Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mount Moriah Cemetery - 2013: The Year in Review

This is just a quick, end-of-the-year blog posting to fill you in on the state of Mount Moriah Cemetery in West Philadelphia. As you may know, I’m chair of the Communications and Technology Committee for the non-profit Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. (FOMMCI), and I’d like to thank everyone for the tremendous effort put forth this past year in the preservation efforts for the cemetery.

This includes not just physical labor and the loaning of equipment by hundreds of individuals, but for all who believe in the power of civic engagement in bringing a community together. We’ve had multiple colleges, fraternal organizations, and corporations participate in both large and small cleanup (or “restoration”) events. We welcome all. If you’re wondering why people get involved and what they do, please see the video link, “In Memoriam,” at end for a wonderful mini-documentary made this past fall by cinema students of Temple University.

Villanova University students being oriented to their tasks on a volunteer cleanup day
In my role on the FOMMCI Board of Directors I’m responsible for updating the website and sending out the monthly newsletter. It occurs to me now that some of my Cemetery Traveler readers have not seen either, so here’s the link to the FOMMCI website and if you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, just send us your email address (to: and we’ll put you on the list. You’ll learn about the latest news, updates, announcements, cleanup days, and the cemetery’s legal situation.

So many things happened with Mount Moriah this past year that it is challenging to list them all. Probably most substantially, the FOMMCI organization was granted 501(3)c status by the United States government so that it is legally recognized as a non-profit entity.  Tax-deductible contributions can be made directly to the FOMMCI via our new on-line “Fundrazr” site. We also gladly accept checks sent to us at: 

Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.
P. O. Box 5321
Philadelphia, PA 19142

Greater revenue equates to better equipment with which to care for the cemetery grounds. It also helps provide additional resources to help with locating graves, major deforestation projects, and analysis of burial records.

Tending to Betsy Ross' Plot
Never been to Mount Moriah Cemetery?

The winter months give one the opportunity to see clearly the potential of this vast (estimated 380 acres) green space spanning Philadelphia and Delaware counties (street address is 6201 Kingsessing Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, 19142). Winter quite literally allows us to see clearly through the trees – we can more easily appreciate the expansive beauty of the Victorian-era sculpture garden. One can more easily visualize a full restoration of this serenely landscaped masterpiece with its proud monuments to our city’s forefathers (and foremothers, as Betsy Ross is buried here too!)

The beauty of nature is evident at Mount Moriah. Aside from the architecture and landscaping, wildlife inhabits this luxurious green space in the middle of the city. On December 27, 2013, I saw my first heron feeding on fish in Cobbs Creek, the dividing line between the Philadelphia and Yeadon sides of the cemetery. On the same day, two deer ran into view in Section 102 on the Yeadon side.

What’s happened in 2013?
We’ve had literally hundreds of volunteers work on countless cleanup days and have successfully cleared (and kept clear!) many areas of the cemetery. This has allowed many visitors to access their ancestral graves and provided many with first-hand experience delving into the types of historic research and education which only a cemetery can provide. Individuals prefer to join the large groups to tend their own ancestors’ graves on the scheduled cleanup days when (typically) dozens of other people will be are to help. Section maps are posted on our website. For help locating a grave, please contact us at this email address: You can also write to us at:

Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.
P. O. Box 5321
Philadelphia, PA 19142

Landscaping Maps

Color-coded landscape map indicates cleared (green) areas
We’ve been publishing maps on the FOMMCI Facebook Group Page showing the various states of foliage clearance. An outcome of all this work is that we now publish a landscaping map, of sorts, on Facebook to indicate cleared areas of Mount Moriah so that visitors can see if their section of interest is cleared.

Organizational Sponsors
In the past year, Mount Moriah has hosted student volunteers and employees of many corporate national and international organizations like Virgin Airlines, Comcast, Asplundh, Comcast, and Verizon. Large or small – if your group or organization is willing to donate physical labor, please contact us at: Our scheduled restoration events are listed here, but we can usually accommodate requests for groups to work on other days.

Volunteers needed!
We are always looking for volunteers to help us in a variety of endeavors, ranging from marketing, website design, and guiding tours to the hard labor of grass cutting and deforestation. Please let us know if you can donate any amount of time and practical experience!

Drexel University student volunteers clearing graves

Recent “News and Events” from the FOMMCI website:     
Philadelphia Inquirer article (Sept. 26, 2013): Read about the Naval Asylum Plot on the Yeadon side of Mount Moriah Cemetery through an interview with Sam Ricks, FOMMCI Board Member and historian. “Its 21 medal honorees may be the most buried in any cemetery in the country, according to a military expert.“

In Memoriam,” A mini-documentary released in fall, 2013, by Temple University film students. Through interviews, the history and current state of this massive, formerly abandoned cemetery are examined. The dramatic efforts by hundreds of volunteers to revitalize it are addressed.

CNN posted on November 5, 2013, “Taking care of sacred spaces.” Photojournalist Effie Nidam introduces us to an Air Force Vet who is preserving the past. This wonderful “Veterans Day” newscast features Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery and Ken Smith, Treasurer on the Board of The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Many of us who volunteer time and energy to keep Mount Moriah from being overgrown with trees and weeds have our own very personal reasons for doing so. We invite you to discover Ken’s.

Civil War Veterans plot at Mount Moriah Cemetery
New fundraiser campaign established by the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.

The accomplishments of the FOMMCI have grown substantially over the past year and the cemetery has benefited immensely. The organization has been granted 501(3)c status by the United States government so that it is legally recognized as a non-profit entity. We are dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Mount Moriah Cemetery by honoring the memory of those interred in her folds through restoration, historic research, and education. Greater revenue equates to better equipment with which to care for the cemetery grounds, to improve access to burial records, and to educate the community as to the value of the site ( which is included in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places).

FOMMCI Board treasurer Ken Smith cuts through weeds

It's not too late to make your 100% (2013) tax deductible donation to The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. If you already have, thank you so very much!

We recognize that not everyone can contribute physical labor to the upkeep of the grounds, so monetary contributions are a valuable way to help! Please consider making an end-of-the-year tax-deductible charitable contribution. Thank you and Happy Holidays! 

(Please click this link to help Mount Moriah!)

Art and Architecture Tour in progress at 1855 gatehouse (photo frank Rausch)

Looking to the future:
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.

References and Further Information:
Visit the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. website
Keep up to date with us on Facebook!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Stealing from the Dead

On December 18, 2013, thieves stole two 250-pound bronze mausoleum doors from Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania (a Philadelphia suburb). The replacement value of the doors is about $30,000. This was their second trip to Arlington – they had stolen more doors the prior weekend, assuming the same thieves. (Links at the end of this article will take you to the news postings and videos regarding the story.)

What would anyone want with heavy bronze doors? Might they need replacements for the antechamber doors in their castle? Would they sell them on the black art market? Hardly. Most likely they would attempt to sell them for scrap. At current rates for bronze scrap ($2.00 per pound), the doors would fetch a thousand dollars (500 lbs. x $2.00 per pound). Bronze, being an alloy of copper and tin, is worth almost as much as copper (click link for current prices), the “gold” of the scrap metal industry.

But there’s a catch – and that is, quite literally, that the thieves or the scrap yard could be caught. Selling scrap is not so easy if the booty is recognizable. So if the thieves thought that it was hard enough to remove the pair of 250-pound doors from the mausoleum, lug them across a snow-covered cemetery, over a fence, and into a waiting vehicle – wait until they try to chop them up. That can’t be easy.

Blocked-up mausoleum entrance
And if they pound or cut them into unrecognizable chunks, they’ll have to cart it all off to a scrapyard and try to pass it off as (relatively) worthless – and not stolen – junk. One trick my father taught me (as he would sometimes sell a truckload of scrap metal to the junkyard) is that if you mix the questionable stuff up with the REALLY worthless stuff, it’s more difficult to detect the former. Not that he stole from cemeteries, of course. When one person tosses an old refrigerator or a roll of copper wire in the trash, there are scrappers who pick it out and sell it to a metal recycling operation (or, as they were called when I was a kid in the 1960s, a “junk yard”). Recycling scrap metals means extra cash for some people. Today, with a poor economy and scrap metal values as high as they are, THEFT of metals to be sold as scrap is rampant.

Grave medals a target for thieves
If a recycling or metal reclamation site gets caught buying stolen merchandise, the people involved may face jail time, fines, and restitution. A recent example  is described in this September 2013 article from the Isanti (Minnesota) County News: “Randall man sentenced for receiving stolen bronzestar markers from graves.” The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) is at the same time trying to put a more positive face on the situation, for the good of the industry, as we see in this excerpt from the article, “Combating Scrap Theft: ScrapDealers Don't Want It and They're Doing Something About It:”

The problem of metal theft is ever present, but it has boomed in recent months.
     The rash of scrap thefts has put recyclers in a difficult position. Many find themselves trying to maintain their incoming supply while guarding against accepting stolen material.
     "Unfortunately, with most scrap metal, there's just no way to tell the difference between legitimate scrap and that which has been stolen -- it all looks the same,” said Chuck Carr, spokesman for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). "Recyclers are also confronted with the challenge of protecting their own inventory from theft, both at their facilities and in transit to their customers."
     To meet these challenges, recyclers are engaging in cooperative crime-fighting efforts with other recyclers and law enforcement officials.
     In general, scrap recyclers must address scrap thefts on two fronts: First, they must protect themselves from having their own material stolen.  And second, they must protect themselves from inadvertently buying stolen material over the scale.
     Recyclers are taking steps to identify incoming stolen material and avoid purchasing it. Scrap operators know it's illegal to intentionally purchase stolen material. They also recognize the potential out-of-pocket losses they may suffer by unwittingly buying such material. If the material's rightful owner or local authorities find the stolen goods in a recycler's yard, they can reclaim it without having to reimburse the recycler.
Mausoleum with blocked-up front door (Wilmington, Delaware)

Doorless mausoleum
So how did the thieves get the doors off the mausoleums, anyway? They pried them open (where the two doors meet in the center) and then removed the side hinges from each door. Arlington has now chained the door handles together on its remaining eighteen mausoleums to prevent future theft. Attractive sight, isn’t it? I’ve seen this a lot, in many cemeteries, and just assumed it was done to prevent unauthorized entry. I’ve also seen mausoleums with the doors missing altogether. and many with the window and door openings blocked up. All a result of theft, I imagine.

And what about the families who own the mausoleums? Does a cemetery insure itself against such theft? Do the families who own the mausoleums insure the building? Arlington Cemetery is home to the Museum of Mourning Arts, a wonderful museum of Victorian funerary art. I hope the building has an electronic security system. The cemetery itself is immaculate, a genteel purlieu in a residential neighborhood, fronted by busy Lansdowne Avenue. Its wooded acres are very well-maintained, though such bucolic forested landscaping offers convenient cover for thieves. Hard to believe such a theft could occur here, and no one see the theft in process. If anyone reading this has any information about the doors, please call Upper Darby Police's anonymous tip line at 610-734-3439. 

Even more difficult to believe is that a similar theft occurred earlier at nearby Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pa, four miles from Arlington. Three sets of doors were stolen from this Catholic Archdiocese cemetery. It has many more mausoleums to choose from and is a larger cemetery, making it potentially easier to perpetrate such a crime. Holy Cross is one of my favorite cemeteries in which to make photographic art, so the desecration is even closer to home. The image of the Christmas wreath on the mausoleum door that you see at the beginning of this blog was made in Holy Cross a few years ago. I’m wondering if the doors are still there.

Nothing is safe when people are hard up for money, perhaps money to feed a drug habit, as police suspect in the Arlington thefts. The bronze medallions (see photo at left) that mark veterans’ graves in many cemeteries are easy pickings, certainly easier than a mausoleum door. They go missing all the time (see link). Though I never weighed one, I assume each weighs a pound. Fifty of these at $2.00 apiece would fetch one hundred dollars as scrap. You can buy a gram of heroin with that. (My mathematically-inclined readers have already done the math and see that the value of heroin is TWICE that of gold!)

Ed Snyder with "Silent Sentinel" (photo Frank Rausch)
Cemeteries need a silent sentinel to keep theft down these days. This particular bronze sculpture of a Civil War soldier, coincidentally known as the “Silent Sentinel,” used to stand in Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery. In the 1970s, it was recovered while thieves were in the act of removing it. It had been knocked off its granite pedestal, chained to a pickup truck and was being dragged out of the cemetery. The theft was thwarted and the statue was placed in storage for safekeeping. The “Silent Sentinel” was restored and kept in a foundry for safekeeping for forty years. Not until 2013 did it see the light of day. It now stands (temporarily) in the office at Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery.

References and Further Reading:

Bronze grave markers stolen