On a weekend in mid-February, after a particularly grueling week of shoveling and navigating the near-death experience (as I’ve come to refer to my car, as it has bald tires), I needed a few hours relief. What better way to spend it than languorously strolling a cemetery in the snow, snapping a few photos here and there? Well, as my readers are well aware, I do nothing simply. (Also, I never snap just a few photos!) So I decided to drive out to the abandoned Jewish cemetery in the hilly woods of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania (a northwestern suburb of Philadelphia).
|Headstones in the woods in Gladwyne, PA.'s abandoned Jewish cemetery|
One thing I realized fairly quickly as I set out this winter to photograph cemeteries in their snowy glory: I do not own a 4-wheel-drive vehicle! Almost got stuck a few times with my car, so my access was usually by foot. Which has been relatively painful with the deep snow, wind and cold! I envy those who can just do a drive-through and shoot out the window! (You can read about some of my trials and tribulations in the Cemetery Traveler blog posting, “Have You Fallen in the Last Week?”)
Anyhow, Gladwyne was no exception. While the roads out to the Main Line (of Philadelphia) were clear of snow, potholes abounded! It was like dodging moon craters on City Avenue. When I finally made it through the twisting, turning roads of Conshohocken State Road into the area of the Har Ha Zetim Cemetery (see this past blog for specific directions as well as a history of the cemetery), I found the hilly private driveway covered in snow. One attempt, made it halfway. Second attempt, made it to the first house and lost momentum on the turn. Bald front tires on my turbo Saab did not help the effort. (“Winter” mode when selected on the traction console warns me that I have lost traction. Indeed, my front wheels are spinning and I’m not moving. I didn’t really need an illuminated dashboard indicator to tell me that.)
|Cemetery lies to left of private tennis court off Conshohocken State Road|
|Cemetery is up over the hill at left|
I drove up the road looking for a place to park, but the plowed snow barricaded any of that. About a quarter mile away was the synagogue, Beth David, which has taken ownership of Har Ha Zetim. Maybe I could park there? No, too far away, and no sidewalks here! I figured I’d give it one more chance: shoot up the driveway to the cemetery and gun it around the bend and try to make it further up the hill. As I was doing this, I kind of figured the pull-off to the overgrown entrance to the cemetery would not be plowed, and I was right. I continued up the hill toward the two houses further up. This is a private drive, but there is an easement for access to the cemetery, which is a holdover from bygone days when there were horseback riding trails here.
|Cemetery entrance off access road|
With each laborious footfall, however, a new snowy scene presented itself. The shapes and shadows of the grim, abandoned graveyard in the woods greeted me in all directions. It was so difficult breaking through the snow that I probably spent more time than usual photographing each dramatic gravescape. I tried following the jackrabbit tracks so I wouldn’t crash through the snow with every step, but they trailed off into the denser woods. At one point I almost fell over backward as I lost my balance while composing this scene with the old brick crypt!
After about twenty minutes of plodding down the hill into the ravine (where the headstones and cradle graves become more densely crowded), I realized that I was lugging about forty pounds of camera gear with me. If I didn’t have that weight, would I still break through the icy crust? I stripped myself of the camera bags and lo and behold, I could walk on the surface of the snow! It was strong enough to bear my two hundred pounds! Great. Now what? Leave my gear in the snow? That was a failed experiment. I picked up all my cameras and plunged further on down through the woods!
|Acres and acres of graves fade into the distant forest|
Gaiters would have been nice. Since the foot of snow below the crust was powdery, my socks filled with snow as my pant legs were pulled up by the ice layer with each heavy step. Sigh. Maybe this is why they call it artWORK– because it sometimes takes a lot of WORK to create it! At least it wasn’t cold, about thirty-eight degrees. However, this was way more work than I expected. But it paid off. This trip was worth the effort on so many levels.
You know how you might spend a period of time on a shoot and then - Eureka! you instantly realize that that was the shot you were after!? Your hard work just paid off with the success of that single image! I regained control from my imagination and set to climbing out of Har Ha Zetim with that thought. I left the memory of the hard work and exhaustion buried back there in snow.
Read more about Gladwyne's abandoned Jewish cemetery in the Cemetery Traveler blog posting: Passover and Gladwyne's Abandoned Jewish Cemetery