I have driven past the particular Asian supermarket you see in the photo above, which is at Sixth and Washington (Federal Street is behind it). I have driven past it hundreds of times since moving to the neighborhood in 2008. Until a few weeks ago, I had no idea that the stone wall along Sixth Street (on the south side of Washington) is the ACTUAL stone retaining wall of the Union Cemetery! Complete with holes in the granite top where the iron fence was anchored!
|Union Cemetery wall with fallen fencing, c. 1970 (Ref. 1)|
I will quote a few of these sources and you can see more of the historic photos at the link to the Temple University Archives (at end). Temple, by the way, is no stranger to cemetery destruction. They conned the City of Philadelphia into condemning the city’s second Victorian cemetery in 1956 so the university could build a – you guessed it – a parking lot. (Read more about that on my blog post, "How Monument Cemetery Was Destroyed," at the link at the end.)
|Picking through human bones during excavation of Union Cemetery, c. 1970 (Ref. 2)|
|Historic map of South Philadelphia's Union Cemetery (Ref. 4)|
|Original entrance gate from Union Cemetery resides at Philadelphia Memorial Park in Frazer, PA. (Ref. 1)|
"The Union Burial Ground was located at the NE corner of 6th and Washington; Federal Streets in South Philly, was incorporated in 1841 as an "association" cemetery, catered to the poorer residence who as association members could obtain a decent family plot for $10.00. This cemetery was called Sixth Street Union to differentiate it from another Union Burial Ground at 10th and Washington Avenue. In 1970 the cemetery which contained the graves of over 100 Civil War Soldiers and Sailors and their families was neglected and vandalized. That same year the site was sold for use as a supermarket. About 2,000 graves were dug up, the remains boxed and then reburied in Philadelphia Memorial Park in Frazer, Chester County."
|Casual onlookers during the demise of Union Cemetery, c. 1970 (Ref. 3)|
Union Cemetery's decline began at the end of the nineteenth century, as the area's residents began to move away, edged out by commercialization. With no close relatives living nearby to care for the graves, the cemetery went to ruin (Ref. 4). As I said, by 1970, it was gone - gone, that is, except for one of it's retaining walls. Perhaps it was left intentionally as a reminder to future generations - a reminder of the ground's sacred past, or perhaps our callous handling of the dead.
References and Further Information:
Ref.1: Find A Grave website:
Ref 2: Delorean Time Machine: Union Burial Ground:
Ref. 3: Facebook page, The lost Sixth Street Union Cemetery (Union Burial Ground Society) - Philly:
Ref.4: Washington Ave. Case Study: The Transformation of the Union Burial Ground:
Find a Grave. com:
Cemetery Traveler blog, "How Monument Cemetery Was Destroyed:"
Temple University Archives: