Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mount Moriah Cemetery, on the Cusp

Who thinks about visiting an abandoned cemetery while in the dentist’s chair? Well, yours truly, for one. I apologize if I ever gave you the impression that I was normal. Yesterday afternoon, I drove out to Delaware County where I used to live, to let my dentist have his way with my teeth. Afterwards, I figured I would check out the Cobbs Creek Parkway side of Mount Moriah Cemetery.

This is the side of the massive abandoned cemetery that has been untamed by weedwhackers since last year. The city, as well as volunteer groups, are going in on a regular basis to try and clean up the other side (Kingsessing Avenue) of Mount Moriah, but 380 acres is a lot of land. Obviously due to limited manpower, the Cobbs Creek side is overgrown with weeds.

It’s an interesting sight, and not for the faint of heart. The densely wooded ridge off in the distance that is home to about seven huge, ornate (albeit abandoned, graffitied, and blocked up) mausoleums only allows a glimpse of one of these structures. While it peeks out like a Cyclops from the overgrown trees and bushes, the aggressive foliage camouflages the others. All but the very tops of fifty-foot obelisks are cloaked in green.

Mausoleums, Mt. Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia

I pull my car into the lone parking area that’s not blocked with Jersey barriers and get out. The gate to the Cobbs Creek entrance across the street boasts this sign, which seems incongruous given the sad state of the grounds. Well-meaning, of course, and intended to stop the fuckheads who had been dumping loads of trash, old building materials, and old cars in here for years. The gate itself is meant to prevent vehicles from entering, but you can easily enter by foot.
The place is waist-high with weeds. Old tree branches lay on monuments, I trip over knocked-over headstones as I try to make my way through what the papers are calling a “public nuisance.” The crushed stone and broken blacktop roads are still walkable, the weeds not having totally covered them. Trying to capture the atrocity of this place photographically is like trying to photograph the Grand Canyon – it’s just too expansive to portray in one, all-encompassing image. One must simply experience it in person. What must families of recently-buried loved ones think of this place? (Some in fact want to remove their family members, but cannot do so until the cemetery's legal owners are found!) What can people in the cars zooming up and down the parkway possibly be thinking as they drive past this place? Probably nothing, they’re too busy honking their horns at each other.

Only two angels are left on this side of Mount Moriah. Most have abandoned ship. The remaining two are forever earthbound, caught in a tangle of vines. Kind of analogous, I suppose, to the red tape that must bind the city’s efforts to wrest control of Mount Moriah from its mystery owners via the Pennsylvania Orphan’s Court. (Kind of wish the dentist had used something that strong to bind up my mouth wounds, as I feel the stitches break loose.) The perceived “owners” of the cemetery flew the coup back in the Spring of 2011 when they were sued by plot owners for not maintaining the grounds in proper condition. For those readers new to my blog, my opinion is that these people were just squatters, taking money to bury bodies! If you can believe it, during the legal proceedings, it was not possible to determine the actual owners of Mount Moriah, the largest cemetery in Pennsylvania! Maybe the mafia is involved, as my father would have said. Certainly a great place to bury bodies.

I spent about an hour just on the front hillside of the cemetery - I didn’t want to lose sight of my car. About the time my stitches broke, I saw a red, late model Dodge Charger pull in next to my parking space. Realizing I was unarmed (not typical of me during visits to Mount Moriah), I picked up a piece of broken white marble just in case. As I came down the hill toward the road, I saw a guy get out of the Charger and pull out a bottle of car wax. He’s going to shine up his car in front of this atrocity of a cemetery, a cemetery that will probably never shine again.

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