|May 2015 image of lower portion of cemetery, cleared of weeds|
The good news, however, is that yet another (in my fifteen-years’ experience as a cemetery traveler) abandoned cemetery has been reclaimed! The cemetery in question is the 18-acre (by some estimates) abandoned Jewish cemetery in the woods of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia).
|Brick crypt in Har Hasetim Cemetery|
Any information available on the cemetery via the Internet is sparse, and in some cases inaccurate. I must confess that I added to the wealth of misinformation with the title of my first blog on the cemetery, "Passover and Gladwyne's Abandoned Jewish Cemetery." As I mentioned above, although a graveyard may appear unkempt, it does not necessarily mean it has been abandoned. Har Hasetim actually became the property of Gladwyne's Beth David Reformed Congregation in 1999. The most complete history of Har Hasetim has just been published in the Spring 2015 issue of "Chronicles," the Journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia (Vol. 32 - 1). The article, written by Philadelphia's LandHealth Institute member Rachael Griffith and Beth David Executive Director Jill Cooper, is entitled, A New Era for an Abandoned Jewish Cemetery (past issues are available at this link online).
Back in 1999, the courts ruled that nearby Beth David Reformed Congregation be granted ownership of Har Hasetim, as the cemetery was facing a land development threat. Since its inception in 1895, Har Hasetim changed ownership a few times, and has faced a number of challenges. Since 1999, Beth David has kept the cemetery intact, and has reached the point where a master plan for the property will soon be adopted. The plan is being created with the help of LandHealth Institute. Details of the plan will be made public in the near future. The people directly involved with the care of the cemetery are members of Beth David's "Friends of Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery," a non-profit company (click here to go to the Friends website).
Since forming in 2012, the Friends of Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery has done much genealogical research (a list of a thousand names from the burial records appears on their new website). Working to publish these names as well as publishing the concise and accurate history of the cemetery (Spring 2015 "Chronicles" article) satisfies the curiosity of many and fills in some of the gaps of Jewish history in the Greater Philadelphia region. I, for one, did not know that Philadelphia had many Jewish burial associations, which owned plots at Har Hasetim for the purpose of providing "poor Jewish immigrants with a proper burial according to Jewish law" (1). This explains all of the pieces of rusting iron fencing throughout the property. Also shocking are the documented attempts by land developers over the years to build on the cemetery grounds. In 1912, when Har Hasetim had fallen on hard financial times, a Narberth, PA, contractor purchased a majority of the land at sheriff's sale and disinterred an estimated half of the bodies before he was stopped.
Tucked among the homes and estates of Gladwyne is a gem of an historic cemetery, as well as a hidden haven for nature, the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery. Beth David Reform Congregation of Gladwyne has been tasked to maintain it, and the Friends of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery has plans to restore it. This Sunday, May 17th, we will be cleaning up the cemetery by removing the dead wood, overgrown weeds, and invasive plants. Meet at Beth David at 12:30pm, 1130 Vaughan Lane, Gladwyne PA 19035 (proceed to the very end of the lane). Wear appropriate clothing including stable footwear, jeans, and work or gardening gloves. Bring hand tools for weeding and clearing such as rakes and clippers. Additional tools will be available for those who need them.
1. Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia, Vol. 32 - 1, Spring 2015 (http://jgsgp.org/Pages/chronicles.html)