Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Cemeteries of Baltimore, Maryland

Chapel, Greenmount Cemetery
No one is ever going to rewrite Led Zeppelin’s, “Going to California” as “Going to Baltimore” (with an achin’ in my heart… ). However, I am quite passionate about Baltimore’s Cemeteries. In this post, I’m going to attempt to tell you why. I was just interviewed by American Cemetery & Cremation magazine for an article they published on “cemetery bloggers,” and the interviewer asked me if I had any favorite cemeteries. I had to say that most of them are in Baltimore, which surprised the author, Alexandra Kathryn Mosca. 

The interview is in the June 2024 issue, if you want to pop down to your local 7-Eleven and pick up a copy. There is a link at the end of this post to view the article electronically, compliments of the publisher, Kates-Boylston Publications. The article is called “Cemetery Bloggers – Blending History and Reverence.” 

American Cemetery & Cremation

Alexandra is from New York and is very passionate about New York City’s many wonderful cemeteries. New York has some glorious Victorian-era sculpture gardens, on the Mount Auburn garden cemetery plan - for example, Green-Wood in Brooklyn and Woodlawn in the Bronx. Mount Auburn, by the way, was the first rural garden cemetery in the U.S. (est. 1831), modeled after Paris’ Pere LeChaise Cemetery (est. 1804), the first garden cemetery. This was followed by Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill in 1836. Garden cemeteries sprang up all over the nation. Baltimore has a lovely “rural” cemetery – as these arboreal sculpture gardens were originally called – Greenmount Cemetery (est. 1838). They were called rural because they were originally built outside the city limits. With the rapid growth of American cities in the mid and late 1800s, these rural cemeteries quickly became inner-city cemeteries. It’s a testament to our culture and society that these wonderful places still exist. And speaking of culture and society, people need to lose any parti pris they may have about Baltimore. There is more to this city than the "Inner Harbor" and John Waters (with all respect to Mr. Waters).

Druid Ridge Cemetery (infrared E4 film image made in 2002)

There are vast burial grounds in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx that rival Baltimore’s magnificent sculpture gardens; however, in my cemetery travels across the U.S., I’ve not seen Baltimore’s equal. My “favorite cemeteries” reply surprises a lot of people who have asked me that question over the twenty-five years I’ve been photographing cemeteries. If you like Victorian garden cemeteries, and you like them densely packed with marble monuments as far as the eye can see, then Baltimore is for you. Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore, at 500 acres, is actually larger than either Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn or Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

New Cathedral Cemetery, Baltimore
If you want star power, sure, New York is the clear winner. Celebrities, business magnates, mobsters – NY’s got the lion’s share. You’d have to go to Chicago or California to find its equal. But if you want to stroll endlessly through grounds densely packed with wonderful Victorian-era marble sculptures, magnificent Gothic mausoleums, and winged bronze angels, Baltimore is the clear winner. Recently, I was so overwhelmed upon entering Baltimore’s New Cathedral Cemetery (photo below), that I just laughed at the sheer sweeping vista of statuary in my field of vision. The deep, broad landscape pans around you like an iMax movie. I was so stunned that I failed to capture the scene photographically – I just walked, wide-eyed and dazed through the labyrinth of monuments. 

New Cathedral Cemetery, Baltimore (Photo by Rachel Bailey)

Luckily, my friend Rachel (IG @photosofcemeteries) was better able to maintain a discerning and objective eye and in so doing, captured the sweeping landscape you see here in a way that I wished I had. Master photographer Robert Capa said, “If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough.” Well, this obviously does not hold true in all cases! My photographs of the statuary and architecture in Baltimore cemeteries suffer from my being too close to my subject! I need to step back, literally. Live and learn. I think this is necessary to capture the full effect of the scene presented to you. One of my photographer heroes, Mary Ellen Mark, said, “It’s not when you press the shutter, but why you press the shutter.”

Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York

To be fair, Calvary Cemetery (above) in Queens is massively impressive and jam-packed with Victorian monuments – and has an amazing view of Manhattan. It is similar in scope to Holy Redeemer and Loudon Park in Baltimore. One thing that Calvary lacks, however, that Baltimore cemeteries have in abundance, is access. For instance, New York’s cemeteries are so spread out, you could not visit Woodlawn and Calvary on the same day – unless you had a helicopter. In Baltimore, you can easily drive from Druid Ridge Cemetery to Prospect Hill Cemetery (where entertainer Divine is buried) in seventeen minutes (according to Google Maps). Baltimore’s cemeteries are so close, you can’t swing a cat without hitting one (to paraphrase Mark Twain).

Divine's grave, Prospect Hill Cemetery

The main advantage of Baltimore’s cemeteries compared to those of NYC, is that they are easily accessible by car. The Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn and Woodlawn in the Bronx are fabulous places, but the traffic and logistical planning one must contend with to access these destinations can be mind-boggling at times. Once, years ago, my brother and I made a trip to NYC to visit Woodlawn Cemetery. At Grand Central, we got on the wrong train and mistakenly headed out to Long Island! By the time we got back to Grand Central, it was too late in the day to get to Woodlawn. Mission aborted. In Baltimore, even the most immense and intense burial grounds are immediately accessible! Baltimore City Cemetery is five minutes from Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery which is five minutes from Holy Redeemer Cemetery – all on the same road! 

Gardens of Faith Memorial Gardens, Baltimore

Now, being from Philadelphia, I would be remiss were I not to mention the grand cemeteries like Laurel Hill, Mount Moriah, and The Woodlands. These are large Victorian-era rural cemeteries like Mount Auburn outside Boston, and like New York’s Green-Wood and Woodlawn cemeteries. All are amazing, serene, finely landscaped and picturesque sculpture gardens, patterned after PΓ¨re Lachaise. A main difference between all these and PΓ¨re Lachaise, I now realize, is that the monuments, mausoleums, and other grave markers in PΓ¨re Lachaise seem to be more densely-packed than what you typically see in American garden cemeteries. It is more like what one finds in the cemeteries of Baltimore, e.g. in Greenmount and Baltimore City Cemetery. 

Holy Redeemer Cemetery, Baltimore (Photo by Rachel Bailey)

Here's another example above of a sweeping Baltimore landscape, Holy Redeemer Cemetery (again, photographed by @photosofcemeteries, not yours truly). Holy Redeemer, by the way, must have the largest abandoned cemetery chapel I’ve ever seen – the green-domed building in this photograph. (Psst …if you look through the keyhole in the red door, you can see inside! But take a real camera with a zoom. Thanks to Teresa @teresacast for pointing this out.)

Greenmount Cemetery
What prompts me to write about Baltimore’s cemeteries at this time, is my friends. I’d been extolling the virtues of these places for twenty years to anyone who asked, but it has only been since 2023 that many of my Philadelphia-area cemetery photography friends began making the hour-and-a-half trip to the Land of the Crab Cake. However, I don’t know that anyone ever went to Baltimore based on my suggestion. Small groups of these cemetery photographers, as well as individuals, have been exploring Baltimore cemeteries over the last year or so. 

Loudon Park Cemetery
One member of our group discovered Baltimore’s treasures years ago on her own. She photographs there on a regular basis. It was at her insistence that many of the others in our group followed suit. It really had nothing to do with my influence. This is really a joy for me to experience, actually – I’m watching others discover their passion for these cemeteries as I had done in the early 2000s. And as I am a part of this group of photographers, this has rekindled my interest and love of these destinations.

I say we ‘discovered” Baltimore’s cemetery gems as if no one knew they were there. While its true that most people may be unaware of their existence, most of these properties – large and small – are well-maintained. It is not the case that any of them are neglected or abandoned. The general public is simply unaware of their existence, or just does not care, and I can appreciate that. I fall into the small category of people who do care. And I appreciate the fact that the city, synagogues, churches, and other organizations maintain these sacred spaces, preserving the dignity of those who are buried within their grounds.

Greif family angel, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Cemetery

Some of Baltimore’s cemeteries, like Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Cemetery, are walled in, gated and locked – only accessible by checking in at the gatehouse. This keeps the contents, as well as its visitors, safe. By the way, it’s unusual to find an angel in a Jewish cemetery. But this relatively small place has numerous life-sized bronze angels and other effigy sculptures that are simply amazing. Here’s a 2004 photo of me with one. She’s still there if you’d like to stop by for a dance.

Author in Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery, 2004.
I suppose Baltimore’s cemeteries have a deeper meaning for me. I explored these burial grounds back in the early to mid-2000s, when my life was going through an upheaval and I needed alone time with my camera. “All art, like all love, is rooted in heartache,” photographer Alfred Stiegletz said. Walking these many arboreal sculpture gardens alone was therapeutic for me. I saw, touched, and walked amidst exquisite art that I never knew existed. Artwork that most people do not know exists. Sometimes you just have to create your own happiness. 

Greenmount Cemetery
I was happy – actually thrilled – when I happened upon this marble statue (at left) in Greenmount Cemetery, probably around 2004. It confused me, and after photographing it, I spent years researching its meaning. Hercules now graces my business card. From what I’ve determined, this is him as a child, wearing the lion’s skin that he wore as an adult (after killing the monstrous Nemean lion). I surrounded myself with such quiet beauty while the world threw so much ugliness at me. It was a coping mechanism. Maybe some of my current friends can relate to that. Maybe Baltimore’s cemeteries were protection, of sorts, for me, like Hercules’ lion skin that was impervious to attack.

Legend has it that Hercules killed the lion by strangling it with his bare hands, as he could not damage it with arrows or clubs. He then skinned the lion and used it for a protective cloak - ref.)

The group meetups are a relatively new thing for me, which we began as an Instagram meetup of like-minded cemetery photographers during COVID. As of mid-2024, the idea has stood the test of time, with new people joining regularly. Truly lovely people. When I see them become excited about the cemetery adventures we plan, it can be a rather joyous feeling. They inspire me.

Our IG Meetup at Westminster Hall, Baltimore, July 2024

Back when I discovered Baltimore’s cemeteries around Y2K, you had to use paper maps for guidance. Now with GPS camera phones and Google Maps, locating cemeteries has become easier. Locating graves within a cemetery has become easier! One of my friends taught me how to use Google image search, see locations using metadata, and download the Find-A-Grave ap. I’m no Luddite, but technology improves so quickly that its hard to keep up. Its great to have friends who do keep up, and are willing to share! One of my friends seems to be on a personal mission to find all of Baltimore’s cemeteries, and she has found more than I knew existed. This is like a treasure hunt if you are a cemetery photographer. One such gem is Western Cemetery (photo below), which, until the spring of 2024, I was totally unaware of!

Western Cemetery, Baltimore

While Philadelphia, my home town, has a plethora of wonderful cemeteries, it has nothing to compare with the huge burial grounds of New York and Baltimore. But wait, Baltimore itself isn’t that big, right? Smaller than Philly, much smaller than New York. So why does it have so many enormous cemeteries? You know what? I don’t know. Maybe there’s a clue in what Baltimore film maker John Waters said, “So many great people are dead, and so many assholes I know are still alive. Karma's bullshit.”

Sculpture in Baltimore's Greenmount Cemetery

What I do know is that I’ve got more cemetery gems to explore down south with my friends. We’ll revisit my old haunts, plus find new ones thanks to inquisitive minds and Google Maps. Some Baltimore cemeteries, like the music of Pink Floyd, can be scary. Witness the Gothic Revival-style Westminster Hall and Burying Ground with its catacombs and Edgar Allen Poe tomb, and the somewhat overgrown Western Cemetery with its junkyard in the back. Be wary and wise because Baltimore never ceases to amaze ... shine on you crazy diamond.


Further Reading ....

Alexandra Mosca shared this link on Facebook related to her article on cemetery bloggers. She graciously interviewed me for her article. Link below:

Kates-Boylston Publications is generously offering non-subscribers complimentary digital access to June’s American Cemetery & Cremation magazine. This issue is filled with interesting articles such as ‘Picnic Time Again,’ which delves into the modern revival of 19th-century cemetery outings, a unique blend of grave visits and picnics. The issue also features my article on cemetery bloggers (of which I am one) and the reasons we chronicle the sometimes arcane stories of those who have gone before us. Here’s the link.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Solar Eclipse in the Cemetery - 2017

Dimming of the light during the eclipse

As promised in my previous blog post (“The Day the Sky Went Dark (sort of),” which was about the less-than-stellar partial eclipse on April 8, 2024 in the Philadelphia area, I am finally publishing an account of the much more dramatic partial eclipse on August 21, 2017. Both partial eclipse events were 80% sun coverage, but the event was ruined by cloud cover in 2024. The 2017 event occurred during a mostly clear, blue-sky day. The main reason I went to all the trouble to photograph the 2024 event in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery was because of the grand experience my friend Bob and I had in 2017, at Laurel Hill’s sister cemetery, West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, PA. 

Bob Reinhardt in Westminster Cemetery, prior to eclipse

The sun being covered by the moon itself wasn’t so much the reason I was out to observe the 2024 event – you KNOW what’s going to happen, right? Everyone has a prescient knowledge of the event due to photos of past eclipses and you’ll see photos of this one after the fact. What I REALLY looked forward to was the light show on the ground, on terra firma. 

When Bob and I experienced the partial solar eclipse in 2017, it was my first rodeo. I had no idea what to expect, it was like visiting a new cemetery, you know? All wide-eyed and wonderment. We’d both been to West Laurel many times, but today, everything looked … different. We were just walking around when the eclipse happened. We had spent a bit of time before the eclipse at Westminster Cemetery, which is next to West Laurel Hill. We had our safety glasses, as did the picknickers on the grass at West Laurel, seated on their red-and-white checkered tablecloth. They were staring into the sky through protective shades, surrounded by bottles of wine and sandwiches. 

What was most stirring in the minutes of sun coverage was the quality of light on the ground. The way everything looked was virtually indescribable. But I will try. The photos you see here don’t really do it justice because as you may or may not know, under eclipse conditions there’s more going on that meets the eye.

Grand Canyon, by Rich Jolly

Capturing the light during a solar eclipse is as difficult as photographing the Grand Canyon. Okay, bad analogy – my friend Rich Jolly did a pretty decent job of photographing the Grand Canyon. I, however, had a difficult time capturing the ambient light at ground level during the eclipse. Why did everything look so odd? Science News says, “During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks the sun, so most of the light hitting and reflecting off objects on the ground is indirect light.” Indirect light casts no shadows! 

Selfie with "Solar Viewer" - don't want to burn out those retinas!

That was easily one of the strangest things. Before and after the eclipse, cemetery statues cast shadows due to their side illumination by the sun. But for the few minutes of maximum sun coverage by the moon – no shadows. However, other things happen …

The crowning moment of the solar eclipse
During a solar eclipse, colors change – the colors of things around us. Grass, cemetery angels, peoples’ clothing. The brain has difficulty accepting this because it happens so fast. Ever hear the phrase, “once in a blue moon?” Well, that’s just a red herring I threw in there to keep you on your toes. Let’s explore some more.

According to Scientific American:

“[Observers experience] what is called the Purkinje effect, or a natural shift in color perception caused by fluctuating light levels. In bright light, colors such as red and orange are rich and vibrant to the human eye, compared with blue and green. But in dim light, red and orange become dark and muted, while purple, blue and green brighten. Sunlight’s rapid, dramatic dimming during a total solar eclipse can heighten this phenomenon, making such events all the more surreal."

Science News tells us:

“For a few minutes, as the moon blocks the sun’s rays, colors fade to silvery gray in the false twilight. Usually vibrant reds may appear dark or even black, while blues and greens will pop.”

Colors appear to fade at twilight, yes, but our brains handle this differently under those daily circumstances. Sunset is a gradual thing, as is sunrise, and our eyes (and brains) adjust so gradually to this color shift that we barely notice – unless its too dark to even discern colors. So you know, of course, that at night your eyes are less capable of discerning colors, right? Its all about our rods and cones. 

According to Science News:

Dimming of the light ...
“In bright light, light-gathering cells in the retina called cones provide color vision. The majority of cones are tuned to detect red or green, with a small percentage devoted to blue. The three together produce red-green-blue color vision. With fully active cones, reds usually appear brighter than blues during daylight. In the dark, very sensitive light-gathering rod cells responsible for night vision take over. But there’s only one type of rod, so people don’t see colors in dark or very low-light conditions.”

So our eyes adjust from bright to dim light before and during a solar eclipse, then from dim back to bright after the eclipse, but this occurs unusually quickly causing our brains to wonder what’s going on.

Eclipse through the "Solar Viewer," August 21, 2017
When the moon began its slow coverage of the sun (about 1:30 pm) that day in 2017 at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, the ambient light on the ground became soft, more diffuse. Even though maximum sun coverage during that eclipse occurred around 3 pm, there was no shadow detail on my part of the earth. The sun ceased, temporarily, to be a point source of light. As mentioned above, objects cast shadows when illuminated by a point source of light. No point source, no shadows. Its just a very weird experience for everything to be bright and sunlit, then almost immediately and for a short period of time, less bright with a color shift, and no shadows. 

This continued until about 4 p.m. when the moon ceased to block the sun. Shadows reappeared and colors shifted back to normal. The world brightened up. It was like experiencing philosopher Immanuel Kant’s phenomenal world while catching a glimpse of his noumenal world (a world we can never directly know, independent of our senses and cognitive faculties)(ref.). 

What puzzled me was that my photos that day did not accurately record what I saw. Maybe because I don’t have a “Purkinje” exposure mode on my camera? 

Science News also tells us that “More of that indirect light is easily scattered blue waves, so objects reflect more blue light. That causes an apparent shift in the color spectrum toward blue, Takeshi Yoshimatsu says [Yoshimatsu is a color vision researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis]. Something similar happens in other dim-light conditions, like sunset.”

Chalk it up to the Purkinje Effect - our eyes’ sensitivity to luminance to shift from red to blue in low light. In Space and Astronomy NewsRafal Mantiuk, a computer and vision scientist at the University of Cambridge, says:  

“This color effect won’t be visible in pictures... It’s a matter of perception, not just optics, so it has to be experienced in person. For those who want to see the Purkinje effect in action but aren’t in the path of totality, Mantiuk offers an experiment. Take a square of red cloth and one of blue and look at them in the light. Then dim the lights, maybe put on a pair of sunglasses and look again. The brightness of the squares should be reversed.”

So if you are alive for the next solar eclipse, I recommend spending it with the dead. The surroundings offer a staid setting, so you can experience the light show with limited distraction. Although it occurs to me now that a solar eclipse in a cemetery might be a prime setting to stage a theatrical production of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. You know, with ghosts of the dead townspeople popping up from behind headstones, lamenting their earthly trials. If timed properly, the eclipse can provide the light show.


During a total solar eclipse, some colors really pop. Here’s why - (

Friday, May 24, 2024

Solar Eclipse 2024 - The Day the Cemetery Sky Went Dark (sort of)

The partial eclipse we saw in the Philadelphia area on August 21, 2017 certainly eclipsed the one we just saw on April 8, 2024. I have yet to write about the first one (I’m a little behind in my work), which I will do after I publish this one. All in all, the 2024 celestial event was disappointing. The day was partly cloudy – until right before maximum sun coverage, when it became totally cloudy. It remained so for about forty minutes afterward. I and the other hundred people at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia saw next to nothing. If only I had consulted California Psychics (“the joy of certainty”), I could have saved myself the trip. At the advertised rate of a dollar a minute (, that would have been a worthwhile investment.

While Philadelphia was not in the path of totality, people expected a respectable 80% show (the 2017 event was also an 80% eclipse).  We were in the path of partiality. Since I spent the 2017 eclipse at West Laurel Hill Cemetery (Bala Cynwyd, PA) with my friend Bob, I thought I’d spend some time during the 2024 eclipse at its sister cemetery, Historic Laurel Hill in Philadelphia. There are some very tall monuments there and I figured they would look good with the eclipsed sun around them.

I arrived at the cemetery about a half hour before the show was to begin (3:23 pm for maximum coverage in this geographic area). The light had already begun to get weird and I noticed a zinc monument up on a hill, one I’d never noticed before. Trick of the light. As you can see, I came prepared. I heard on the radio the day before that you can safely view the eclipse through a colander. Since I hadn’t paid close attention to exactly HOW you were supposed to do this, I thought I’d just bring one to use as a photo prop (I later made spaghetti with said device). 

Photo by Jason Ranck
The zinkie, as you can see, was rather plain, but still an unusual find. In this geographic region,  maybe you’ll see one or two per cemetery if you’re lucky. These things came in such wonderful designs when they were made (late 1800 through early 1900s), but the ones in Philadelphia cemeteries tend to be rather plain. A few weeks after the eclipse, my friend Jason sent me this image of a zinc monument he photographed in Old Ebeneezer Cemetery, in Tripoli, PA. Now THAT statue would’ve made a stellar foreground subject with an eclipse above her!

I drove around the grounds for a bit, looking for good observation points. Many people were walking around, looking at the sky, lounging on beach chairs, all seemed to have chosen their spot. One woman was staring into the sky through the bottom of a cereal box! I’d heard this was a method as well – you make a pinhole in the bottom and look toward the sun. I actually had ISO 12312-2:2015  safety glasses, but was a bit self-conscious about the way I looked in them. I had this feeling someone was behind me shaking their head, muttering under their breath, “loser…

Though the sky clouded over a few times before the big moment, there were bright patches of sun here and there. Mostly here, very little there, when it mattered. I had planned to station myself at the base of two enormous obelisks, with the sun placed between them. Trouble was, the perfect spot was occupied by a twenty-something couple making out on the granite coping. They actually had a camera set up and had it on a tripod, trained upward at an angel perched atop an obelisk. Prime spot. After driving around the cemetery the hour before, I had decided this to be the best vantage point. Unfortunately, they did too. 

No matter, I sat down about thirty feet away and made some images like you see here, not unlike so many others you saw on social media. As I saw and heard planes flying, I wondered what the view was like from up there. Did they have to force all the people on the wrong side of the aircraft to stay in their seats so the plane wouldn’t tip with everyone looking out the windows on the same side? 

Sky gazers, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia

The temperature was about 65 degrees F, prior to the eclipse, but with the heavy clouds and the sun mostly covered by the moon for those four minutes, the temp dropped perceptibly. Animals started acting like it was the end of the day, feeding time. Silflay, for bunnies, if you've read Watership Down. Small flocks of birds appeared out of nowhere (and, as I later discovered, dropped some gifts on the windshield of my parked car). A groundhog popped its head out of a hole about twenty feet away from me. It quickly became faux dusk and the spotlights that illuminate the Silent Sentry bronze Civil War statue came on.

The quality of light during the cloudless eclipse in 2017 was phenomenal. The way everything looked in the soft, indirect light was otherworldly. Nothing cast a shadow, all was illuminated by a soft, faintly glowing light. That went on pre and post eclipse. Alas, we saw next to none of that in 2024 due to the heavy cloud cover. 

Photo by Sarah Amendola (

As I packed up to leave, my totality-traveler friend Sarah Amendola texted me from Ohio, with magnificent photos of the total eclipse – in a cemetery! Here’s one of her stellar images!  Now, if you’re a photographer, you would know that such an image would be impossible to capture. Sarah, in all candor, states that she photographed the total eclipse and later layered it onto her image of this statue she photographed in an Ohio cemetery. 

Another friend traveled to upstate New York (from Philadelphia) to do the whole bed-and-breakfast thing with her family, taking a weekend total-eclipse mini-vacay. I knew that being in the Path of Partiality, Philly would not get the full show. No matter. On the way out, I spied two women with safety glasses peering into the sky from the side door of an antique hearse. Certainly not something one sees every day. Both work at Laurel Hill, and were there to greet the arriving guests. Very gracious, these Laurel Hill people!

So, the 2024 partial solar eclipse in Philadelphia wasn’t nearly as transcendent an experience as the 2017 event, but it has given me the initiative to write about that and finally post the photos. Look for it here soon!

Friday, April 26, 2024

A Last Visit with Old Friends - Perhaps

Heading into a weekend at the beginning of February, 2024, snow was forecast for Friday night into Saturday morning. I had such a rough week at work that I was looking forward to sleeping late Saturday and Sunday. Cemeteries in the snow is an adventure I normally look forward to; however, I was pooped.

I woke up at 8 a.m. Saturday (slept over two hours later than usual!), looked outside, and saw that about three inches of snow had fallen. It was still snowing. Do I venture out? Adventure calls. What the hey. I felt up to it. My wife and daughter wouldn’t even be awake for hours, so I decided to head out. Cemetery of choice? Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, PA. This is about ten miles west of where I live in Philadelphia, just outside its border where Delaware County begins. Holy Cross is the first cemetery I every photographed in, back in the late 1990s. I used to live nearby. It’s a good choice in the snow for a few reasons:

  • Many, many sculptures, statues, and other structures low to the ground. Interesting to photograph normally, even more interesting covered in snow.
  • The terrain is FLAT! However, even with a front- or four-wheel drive vehicle, icy hills are not your friend!
  • The cemetery is very large, with many trees. Plenty of areas for wildlife, e.g. deer and fox. (Other than geese, most of the wildlife was hidden during my visit).

Once I got to Holy Cross, it was still snowing lightly, with a six-inch layer of the fluffy stuff on everything. I drove to a few of my usual favorite spots, alternating between my iPhone, Holga (120 mm film), and DSLR to capture certain images. While it is true what they say – the right kind of camera is the one you have with you, I do prefer the flexibility. For instance, there's no way I could simulate a tintype image like the one at right without the Hipstamatic tintype ap on my iPhone.

I drove around the icy roads in my old RAV4 – stopping often to step out into the snow to photograph something or other. Since I fell on the ice this winter and hurt my shoulder, and my left hip is shot (surgery scheduled for April 29, 2024), I have become rather adroit when it comes to safety in the snow and ice. Which of course means that currently, I am rather limited in my hiking and trudging abilities. After the hip replacement (well, after the oxycontin wears off), I have already planned two cemetery adventures with friends. I may even take up parkour in the more densely-monumented cemeteries. (Not.)

It dawned on me during my peregrinations that I was visiting some old friends, statues I had photographed many times throughout the past twenty years. After photographing a few new scenes and some old ones, I turned around and saw this pillared angel, one that I had photographed countless times. In fact, it was the first cemetery angel that caught my eye, ever, back in the film photography days of the late 1990s. It looks uncannily the same, down to the missing arm and weird horizontal lash marks.

Which is more than I can say for the other statues I subsequently photographed. Weathering has caused loss of detail, lichens have darkened faces. Cemetery statues age just as humans do, but show their age more slowly. Even this Victorian-era marble statue of a young girl has deteriorated under her protective metal and glass. Or maybe, because of the metal and glass.

The veiled face of this soul emerging from its coffin has lost what little detail its winding sheet suggested. The diaphanous, sensual angel below has become darkened with interminable age and grime. The pure snow, which can give a squalid scene a fresh, clean, heavenly appearance, simply accentuates her age, these many years later. Or maybe to me, it just gives her a Dorian Gray-like appearance.

But these are old friends. I shouldn’t be critical. The hooded bronze figure above and the green patina Virgin Mary are ageless, and the snow allows them to be photographed with less distraction in the background. I didn’t want to turn my head on the bronze BVM below while she was holding that snowball. After shooting three statues in various areas, I intentionally drove to a few more of my past haunts. None ever disappoints. Statues erode and change with time, yet are always interesting. A blanket of fresh snow brings out new personalities in the sculpture and statuary.

As I was writing this, I realized I had neglected one of my oldest friends. Such is the plethora of artwork here at Holy Cross, that it is easy to miss a few. choice beings The image below of the mourning woman is from a few winters ago. She's always interesting, as is the entire monument. But you'll just have to visit to see it. I added a bit red to the snow, just because.

My cold winter trek only lasted an hour or so, and oddly took on the purpose of visiting these statues almost for the sake of just VISITING them, rather than looking for artistic, photographic opportunities. It was snowing lightly as I left my old haunt, my old friends, in Holy Cross. I remember thinking the snow would soon be gone, as would I. Not forever, though, hopefully. This is the last blog I’ll post before going under anesthesia and the knife, to have my hip replaced. I’m assuming I’ll wake up and write again, but if not, I promise to come back and haunt you all. Peace out.