Saturday, April 25, 2015

Civil War Nurse Mary Brady's Headstone Found!

Joey Reilly plants flowers before the grave stones he helped discover (Photo FOMMCI)
On March 28, 2015, “Park Day,” the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. (FOMMCI) sponsored a cleanup and restoration event in this sprawling, formerly abandoned cemetery (you can read about the history of Mount Moriah at the website link at the end). America’s national “Park Day,” is sponsored by the Civil War Trust, and while it is mainly about saving historic Civil War battlefields, it also encompasses related historic sites. Mount Moriah Cemetery is sacred in that hundreds of Civil War soldiers and sailors are interred here.


Volunteers clearing Section 27 of Mount Moriah Cemetery

On March 28, 2015, “Park Day,” the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. sponsored a cleanup and restoration event in this sprawling, formerly abandoned cemetery (you can read about the history of Mount Moriah at the link at the end).  America’s  national “Park Day,” is sponsored by the Civil War Trust, and while it is mainly about saving historic Civil War battlefields, it also encompasses related historic sites. Mount Moriah Cemetery is sacred in that hundreds of Civil War soldiers and sailors are interred here. 


Joe and Joe Reilly Jr. beginning their day at Mount Moriah

I planned to photograph some of the events and projects going on that day, which included tours, searching for visitors’ ancestors’ graves, and various brush-cutting and raking endeavors. Section 27 on the Philadelphia side of the cemetery was the designated area for the latter, and scores of volunteers showed up to help clear weeds and other dead vegetation. This was one of the last opportunities to tackle these plants, as everything would be greening up soon. The live plants are more difficult to cut back, the leaves and vines hide headstones, and springtime ushers back the deer ticks and poison ivy.

Volunteers felling and chipping trees near the Circle of St. John

Section 27 is just below the Masonic Circle of Saint John (click link to map, which indicates the density of overgrowth in all sections of Mount Moriah Cemetery). Early in the day, as I was hiking up to the Circle to see what all the chain saw noise was about (volunteers felling trees), I noticed a young boy and his Dad pulling tools out of their car and setting up to cut weeds near the lower end of Section 27, near the road.  I interviewed them for a bit and took some photos. Joe Reilly, Sr., said he had brought his ten-year-old son to Mount Moriah a couple times and the youngster really enjoyed the landscaping work. As Joe Jr., Joey, went at the weeds with clippers, I could see he was really charged up.

Joey Reilly beginning to clear weeds from around the Brady headstone
 I knew that about thirty feet up the hill was the grave of volunteer Civil War nurse Mary Brady (1821 – 1864), which had been cleared last year but now had weeds growing all around it. I offered to show the Reillys her grave and suggested that, with this being Park Day - when we focus on Civil War-related historic sites - perhaps they would like to clear the area around her grave. They were both enthusiastic about this so we grabbed their tools and walked up the hill.

 From the Civil War Trust website

"Since 1996, the Civil War Trust has sponsored Park Day, an annual hands-on preservation event to help Civil War — and now Revolutionary War — battlefields and historic sites take on maintenance projects large and small. Activities are chosen by each participating site to meet their own particular needs and can range from raking leaves and hauling trash to painting signs and trail buildings." 

Joe and Joey Reilly, after having cleared the area around the Brady headstone

As I showed the Reillys the Brady head stone, Joey started poking in the dirt with a small shovel exposing pieces of marble. He asked me what this was. I explained to him that over the years, grave markers and parts of monuments fall and are buried by natural soil erosion. I told him that what he was poking at might very well be a headstone of someone in Mary Brady’s family. I left them to explore as I went off to photograph other events in different sections of the grounds.


Joey Reilly examines the headstone of the Brady children
About an hour later I stopped back to see their progress, and to do a “before and after” photo. To my surprise, Joey had unearthed a regulation-size marble headstone, lying on its back a few inches below the surface. I took a brush and swept some dirt off the top of the inscription, and saw the last name “Brady.” I congratulated them and told that they found the headstone of a member of Mary Brady’s family.  Joey was beaming! They had uncovered the headstone of Eward Brady, Mary's husband.

Civil War Nurse Mary Brady's original headstone; 1990s-era replacement stone at rear (photo FOMMCI)

At the time, I told them not to try and lift the stone themselves, but to go get one of the Friends of Mount Moriah volunteers to work with them. I had to leave then to go photograph the tour of the Naval Asylum plot and left the cemetery after that. You can imagine my surprise when I saw this photo (immediately above) on the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Facebook page the next day! The Reillys uncovered two headstones – one that marked the grave of Edward Brady and another that marked the graves of their children. At some point after the Reillys had gone, Ken Smith, Treasurer of the Friends, along with other volunteers raised and secured these, along with an even more fascinating stone.

Ken Smith uncovers Mary Brady's original headstone (photo FOMMCI)
In the words of Paulette Rhone, President of the volunteer Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.:
 
"As if the day could not get any better, it did. After the headstones for the family of Mary Brady were unearthed, we knew that she must have one too. Well, you know Ken [Smith] was bound and determined to find it and he did. Civil War nurse Mary Brady's original headstone is now standing tall with the rest of her family. Mike Comfort did the honor of placing the flag. It just doesn't get much better than that for Civil War Park Day!"

Hat’s off to Joe Reilly Sr. for providing his son with the opportunity to rediscover American history in such a personal way! And for giving us all a prime example of one of the things that can happen to headstones in a cemetery. For whatever reason – ground subsidence, vandalism, etc. – a headstone may fall. Over the years, it may get buried with leaves, silt, mud from water runoff, etc. Eventually, it may only be a few inches below the surface, but to the naked eye, it has disappeared. Unless documentation exists that a stone was there, no one can be sure if there ever was one placed. One could also assume the grave marker was stolen, or even that the grave was relocated.

When the 28th Pennsylvania Historical Association of the Sons of Union Veterans decided to honor Mary Brady’s memory in the 1990s by having a new grave marker carved and installed, it probably did not occur to them that the original stone lay but a few inches underground. Today, the original stands proudly before the substitute, but oddly, bearing different dates! The original shows Brady's life dates as 1821-1864, while the original shows 1822-1864. Ah, the mysteries of cemeteries ….. !

Volunteer Mike Comfort places flag before Mary Brady's newly-raised headstone (Photo: FOMMCI)

References and Further Reading:
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Website
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.
Facebook Group Page
Civil War Trust Park Day link

3 comments:

  1. I have photographic proof that Mary was found years before that and you took the pictures!

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  2. Well done to all involved that day. Mary Brady was a great lady and deserves to be remembered.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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