Monday, August 29, 2016

Ebeneezer Price, Colonial-era Gravestone Carver

My knowledge of eighteenth-century American headstone carvers is rather limited. What I do know has been gleaned from my relationship with the Association for Gravestone Studies. This organization publishes such scholarly information in their quarterly journal (see link at end). So when I personally happened upon evidence of such a headstone carver right before my eyes, I became immediately interested.

Pennington Presbyterian Church, Pennington, New Jersey.

Walking through the Presbyterian Church graveyard in Pennington, New Jersey, I noticed seven red sandstone grave markers all in a row – six large (standard-sized), and one small. Recognizing them as the oldest on the site, I thought perhaps they might have the old “angel-head” carving at top (I initially spotted them from behind). I walked around the thick (three inch) slabs with the roughly carved backs and, lo and behold, three of the large stones had angel heads carved at top, while two had a sunrise! I get rather excited to find these as they are quite uncommon outside New England. New Jersey cemeteries seems to be the southern cutoff point. Why is this?

Rear view of red sandstone grave markers

Well, New England was one of the first areas of the north American continent to be settled by Europeans and the first to become densely populated. Therefore, the oldest graveyards are there. The Puritanical flair of the headstone artisans and craftsmen is evident on early headstone carvings throughout that region. As time went on, populations grew and spread out from New England. Belief systems changed, different materials were used for grave markers, and this particular type of angel head was replaced with other symbolism (or none at all).

"Sunrise" symbolism

White marble became a popular choice as a replacement for red and brown sandstone, as Vermont and Philadelphia quarries boomed in the late 1700s. Angel heads appear on old marble stones too, but marble wears easily and detail is quickly lost. Sandstone retains detail better, but cracks more easily. Central and northern New Jersey’s sandstone quarries supplied the need for grave marker material from the end of the seventeenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Small headstone, perhaps a child's
While red sandstone grave markers can be found geographically south of central New Jersey, they are usually devoid of ornamentation (i.e., angel heads, flowers, and other designs). The reason is that Philadelphia-area stone carvers (from 1785 onward) usually did not exhibit the artistic flair, or skill, of their northern counterparts. Still, fanciful headstones from the northern and central New Jersey carvers found their way to cemeteries all over the east coast.

"E. Price" signature engraved at bottom of 1775 headstone

Ebeneezer Price

As I photographed the seven red sandstone markers in Pennington’s Presbyterian Church graveyard, I realized two things: one, they all marked graves of members of the same family, the Muirheids; and two, the markers were all signed by the same stone carver! This latter point is rather unusual in my experience.

“E. Price,” as you can see in this photo, stands for Ebeneezer Price, “New Jersey’s most prolific eighteenth century gravestone carver” (so described by Nonesteid and Veit in their fascinating 2011 publication, Carrying On the Stone Cutting Business.) describes Price as a “Master Craftsman, Folk Artist. One of the most skilled and prolific gravestone carvers in colonial America, Price's work began to appear in the burial grounds of northern New Jersey in 1757… 

Ebeneezer Price, this engraver from Elizabeth, New Jersey, was born in 1728 and created masterpieces such as those you see here from 1744 through 1787. These intricate soul effigy engravings, lettering, and other designs were amazingly done by his own hand and chisel. His style influenced many other stone carvers of his time.

Note "E. Price" engraving at bottom right

It happens to be well-documented that Price signed, or initialed his work, which was unusual in that industry, or craft. I found it interesting that during the Revolutionary War-era that Price was in business, he would barter for payment of a carved headstone. Barbara Schaffer’s 2013 Quilts, Gravestones, and Elusive Ancestors blog post, “Signed by Carvers,” reproduces a 1786 newspaper advertisement for Price’s engraving business. He would accept any of the following in exchange for an engraving job: “timber, stone, brick, boards, window-frames, doors, sashes, shutters, hinges, carting, labor.” The article shows further examples of Price’s intricate carvings of angels, flowers, and letters.

Seven Ebeneezer Price-engraved sandstone grave markers, Pennington, New Jersey

Ebeneezer Price’s workshop was in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but his engraved headstones – wonderful examples of early American folk art - traveled to such places as New York City, Long Island, the Carolinas, Georgia, and the Caribbean (ref.)

Price died in 1788 and is buried at the First Presbyterian Churchyard in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

References and Further Reading:

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pine Forest Pet Cemetery

What’s a vacation without a trip to a cemetery? If you’re a regular reader of The Cemetery Traveler, you know that I usually combine family trips to the Jersey shore with a stop at a couple graveyards. This past July was no exception.

Now, I don’t subject my family to my eccentricities – I usually sate my cemeterial desires early in the morning, before my wife and six-and-a-half year old daughter awaken. This July trip was no exception. During a few days’ vacation on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, I took an early-morning trip inland, through Manahawkin, up Route 70, to the little rural town of Warren Grove. The Internet told me there was a pet cemetery there. Truth be told, without the GPS in my smartphone, I never would have found this place. The Pine Forest Pet Cemetery is so far off the beaten path that my GPS couldn’t map the roads through the Pine Barrens (the Wharton National Forest) when I got within a mile of the place.

Gazebo at center of  the Pine Forest Pet Cemetery

I found it though. Very rural, quite large (as pet cemeteries go) - 26 acres, says their website. It is very well-cared for, and tastefully appointed. A small gazebo at center, with maybe a hundred graves spread out from there. The pine forest surrounds it on three sides. The mostly canine grave markers (there are some felines too) are arranged in rows and are mostly flush-to-the-ground memorial park style, perhaps indicative of buried cremains. There were a few monuments, of sorts - heartfelt things, small sculptures, handmade remembrances, small plaster statues of dogs with wings.

"Wishbone," the Hearing-Ear Dog
If you stop and read some of the headstone inscriptions, epitaphs, you’ll agree some are incredibly poignant. Witness the inscription on the “hearing-ear dog” headstone above. At the back of the cemetery is a special K-9 grave plot, reserved for police dogs who had served on the Stafford Township, New Jersey police force. I was surprised to see this ceramic badge on several of the grave markers.

This is the same type of medallion used for the death portraits we see on humans' grave stones.

Established in 1984, “This serene twenty-six acre tract of land is nestled in the forest zone of the protected Pine Barrens. It has been set aside to honor our departed pets that fill our hearts and minds with loving memories.” - from the Pine Forest Pet Cemetery website

"Born to Love, Trained to Serve, Loyal to the End"
“Pet Memorial Sunday” – September 11, 2016

If you are a pet owner – I caught myself there – “pet owner” sounds a bit crass to describe the humans involved in this memorialization of their animals. I should instead say “If you have an animal companion”…. or are just interested in the type of person who would go to the trouble of creating a permanent memorial to an animal, consider a visit to Pine Forest Pet Cemetery the second Sunday of September. You can witness their annual “Pet Memorial Sunday" - this year, it will be held on September 11, 2016. See their link for more detail.

"Heaven is a bit brighter now"

If you ever wonder what might possess someone to cremate and bury their pet, just read this grave marker above to "Patches" and "JJ." It certainly gave me a few new things to think about. The poem below, Rainbow Bridge, gave me a lot more to think about. I had never seen this before. Apparently, there is an entire WORLD of pet grief-and-loss out there. You can read the poem, then check out this website, “Quest for the Rainbow Bridge,” which describes its purpose, its origins, its meaning to those who have lost an animal loved one. The poem, The Rainbow Bridge, is reproduced on Pine Forest Pet Cemetery‘s website.

Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven lies the Rainbow Bridge.
When a beloved pet dies, it goes to the Rainbow Bridge.
It makes friends with other animals and frolics over rolling hills
And peaceful lush meadows of green. They are as healthy
And playful as we remember them in days gone by.

Together, the animals chase and play, but the day comes
When a pet will suddenly stop and look into the distance...
Bright eyes intent, eager body quivering.
Suddenly recognizing you, your pet bounds quickly
Across the green fields and into your embrace.
You celebrate in joyous reunion. You will never again separate.

Happy tears and kisses are warm and plentiful, your hands caress the face you missed.
You look into the loving eyes of your pet and know that you never really parted.
You realize that though out of sight, your love had been remembered.
You cross the Rainbow Bridge together.

Reference and Further Reading:
Pine Forest Pet Cemetery
Funeral and Memorial·
1285 Grays Rd
Warren Grove, NJ 08005
 609) 698-7600

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Historic Gatehouse Stabilization

Mount Moriah Cemetery gatehouse, Philadelphia, August, 2016

One of Philadelphia’s historic gems is off the beaten path. It is miles from the Liberty Bell historic district. However, visitors who appreciate American history would do well to make the trek to Mount Moriah Cemetery in southwest Philadelphia. After all, Betsy Ross is buried here.

Photo by Ken Smith, FOMMCI
The cemetery and its 1855 brownstone gatehouse have recently been recognized with official historic status, as you can see from this 2016 plaque. The problem is, Mount Moriah and its gatehouse had been left to crumble since the 1970s. The gatehouse is really nothing more than a façade at this point. The cemetery, by 2011, was an overgrown forest.

Since 2011, an all-volunteer organization, The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., with help from thousands of volunteers from all walks of life, have been slowly but surely bringing the massive cemetery back from the brink. At a reputed 380 acres (ref.), it is the largest cemetery in the state of Pennsylvania. In 2011, it was no doubt the largest abandoned cemetery in the nation.

The iconic gatehouse, which sits at the original entrance to the cemetery, is of prime concern to the preservation and rejuvenation of the historic cemetery. A large portion of the structure was destroyed by fire decades ago and the walls have literally been tumbling down over the past two years. In 2011, this beautiful piece of architecture was covered with vines, hidden by trees, and filled with old car tires and other trash. One of the Friends board members remarked to me that the vines may have been the only thing holding the gatehouse together.

2012 photo of Mount Moriah Cemetery gatehouse, by Ed Snyder

In 2016, the Friends, in conjunction with the recently-formed Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation “...secured a $22,000 grant from the Mayor’s Fund to be used toward the rescue of the gatehouse.” The corporation found a contractor who could do the work for $32,500 and the Friends group led a fundraising effort to make up the shortfall.

Rear of gatehouse, looking toward Kingsessing Avenue

Work began on the stabilization of the gatehouse in the summer of 2016. The photos you see here with most of the final bracing in place, were made in August, 2016.

In 2016, the cemetery and its gatehouse became a recognized landmark by the American Institute of Architects; it is on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and has been deemed eligible for the National Register.

Mount Moriah gatehouse, c.1855

While the gatehouse may never be restored to architect Stephen Decatur Button’s original design, the original façade will be preserved. In future, this can perhaps be repurposed as a columbarium, a structure of vaults with recesses for urns containing cremated remains.

For more information and/or to donate to Mount Moriah’s preservation, please see our website:

For up-to-the-minute (literally!) updates on the many ongoing restoration efforts, please see The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Facebook Group page.