery and through its website

Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries by Tom Keels
Photographic Art by Frank Rausch
Rest in Pixeks, Robert Reinhardt's website
Kreilick Conservation, LLC