Friday, August 28, 2015

The "White Light" and the Atlantis Society

I’ve long been fascinated with the idea of burial at sea – the ocean as your final destination. The act has many romantic and historical connotations. Every once in a while the “Cemetery Traveler” in me will investigate such a service. Apparently, they exist along the east and west coasts of the United States. One such burial at sea operation is The Atlantis Society, on Lido Island of Newport Beach, California.

Atlantis, the (presumed) mythical “lost continent” that sunk into the sea, is presumably where the Atlantis Society got its name. The name itself conjures up Western Society’s profound fascination with the “lost civilization,” the powerful and advanced kingdom that sank, supposedly, into the ocean over the course of a night and a day, around 9,600 B.C. (ref.)

Newport Beach, California, as seen from across the bay on Lido Isle
I was in Newport Beach this past summer and decided to pay a visit to the “White Light,” the yacht used by the Atlantis Society for ocean burials. “White Light,” of course, is a perfect name for the ship that takes you on your final voyage. People who have had near-death experiences sometimes describe seeing a white light and feeling profound calm, which we assume is God, or heaven, or whatever you believe is supposed to greet you in the afterlife. So whatever you believe the “white light” to be – the Heavenly Presence or a neurological REM intrusion (a sensory mix-up as the brain wakes up) – you must admit that it’s a great name for a boat.

White Light, the boat, is typically docked at the far end of the pier at the Lido Village Marina. Lido is a small island off the shore of Newport Beach. To get there you simply drive through the astounding wealth that is Newport Beach – south on Newport Blvd. (California 55 Freeway), to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Cross the PCH (California 1) and turn left at Via Lido (first light across the bridge). You’re now on the tiny island of Lido.

If you know the catchy 1976 Boz Scaggs song, “Lido Shuffle” (here’s a link to it), it will be going through your head as you drive past the palm trees and surfers on the bay. The song, by the way, has nothing to do with Lido Island. However, the lyrics totally describe this extremely affluent area of southern California:

"Lido, oh, oh, oh
He's for the money, he's for the show ..."

I drove across the bridge and made a left onto Via Lido, as the Atlantis Society’s website instructs me to do, then I made a quick left into the public parking structure. The stores and shops along the dock were under construction during my visit, so it was a bit of a challenge finding my way to the bay side where the marina is. Once there, you walk about a city block’s distance to the end of the dock where the “White Light” sign is hung. From a bit away, I saw a fellow hunched down on the deck of a yacht doing some work, and thought this might be the vessel in question.

The "White Light" from the Atlantis Society website

"White Light is a 67 foot LOA Chris Craft Commander, coast guard licensed and certified to carry up to 49 passengers to sea. Roomy, tastefully appointed and fully stabilized, White Light provides the perfect platform for your memorial service. Alcohol can be available upon request as we have a fully licensed and stocked bar." - Atlantis Society website

Unfortunately, the yacht I saw being worked on was the one in the slip NEXT to the empty slip where the White Light should have been. Perhaps it was out performing a burial service. (Burial at sea, as you can see from the AtlantisSociety website, is specifically the “scattering of ashes at sea,” not a full body burial.) I called the phone number on the sign with my cell phone and the gentleman at the other end of the line confirmed my suspicion – the captain had the ship out at sea performing a burial. He would not be back for two hours.

The Service:
"Families choosing to witness the scattering of ashes service will board the vessel at our dock in either Southern California or Washington state. From the berth, the yacht will proceed to a pre-established latitude and longitude."

"Once at that destination, a service is conducted by the Captain or Chaplain as requested followed by a flower toss and our Circle of Tribute. The vessel then cruises back to the dock.
Included in our service are coffee sodas and juices as well as roses for all the guests. Included, upon request, a commemorative certificate which includes the date and location of the final resting place will be mailed to the family." - Atlantis Society website

Should I come back in two hours to see the White Light? Who would disembark? How long would that take? Would that be too voyeuristic on my part? I decided not to wait but rather imagined myself a mourner seated on the “White Light” bench waiting to set out on that last voyage. I wondered what the neighboring yacht owners thought about this – was it like having a cemetery next to your house? The sun was shining, eighty degrees and no humidity - a beautiful day. A young boy was paddling a surfboard across the bay. Calm. I wondered if the mourners on the White Light were dressed in black? How could they even be sad in southern California?

A few years ago I visited with a man who does burials at sea (see link to my blog, "Burials at Sea") and was told that he does not go out to perform the service when the seas are not calm. I imagined all sorts of reasons why, such as safety and comfort to the passengers. What I did not realize until my visit to the Lido Village marina, was that a calm sea in the sunshine is more likely to result in a happy fond farewell. Scattering ashes of the departed by loved ones aboard the White Light should be a focused event, a ritual of closure, maybe even a celebration of life, unmarked by distracting rough seas or bad weather.

The Cost:
Every once in a while one of my Cemetery Travels doesn’t quite end up where I expected. This one ended up mostly in my imagination. Except for the fact that after my return to Philadelphia, I inquired about the price for a burial at sea, performed by the Atlantis Society. For up to six guests the fee is $850.00 and for over six and up to forty-nine the price goes to $985.00. Both are a two-hour service with beverages, roses and a small memorial service.

As I left the dock I walked past a small book shop called Lido Village Books beneath the parking garage. I cannot resist a book shop, especially a non-corporate, non-chainstore operation. Had a nice chat with the proprietor and bought a copy of Stephen King’s autobiographical book, On Writing. King most certainly has thought about the white light and near-death experiences. Regardless, one must admit that “White Light” is a great name for the boat that takes you on your final voyage!

References and Further Reading:
Atlantis Society’s website
Discovery video on seeing "white light" in a near death experience
Things to do on Lido Isle
"Burials at Sea"  Cemetery Traveler blog posting

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Headstones in the Wall

One of my blog readers emailed me this question recently:

“Have you ever seen or do you have any knowledge of a cemetery that has the tombstones set into a cemetery wall? If so, any idea as to the origins of this particular type of tombstone arrangement?”

I have seen this occasionally, and I wanted to share my observations with the wider audience because it is a curious sight, and not very common.You can see one example above.

Stacked, dislocated grave markers
In older graveyards, after headstones have fallen, people will sometimes collect the stones and set them into the cemetery wall, with mortar. My guess is that over the course of decades of collecting fallen stones and propping them against a wall or stacking them up, the corresponding grave locations have been lost. Therefore, the stones cannot be replaced back onto the correct graves.

As a way of preserving the stones (and the history of those interred), at some point people may take it upon themselves to set the stones into a wall. An example is the photo at top, from Philadelphia’s Old Pine Street Church Cemetery, a Colonial-era burying ground at Fourth and Pine Streets. Burials began at Old Pine in 1764, and the grave markers set into the wall are mostly those of 18th and very early 19th century Philadelphians. They were dislocated from their corresponding graves were reset into the wall during a reconstruction project in the 1960s.

Another technique for preserving the headstones which have been separated from their corresponding graves is to set them standing up in mortar as you see below. These stones were reset in 1999 by a group of volunteers. The grave markers had mostly fallen and the small B’nai Israel Burial Ground in Southwest Philadelphia had been neglected and vandalized. This was a way to clean up and create more of a memorial park effect. Headstones were set in concrete around the perimeter of the property. The graveyard had been established in 1856 by the (now defunct) B’nai Israel Congregation (read more about that in my blog post, “Abandoned Jewish Cemeteries.”)

B'nail Israel Burial Ground, Southwest Philadelphia
A possible answer to the original question of why tombstones may be set into a cemetery wall is that a headstone MAY be set into a wall, for instance a church wall, to indicated a burial at that spot. I suppose a wall could be built with provisions for adding grave markers, but you wouldn’t want to be repeatedly digging down to the foundation to bury people.

Reference and Further Reading:
A detail history of the tombstones in the wall of Old Pine Street Burial Ground is given in this wonderful Hidden City article, entitled,
The Tombstone Wall Of Society Hill

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wreaths Across America at Mount Moriah Cemetery

Photograph from Wreaths Across America Website

Historic Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia (incorporated in 1855), has been through some very rough times.  Over the past several decades, the grounds were neglected, used as a dumping ground, and almost forgotten. Since 2011, the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. have been working hard with the help of an army of volunteers to preserve and restore the grounds, educate the public, and assist numerous families in locating the graves of their loved ones.

Naval Asylum Plot, Mount Moriah Cemetery

This 2015 holiday season we want to honor those who helped build this great nation by placing a wreath on every grave in the Soldiers Plot, Naval Asylum Plot, and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion (MOLLUS) Plot.

Wreath program description:

December 13, 2008 was unanimously voted by the US Congress as “Wreaths Across America Day.” -

From the Wreaths Across America website:

In 2014, Wreaths Across America and our national network of volunteers laid over 700,000 memorial wreaths at 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond. We were able to include ceremonies at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites if the September 11 tragedies. We accomplished this with help from 2047 fundraising groups, corporate contributions, and donations of trucking, shipping, and thousands of helping hands.  Our goal of covering Arlington National Cemetery was accomplished in 2014 with the placement of 226,525 wreaths.

Civil War Soldiers' Plot, Mount Moriah Cemetery

On a local note, The Soldiers Plot at Mount Moriah is located on the Philadelphia side of the cemetery and is the final resting place for more than 400 Civil War Soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.  The Naval Asylum Plot is located on the Yeadon side of the cemetery and is the final resting place of more than 2,200 Navy and Marine veterans, some of whom go back to the earliest periods of our nation's history.  The cemetery has 23 Medal of Honor recipients with 15 being interred in the Naval Asylum Plot (one of whom is a double recipient). 

"The Silent Sentry"
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. will also be honoring those who are interred within the Military Order of the Loyal Legion (MOLLUS) Plot (Yeadon side near Naval Asylum). Within this plot there are 96 soldiers who fought for freedom and who either died violently in America's bloodiest war or, as in other veterans’ cemeteries, survived to live out their lives in peace before being buried in this Civil War Veteran's plot of ground. (Photo at left shows statue that originally stood guard over MOLLUS Plot.)

More information on these sections and the cemetery as a whole can be found on the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery's website which is located at

Young researchers in the Naval Asylum Plot, Mount Moriah Cemetery
Please help us honor the true American heroes at Philadelphia/Yeadon’s Mount Moriah Cemetery by helping us place a wreath on each of these 2,800 graves. We are working with Wreaths Across America to accomplish this goal. This is the same organization that delivers wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery every year. It is estimated that there are over 5,000 veterans throughout the cemetery.  It is our goal to honor all of them with a wreath in the future. This year we will start by honoring those in the Naval Asylum Plot, Soldiers Plot, and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion (MOLLUS) plot.

Help us honor those who gave so much and support the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery at the same time.

Image from Wreaths Across America Website

The mission of Wreaths Across America:

“Our mission, Remember, Honor, Teach, is carried out in part by coordinating wreath laying ceremonies a specified Saturday in December at Arlington [National Cemetery], as well as veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond. We also organize a week of events including international veteran’s tributes, ceremonies at State Houses and a week-long “Veteran’s Parade” between Maine and Virginia where we stop along the way to spread our message about the importance of remembering our fallen heroes, honoring those who serve, and teaching our children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families to preserve our freedoms.” - See more at:

"WAA is committed to teaching younger generations about the value of their freedoms, and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms. We offer learning tools, interactive media projects, and opportunities for youth groups to participate in our events. We also work to create opportunities to connect “the Greatest Generation” with the “Generation of Hope”. The inspirational stories of our World War II Veterans must be passed on to the leaders of the future." - See more at:

Reenactors in Naval Asylum Plot, Mount Moriah Cemetery

The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Mount Moriah Cemetery by honoring the memory of those interred here through community engagement, education, historic research, and restoration.

Disclaimer: Most of what you have read above is either from the Wreaths Across America website or the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. page on the Wreaths Across America website. Except for those indicated, the photographs were made by Ed Snyder. Thanks as always to the indefatigable Ken Smith of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. for his mighty efforts.