|Entrance to Graceland Cemetery, Yeadon, Pennsylvania|
Graceland, that full city block-sized, um, field in Yeadon, Pennsylvania supposedly has thousands of United States veterans of many wars buried beneath its grass. The place looks like one of those memorial parks with the flush-to-the-ground grave markers – except there very few grave markers of any kind. On this Memorial Day in 2013, the bare flag poles behind the entrance sign stare at you in mute witness to what had been and what might have been. Honestly, if it were not for the oddly striking white marble monuments scattered here and there across the field, you would think it was just a park.
Graceland, which was established in 1774, has been referred to as North Mount Moriah Cemetery since around 1895. This was due mainly to its geographic proximity to the much larger Mount Moriah Cemetery (established in 1855), which is about a half mile away. Graceland was not, and is not part of Mount Moriah Cemetery. It has, however, been known by other names, e.g. Buren Hill Cemetery and Sylvan Memorial Park.
|Civil War headstone lying in Graceland Cemetery|
Some burial records exist, but not all. As the entrance sign indicates, Graceland is home to an “unknown number of civilian burials.” On the Delaware County History website, a few hundred names are listed. Among them, eleven veterans. If the records exist, the federal government can be petitioned to have new grave markers made to be placed on these veterans’ graves. If worn stones exist, they will be replaced for free. Why the town of Yeadon has not requisitioned the federal government for new stones for the veterans’ graves is beyond me. According to these records, the locations of eleven veterans’ graves are known, based on a 1936 survey of the remaining headstones.
This 1938 account of the burial situation indicates that the body count of veteran “soldiers” is closer to 5600. It goes on to state “Many of the old stones have been damaged and carried away and broken by the boys who frequent the cemetery as a play-field. Others have been used to form a wall at the rear of the cemetery. I should judge about fifty of the old fashioned marble, three inches thick type, made up the wall.” According to court documents, the Borough of Yeadon condemned the cemetery in 1964 because it was a “public nuisance.” It was closed to future burials and most of the head stones were removed. I assume the handful of large marble and granite monuments still on the grounds were left there simply because they were too large to move.
|One of a handful of lone monuments left in Graceland Cemetery|
On my first journey out to this place where the journey of so many others ended, I instinctively began walking toward the distant corner of the cemetery field, toward a lone eight-foot marble obelisk. Too preoccupied with the surrounding rowhomes (and their quaint graffiti), I hadn’t noticed the stubs of white marble sticking out of the grass here, there, everywhere. You can see that the grounds were at one time densely populated with headstones and other grave markers. White marble nubs, headstone bases, and an occasional section marker are scattered all over the field, flush with the ground. The stones that stick up more than an inch have been clipped and worn by the blades of riding mowers. The grass is cut routinely here, I assume by the town. At least this form of respect continues to be afforded the dead.
Graceland is supposedly the home of reinterred bodies from various condemned cemeteries in Philadelphia (Macpelah in South Philly and Hanover Cemetery in Kensington, to name two). By 1938, Graceland still had an owner, but the property was not taken care of. Headstones were stolen and smashed. “By the time Yeadon took over the care of the cemetery, many of the stones had already been stolen or broken throughout years of neglect and were piled to the side or were decorating neighborhood gardens.”
|Lone monument on the edge of Graceland Cemetery|
Whether there are 5600 veterans buried at Graceland, or even 1600, or just eleven, can we at least mark the eleven known graves of our war veterans? Flush-to-the-ground memorial plaques would not impede the grass-cutting.
|Naval Plot, Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia|
References and Acknowledgements:
Wounded Warrior Project
Thanks to Robert Hobdell for historical information.