Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Sacred to the Memory" Exhibit Opens to Fanfare

Well, the opening reception for our photography exhibit, “Sacred to the Memory,” at the Philadelphia Public Library was quite a hit. Thank you to the Library for the opportunity and the assistance you provided in making the exhibit such a success!

We had a hundred people or so show up for the Opening Reception on Sept. 16, 2013 and it was simply a joy talking with you all! Family, friends, colleagues, co-workers – all seemed to revel in the experience of the art and history of Philadelphia's Victorian cemeteries. Each cemetery had its own display case for artifacts related to their site, with wonderful backdrops made by the Library (great thanks to Lynn Washington for those!). The backdrops featured graphics and text provided by the representatives of each cemetery, who were all gracious enough to attend the opening: Paulette Rhone of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., Jessica Baumert and Erica Maust from The Woodlands, and Gwen Kaminski from Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Opening Reception attendees for "Sacred to the Memory" exhibit

Exhibition poster (18x24 inch)
The exhibit runs to November 1, 2013, so you have plenty of time to see it. All the matted photographs are for sale, as is the accompanying exhibition book and poster.  

A selection of Ed Snyder’s images can be seen at this link. Most prints are around 11x14 inch size in a standard 16x20 inch mat - suitable for framing. Prices vary, so please contact Ed at this email for specifics: You can also contact him about poster sales: $35 postpaid in continental U.S., with portion of sales being donated to the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery.

For a more complete description of the show, please see my past blog posting, “Exhibition Opens: Sacred to the Memory.

Portion of Laurel Hill exhibit

One of the touches we added a few days after the show opened was a bio sheet about the photographers – Ed Snyder, Robert Reinhardt, and Frank Rausch. During the week we were installing the exhibit, so many people passed through the hallway asking questions and expressing their admiration for the work. One day I was there by myself straightening things out and a gentleman asked (assuming I was just the installer), “Who are these people who made these wonderful images? It would be great to read something about the photographers themselves.” Hence the bio sheet! These bios are excerpted from our book, Sacred to the Memory - the Historic Cemeteries of Philadelphia, which accompanies the exhibition (available from

Book available as hard copy and eBook from

“Sacred to the Memory”

Artists: Frank Rausch, Robert Reinhardt, Ed Snyder

Frank Rausch  (contact:

Frank Rausch is self-taught, beginning with film format in earlier years to present day digital format. His photographic accomplishments include acceptance in numerous juried exhibits as well as having had several solo shows. His work is published in Laurel Hill Cemetery’s "175 Years Reflection Book" and also in West Laurel Hill "A Visual Guide 2009." His work has been published in Laurel Hill Cemetery brochures and currently is displayed on permanent cemetery signage. Frank's images are also part of many private collections. He is a guide for Laurel Hill Cemetery Lunar Stroll Night Photography Tours and Workshop, as well as a member of Photographic Society of Philadelphia.

Laurel Hill image by Frank Rausch
Being born and raised in beautiful New England inspired his interest in photography at an early age. Nature and Landscape photography were his first love, as his natural surroundings were a perfect background for developing his photographic skills. Through the years his photographic interests have broadened, of which cemetery photography has become a significant part. Through the use of Light, Composition, Texture and Subject he has been able to create images that bring awareness to the beauty and fragility of our cherished resting places as well as showing the necessity to restore and preserve these exquisite places for future generations to enjoy.

Robert Reinhardt  (contact:

The photographs displayed here represent the past five years of exploring sacred grounds in the historic cemeteries of Philadelphia, notably the area in and around Center City. These sites are extremely rich in visual treasure. From the first time I set foot in Laurel Hill Cemetery, I knew I had stumbled upon a subject that spoke to me on many different levels. Each site possesses a unique slice of the history, culture, religion, art and architecture of the time period in which it was created. These images attempt to bring to life a strength that lives on in these eternal monuments. The memorials seem almost indifferent to the elements that continue to wear at their surfaces and challenge their structural integrity. At the same time, nature is painting an entirely new palette in which they exist. It is the collision and contrast of that ongoing confrontation that draws me into these sites year after year.

Woodlands Cemetery display
After documenting these cemeteries for the past five years I feel my camera has recorded a small slice of Philadelphia’s history on digital files. I have dedicated myself to preserving those memories and voices from the past to be handed on for others to share into the future.

Woodlands image by Robert Reinhardt
Through the artistry of Robert Reinhardt, this exhibition is a beautiful visual record that explores inspiring and sensitive interconnections between the temporal elements of time and history and their relationship to the changing environment,” said Director of the Hofstra University Museum Beth E. Levinthal.

Reinhardt’s artwork is featured in many private and corporate collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Temple University, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, and The Royal Commission of Historical and Ancient Monuments of Scotland. His work has been included in numerous exhibits at museums and galleries throughout the United States. Over the past years, Mr. Reinhardt has focused his attention and his camera on the historic cemeteries of Scotland.

Ed Snyder (contact:

Ed Snyder is a Philadelphia-based artist/photographer with more than a passing interest in the mourning arts. Since 1998, he has photographed and written about cemeteries across the U.S. and Italy. Simply put, his work merges art and photography with society’s need to come to terms with death and dying - that others find deeper and more personal meaning in his work is an unexpected gift. While his images are not always pretty, his photographs hold strong to Keats’ assertion that truth is beauty.

Snyder has exhibited and published extensively, with many of his images residing in personal and institutional collections (including that of the Warhol Family). His book, Stone Angels (, showcases some of this work.

Mount Moriah Cemetery exhibit case

The art and architecture found in stately Victorian cemeteries captured his initial interest, which later fueled a greater appreciation for the associated history and cultural practices. This in turn has evolved into an avocation to help with preservation, keeping sacred the memory of those who have gone before. This has led to Mr. Snyder’s current position as Chair of Communications and Technology for Philadelphia’s Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. a volunteer non-profit organization honoring the memory of those interred through restoration, historic research, education and community engagement.

Mount Moriah image by Ed Snyder
His fifteen years' worth of experience is documented weekly in his blog, The Cemetery Traveler. His art and writings are also represented on his websites and other social media, e.g.,, and Ed Snyder's Stone Angels Photography (Facebook). Mr. Snyder has also authored the book, Digital Photography for the Impatient ( He is a member of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia, InLiquid, DaVinci Art Alliance, The Plastic Club, and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Association for Gravestone Studies.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Toppling Tombstones – Should we follow the Scottish Example?

It was shocking to find such a thing in a cemetery, especially one so close to a playground. Back at the beginning of the summer, I visited Tremont Cemetery in Norristown Pennsylvania, with my friend Karen. She had never been here. It is an odd place (Sandy Street and Tremont Avenue) - off the beaten path, partly cared for, partly not. By current records, it is owned by the First Baptist Church of Norristown; according to the sign out front, the cemetery was established in 1846 and holds the remains of many Civil War soldiers. It’s a smallish place, a few acres- but actually twice as big as it appears at first glance. 

Mowed area of cemetery
Odd thing is that the front part is kept mowed, from the street back a couple hundred feet, and then it becomes woods – woods with tombstones and monuments. Nearby, in the center of the cemetery among the tall weeds, there are no grave markers. This is reputed to be an unmarked, two-acre mass grave used “in the late 1910s and 1920s after an influenza epidemic. There are believed to be 2000 bodies in the two-acre parcel of land,” according to an article in the Times Herald (of Montgomery County).   

Karen walking through center portion of Tremont Cemetery

I took Karen through the woods to see all the headstones amidst the gnarled tree branches, and we came upon something which I swear had not been there last time I visited. Just below the playground in a gully, it was propped up with a heavy tree branch.
Playground with path leading down into wooded section of Tremont Cemetery

This cemetery has evolved to a rather odd form of upkeep, due no doubt to the small Baptist congregation’s lack of funds and parishioners. The front third is kept up – grass mowed, all grave markers standing tall. The middle third, as you walk back further from Sandy Street), is all weeds – four feet tall in the summer. People shoot off fireworks here in the middle of the weeds (I saw the remnants on a prior visit). Rather stupid, since a spark could start quite a forest fire here. Venturing further, we progress into the heavily overgrown back third of the cemetery, sloping down into a gully with large trees interspersed among the headstones. Last time I was here, there was a millstone at the bottom of the gully, but now oddly, it is gone.

Teenagers have made this wooded area their meeting and cavorting place, it would appear. Empty beer cans and girls’ underwear can be seen here and there. Strange place for clandestine meetings, an abandoned cemetery. As a kid, I don’t think I would have been caught dead in such a place. But it continues to surprise me how many people have done such things in their youth. A playground sits at the top of the gully, a teenage couple on the swings on this particular day. After exploring the well-worn path into the depths of the old graveyard, Karen and I reversed our direction and climbed up the path. She was the first to see it – a giant marble slab propped up with a tree branch.

Ed lowers headstone (photo by Karen Schlechter)
Like so many other headstones here in the woods, this one had been lying flat for decades. I can only assume that someone wanted to read the inscription on the side facing the ground, so it had been lifted and propped up. You really couldn’t make out any of the inscription. What shocked me was that the stone was left like this! A trap, essentially, for a child to be hurt by. Did they not see the swing set a hundred feet away? A child would just need to walk down the hill into the woods into this trap – a thousand-pound weight ready to fall like those box traps where the box to catch the rabbit is held up by a stick.

Carrots and rabbit traps

Safety SHOULD be a major concern with regard to ill-kept old cemeteries. In Edinburgh, Scotland, derelict cemeteries have their wobbly old tombstones laid down by local government to prevent such tragedies.

From the Edinburgh Napier News (2009):

According to the council, since a fatal accident here in Edinburgh in 1982, and following a fatal accident in Yorkshire in 2000 involving a six year old child, a policy has been developed by the Council to have any “unsafe” headstones laid flat in case they fall on a child playing there…..

So with is in mind, I went over to the heavy marble headstone (two inches thick, three feet wide and five feet high), held it by the top and kicked away the tree branch. I lowered it toward me, back to its original position, as slowly as I could. Had to let it drop the last foot, it was just too heavy. Karen photographed me doing this (that's also Karen's photograph at the beginning of this blog). What a disaster that would have been had a child been playing around it.

Headstone in safer position

From the recent article "Gravestones laid flat in the Capital," in the newspaper, The Scotsman:
MORE than 8000 headstones in Edinburgh cemeteries have been laid flat by council workers following a major safety programme.

In a report to the executive of the city council, he said: "Memorials which have been tested are placed into three categories - require no further inspection for five years, require to be inspected again after 12 months, [or] are so dangerously unstable that they require to be made safe immediately, by laying them flat.

"Wherever possible, we will endeavour to ensure that all memorials no longer standing will be left correctly positioned with the inscription uppermost."

Recent tombstone accidents in the United States:

Recent proactive measures taken against such accidents in Scotland:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Grave of Guitar Maker C.F. Martin ... Almost

This summer, my brother Tim had the great idea to visit the Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. He (traveling south from Wilkes-Barre) would meet my son Christopher and I (traveling north from Philadelphia) in Nazareth to take the tour through the factory. We are a rather musical family - Chris and I both play guitar, while Tim occasionally plays a compact disc player.

Factory worker at Martin Guitars, Nazareth, Pennsylvania
Martin is the manufacturer of the most highly-regarded factory-produced acoustic guitar in the world. They’ve been in business for 180 years – Christian Frederick Martin, Sr. started the company in 1833 when he arrived in America from his native Germany. The company is currently run by C.F. Martin, IV. Martin guitars are extremely expensive. If you play one, you immediately see why. Not only do they sound wonderful, but they look and feel like beautifully crafted objets d’art. At the tour’s end, we were all given souvenir soundhole cutouts from the guitar-making process, probably the only Martin guitar-related item that I could ever afford to own!

So where am I going with this and what does it have to do with cemeteries? Well, I always check out the local cemeteries when I travel, and was surprised to find that Nazareth is basically a small town loaded with cemeteries (which of course will require a follow-up visit!). In fact, there’s one right down the street from the guitar factory at Beil Ave. and North Broad Street - “Schoeneck Moravian” cemetery (which you can see in the photo just beyond the blue sign).

Strange stones in most of these cemeteries – flat thick marble ones, like full sized headstones, but lying down instead of upright. I wonder if this is where they got the idea for memorial parks, with uniform flush-to-the ground markers? These are not flush, though, they stand anywhere from four to eight inches off the ground.

Another local cemetery is Moravian Cemetery (Center and Willow Streets), in which repose the remains of one Lucia Otilia Martin, wife of Christian Frederick Martin, Sr., founder of the company. So, there’s the big tie-in between the Martin Guitar Factory tour and the Cemetery Traveler – the grave of the patriarch’s wife. Must visit. But what about C.F. Martin, Sr. himself? Where doth repose his mortal remains? My guess is right next to his wife, who died a year before him in 1872. But if that's the case, why an unmarked grave? Perhaps instead his body was shipped back to his homeland for burial – Saxony, Germany. Who knows? I tried to get in touch with the company’s current president, C.F. Martin IV, to see if he knows. I received no reply.

So after the wonderful tour of the Martin Guitar factory, Tim, Chris, and I had lunch at the restaurant down the street, across from Schoeneck Moravian Cemetery. I then sprung my request on them to visit the Martin grave, a couple miles away. All were game. Then I popped out the piece of paper with the photo of her grave from the Find-a-Grave website. I showed it to them saying, “I don’t know how big the cemetery is or how easy it will be to find this, but maybe you guys can help. I promise if it takes more than twenty minutes, I’ll give up.” My compatriots were ok with that, bless their souls. So we drove off and found Moavian Cemetery with little trouble.

My car parked in Nazareth, PA's Moravian Cemetery
It’s an interesting visual – cemetery on a hillside. Blazing hot August sun, around 4 pm. Drove my car up the main cemetery road to about mid-terrace, and pulled in to a crossroad. I stopped my car, my brother pulling his car in behind mine. I rolled down the windows and stepped out onto the grass, Chris getting out the passenger side. As I began to announce my plan for finding the grave to those gathered before me, I felt a sharp sting on my ankle. I thought there was a picker bush so I looked down. At the same time as I saw all the hornets swarming out of the hole in the ground next to my foot, I felt two more stings under my arm (I assume I was waving said arms wildly at the time, allowing the little buggers easy access to my more tender parts)!

Did I mention that since it was so hot that day, I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved Black Sabbath t-shirt? Yeow! I ran around my car and jumped into the passenger seat, over the shifter and jammed the key in the ignition – had to get the windows up! Oh, man, those stings started to REALLY hurt!

Son Chris and brother Tim searching Moravian Cemetery, Nazareth, PA
I got out of the car, manufacturing new curse words as I grabbed my camera and began to instruct Chris and Tim about how we would fan out and look for the Martin grave. As we began walking, I could not BELIEVE how these three bee stings hurt! Omigod! And to think some people get themselves stung regularly for medicinal purposes or worse - those bizarre tribal rituals involving hundreds of bee stings ….

I really had no idea whether we would actually find the Martin grave – every stone in the place looked exactly the same! And everything was flat, so you actually had to look down at every stone to read it – no cursory glancing around. So I was rather amazed when I found the stone in about five minutes. Snapped a few photos and that was it – the grave of Lucia Otilia Martin (formerly Kühle), the matriarch of Martin Guitars. (Oddly, the Martin website refers to her as "Ottilie Lucia Kühle.") My quest was successful and I got to spend a fun day with my son and brother (at least until the bees got involved). Those stings hurt for DAYS afterward!

Epilogue - A Bit of History

Lucia Otilia Martin's grave marker
So, I’ve been flipping this “Moravian” term around like I know what I’m talking about. The Internet tells me that Moravia was one of the “historical countries” (meaning it no longer exists) of Eastern Europe. The area is now Czechoslovakia. The Moravian Church is one of the Protestant denominations (ref.).

Nazareth, Pennsylvania was founded in 1740 by Germans, and was “… specifically Moravian by charter. Outside faiths were not allowed to purchase property within Nazareth, a basically all German Protestant community.” (ref.) Nazareth itself was named after the Biblical town where Jesus Christ was born. There’s a great holiday gift shop on the outskirts of town where you can buy gift baskets loaded with beef sticks, farmer’s cheese, crackers, and the like – the place is called “Cheeses of Nazareth.” (I just made that up – sorry, couldn’t resist!)

References and Further Reading:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Yom Kippur and Jews in the Confederate Army

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, it is somehow appropriate to relay this story of recognition, given 150 years after the fact. A few weeks ago (August 2013), I witnessed (for me, anyway) a most unusual event: the formal recognition of a Jewish Confederate soldier, buried in Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel Cemetery. On the grave of Sgt. Julian Camden Levy was placed a "U.S. Confederate Veteran" medallion and flag by the "Sons of Confederate Veterans, Lt. General John C. Pemberton Camp #2060, Philadelphia, PA." GPS coordinates were taken and entered into the database by the Graves Registrar for the organization.

It might surprise you to know that Jews fought in the American Civil War. It may also surprise you that not every Confederate veteran is buried in the South, and not every Union veteran is buried in the North.

Philadelphia’s Congregation Mikveh Israel Cemetery (Beth Hahayim) “Number Two,” as it is sometimes called, is located at Eleventh and Federal Streets in South Philadelphia. Number One, the original congregation cemetery established in 1740 (and the “oldest tangible evidence of Jewish communal life in Philadelphia” (ref.), is located at Eighth and Spruce Streets. Number Three, which is the one with more recent burials, is located at 55th and Market Streets.

As the congregation grew and more space was needed for burials, more space had to be purchased at various distances from the original synagogue. All three burial grounds are kept in fine condition, with grass mowed regularly. All are walled, fenced, and under lock and key. You can only gain access by having the rabbi let you in. 

Rabbi Gabbai unlocking gate to Mikveh Israel Cemetery
A few weeks ago, my friend Sam Ricks, Graves Registrar for the Pennsylvania Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told me he was planning to visit Mikveh Israel Cemetery Number Two to install a veteran marker and flag on the grave of a Jewish Confederate Civil War veteran. I asked if I could tag along. Graciously, he said yes. So on a hot sunny August afternoon, Sam and I met Rabbi Albert Gabbai at the gate. In the photo above, the gate is being unlocked by the Rabbi and Sam is at right. The small cemetery is in the middle of a residential neighborhood in South Philadelphia (near my house), with a school on one side (Andrew Jackson Elementary).

Sgt. Levy's unmarked grave (large flat stone in ground)
Sam Ricks volunteers his time identifying and marking the graves of Confederate veterans buried in the Philadelphia area. Why would there be Confederate veterans buried north of the Mason-Dixon Line? Well, in the case of Julian Levy, he fought for the Confederacy with the Alabama Infantry, and was killed in action in Virginia in 1862. His body was brought north in 1899 to be buried with his parents, who were Philadelphia residents. Not unusual, as I am led to believe. (Prior to the war, Levy was a cotton merchant in Mobile, Alabama.)

Sam Ricks posting Confederate flag
Until I met Sam Ricks, I always thought that Northern and Southern sensibilities ran deep and along very tight boundaries. Naively, I assumed entire families were either for or against slavery. It never occurred to me that a son would fight for the Confederacy while the parents lived in Philadelphia and may have been abolitionists. I also assumed that all Union veterans were from Northern states and were therefore buried in the North, and that all Confederate veterans were from Southern states and were therefore buried in the South. Amazing how much you can learn by hanging around cemeteries!

The school kids on the other side of the wall (shown in the photo above) learned a bit about cemeteries that day. The cemetery is typically locked and no one can get inside. While we were there, a basketball flew over the stone wall onto the grass at Sam's feet. He promptly picked it up and tossed it back over the wall! I'm sure the kids in the schoolyard were surprised!

Sergeant Levy does not have a government-issued “CSA” (Confederate States of America) headstone (his is the large flush-to-the-ground marble gravestone, the inscription on which is barely legible). One reason might be the reluctance of Northerners to draw attention to that fact that he fought for the Confederacy. Personally, I am wondering how long the Southern Cross flag will continue to wave over Levy’s grave in this little Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. (A month after Sam installed it, it is still there.)

Further Reading and Reference:

Read more about Sergeant Julian Levy here.
Mikveh Israel Website  


From the Sons of Confederate Veterans Website:

Grave of Sgt. Julian Levy, CSA (Mikveh Israel Cemetery, Philadelphia)
"In 1896, the Sons of Confederate Veterans was founded by the veterans and progeny of veterans who fought in the War Between the States. The Sons of Confederate Veterans was established as, and remains, an independent organization that supports the protection and preservation of Confederate heritage. Current members are descendants of the original defenders of Confederate heritage, and are not aligned or affiliated with any other organization."