Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tombstone Faces

So here’s a creepy idea for Halloween – “Tombstone Faces!” Cemeteries can be uncomfortable places for many people, and when you’re in one by yourself and you come upon something like the scene at left, well, it can be downright unnerving. This fellow was in a century-old neglected graveyard in Camden, New Jersey. It’s origin? A stone fence post for a family plot. There’s always an explanation ....

Even His Headstone Cried
Or is there? Sometimes, the stones themselves seem to take on uncannily human features. With the bird droppings on this stone above, the “face” actually appears to be crying. This may be its reaction to the Christ Church Burial Ground people in Philadelphia charging ADMISSION to this Revolutionary War-era graveyard near Independence Hall. I’m going to guess the “eyes” you see were a result of fasteners that once held a plaque of some sort.

Cemetery face, Baltimore National Cemetery

Cemeteries usually put on their best face for the public, but what if the “face” is actually a cleverly rendered likeness within a statue? In this Civil War monument in Baltimore (photo above), I did not notice the face beneath the fallen soldier’s head (the pillow or headrest) until many weeks after my visit. Was the “face” intentionally carved as part of the marble sculpture? I was looking at my printed photograph weeks after my visit when I saw the face (yes, children, I made this image back when us old-timers used something called “film”). Is the “face” actually supposed to be there, or is it just a trick of shadows? Perhaps it is the result of acid rain on marble?

Another such occurrence was this statue I found in the Italian Club Cemetery in Ybor City, near Tampa, Florida. The child figure was small, maybe sixteen inches high. I did not see the large face at the time I made the photograph at right (this image was quite digital, thank you), as I was concentrating on the child's face. So is that an intentionally-carved weirdly happy monster face posing as the pedestal in the scene? You tell me.

Walter Matthau from www.fanpop.com

Then there are the eroded faces like the one you see above (the stone carving at left, I mean). Perhaps they were once something attractive. A hundred or more years later, they become what we humans become after we have shuffled off this mortal coil – shriveled, distorted shades of our former selves. I’m thinking this old gnarly Walter Matthau-like face (at left) was once that of a sweet youthful cherub. We all age; everything ages – even the graveyards and gravestones that mark our passing.

"The Scream!"

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Please Explore this Abandoned Jewish Cemetery!

Over the past few years, I have written in my Cemetery Traveler blog about a formerly abandoned Jewish cemetery in the woods of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania (this is a northwestern suburb of Philadelphia). The location and status of the graveyard (which was active from about 1860 to 1945) has perplexed people for years. Simply finding it has been the biggest challenge for most people. After you see the eighteen acres of hills and valleys peppered with thousands of old gravestones, monuments, and rusty fencing, you cannot help but wonder, “What’s the story here?

Unusual zinc ("white bronze") cradle crave marker

Well, this weekend you have an opportunity to find out! Gladwyne’s Beth David Reform Congregation, the current owners of what is known as Har Ha Zetim Cemetery, will provide a tour and information session. If you’re curious, please come by! I will be attending. If you’d like to help at some point in the future, that’s even better. Here is Beth David's announcement:

Sunday in the Cemetery
Sunday, Oct. 25th, 2015
2 - 4 pm

This unique behind-the-scenes tour will provide insight into the historical, cultural, and spiritual significance of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery as well as the complex tasks involved in transforming this formerly abandoned site into a woodland memorial park.  Led by a group of local experts, we'll discuss a variety of topics relevant to the cemetery's revitalization including headstone restoration, gravestone mapping and database creation, and restoring the cemetery's rich forest ecology. Guides include Rachel Wolgemuth, historian and database manager at West Laurel Hill, Carol Yaster, President of the Board of the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery, Scott Quitel, ecologist and Founder of LandHealth Institute, and Bill Doran, superintendent of Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Meet in the parking lot of Beth David Reform Congregation by 2 pm. We will walk over to the cemetery via the Bridlewild trail and Conshohocken State Road to experience first-hand current state of cemetery access. Alternatively, vehicles will be available to shuttle participants to the cemetery. After the tour, please join us for afternoon tea in Beth David's living room for an informal question and answer session. Here you can view the master plan for the cemetery and find out how you can get involved.  

To register, please email Jill Cooper at jcooper@bdavid.org.

 Beth David Reform Congregation 
1130 Vaughan Lane
Gladwyne, PA  19035

Veteran's grave at Har Ha Zetim Cemetery

Another good reason to stop by is that the foliage is beginning to die off so you will get a better appreciation for the expansiveness of the cemetery, and the work that has been accomplished by volunteers. Invasive foliage as been cleared and paths have been laid out. For more information on Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne, PA, please see website:  http://www.bdavid.org/ 

Same graves in fall and winter

For some background, here are the three blogs I’ve previously posted on Har Ha Zetim Cemetery: 

May 15, 2015
A New Era for Abandoned Jewish Cemetery

 March 9, 2014
Graves Beneath the Snow

 April 6, 2012
Passover and Gladwyne's Abandoned Jewish Cemetery

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Active Shooter

Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon (https://uk.news.yahoo.com)
This week’s Cemetery Traveler blog post has nothing (directly) to do with cemeteries, but everything to do with death. A week prior to me writing this (October 1, 2015), a crazed gunman opened fire on students in a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Nine people were killed and then the gunman, Mr. Chris Harper-Mercer, killed himself.

A couple days later I’m freaked out when my kindergartner excitedly tells me: "We're having an “Active Shooter" drill tomorrow!" She proceeds to relate, in chilling detail, how they are to proceed during such an event. “We are to go to the back of the room, be quiet, and lie down. Our teacher will lock the door.

I'm rattled enough from that and then today (October 6, 2015), the media alerts us to the fact that “A social media post over the weekend threatens violence against a ... Philadelphia-area college/university Monday afternoon" (Published by NBC Monday, Oct. 5, 2015). All institutions of higher learning are placed on alert. I am employed full-time by a Philadelphia university and I also work part-time at Community College of Philadelphia, which is in center city near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"Shelter in place in Progress" (Ref.)
About 11 a.m. on October 6, I received a cell phone message from Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), where I was scheduled to teach that evening. The college is on lock-down due to a gunman on campus. After several more updates, I receive the message around 11:30 a.m. that "The suspect has been apprehended." On television, this brings a big sigh of relief. However, the message did little to calm me down. Just what the fuck is going on in the world?

I received another message stating that classes for the evening were cancelled. On one hand, I didn’t have to teach that night. On the other hand, I began to think about when I was a kid, when the only time school was cancelled was when you had a “Snow Day.” Now we’ve got “Shooter Day.” When I drove home after work, I heard on the news that the reason why the college was still on lock down was because police still hadn’t found the gun. Marvelous.

Here’s the message I found on CCP’s website when I got home:
“College’s Main Campus is closed effective immediately. The West, Northwest and Northeast Regional Centers are open. Exit campus in a calm, orderly fashion. Normal class schedules and business operations resume Wednesday. Get updates at www.ccp.edu or @CCPedu.”
Community College of Philadelphia under happier circumstances

Turned out the situation at Community College of Philadelphia was simply an act of RANDOM violence - an argument between two students; one supposedly had a gun. So it was unrelated to the “social media posting which threatened violence at a Philadelphia-area college or university for Monday, October 5” (ref.). We still have that to look forward to, then? On October 8, 2015, there was actually another shooting on a college campus - this time in Arizona (see link), where one student was killed. I mean, seriously, people, what the fuck is going on?

While the shootings in Oregon seemed to be related to religion (people who admitted they were Christian were shot in the head), the Community College of Philadelphia incident was essentially just an argument between two male students."These are two individuals who have a history," [Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey] said. "They were arguing over something. At some point in time this individual pulls a gun on the other — not uncommon in Philadelphia, unfortunately." (Ref.)
Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, killed himself after fatally shooting nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. (The Guardian)

This alert published by NBCPhiladelphia.com: may just be the wave of the future, in which "Snow Days" are replaced by "Shooter Days" in our schools:

“Out of an abundance of caution, the FBI Philadelphia Field Office notified local colleges and universities of a social media posting which threatened violence at a Philadelphia-area college or university for Monday, October 5,” the agency said in a statement.

“No specific college or university was identified in the posting. We encourage students, faculty, and employees at area colleges and universities to follow the guidance of their campus security officials. The FBI will continue to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to investigate threats of violence, and, as always, we ask the public to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Friends and Family Day at Mount Moriah Cemetery: Oct. 10, 2015

Philadelphia's Mount Moriah Cemetery celebrates its 160th Anniversary with Friends and Families on Saturday, October 10, 2015 from 10:00 am until 2 pm. The address is 6201 Kingsessing Ave, Phila., PA. Come out and enjoy the day! 

Thousands have helped bring Pennsylvania's largest cemetery back from overgrown abandonment since the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. began coordinating restoration efforts in 2011. Come out and meet your co-workers! Meet that guy you saw with the chainsaw! What's his deal? Talk with the gal on the riding mower! Meet members of the Friends and the Mount Moriah Preservation Corporation.We all have something in common: the desire to honor and respect those who came before us.

Friends and Families Festival 2013
Friends and Families Day is our way of saying "THANK YOU!" to the thousands of volunteers and contributors who have helped us make great progress at Mount Moriah Cemetery (both Philadelphia and Yeadon sides) throughout the year. Join us as we celebrate the many accomplishments of 2015 on this 160th Anniversary of Mount Moriah (the cemetery was incorporated in 1855).

If you have not been to Mount Moriah for a few months (or more), you will be surprised at how much ground our volunteers have taken back from Mother Nature! entire sections that were overgrown this past spring are now cleared of trees and the grass is mowed! Fall is also a fine opportunity to see and photograph the hidden monuments and other memorials as the foliage begins to disappear. Enjoy the natural setting, see the wildlife and exotic flowers and trees, appreciate the history. Many areas are still overgrown, but soon, you will be able to see through the forest. Oh, and best of all - the deer ticks are gone!

Event Description 

"Friends and Families Day"  

Join us for a celebration of the 160th anniversary of Mount Moriah Cemetery!

Guests include:  
Music by Last Chance (the folk-roots fusion and bluegrass duo of Jack Scott and Ingrid Rosenback)

Kathryn Manz, from the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania

Arts and crafts for the kids

Come out and enjoy the day!


Mount Moriah Cemetery - 6201 Kingsessing Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19142  View Map 

Please RSVP here to let us know you plan to attend! 
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery (FOMMCI) Website
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery (FOMMCI) on Facebook