Friday, April 27, 2012

Celebrate Arbor Day – Chop Down a Tree!

This past Saturday, I was part of a city tree-planting group of volunteers that planted ten new trees on our block in South Philadelphia. One was alongside my house. Later that afternoon, I helped a different group of volunteers chainsaw a cluster of wild trees that had grown around and were crowding out a mausoleum at Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery. I didn’t really see the irony in this until I noticed on my calendar that Arbor Day (April 27, 2012), our national tree-planting holiday, was less than a week away!

Excavating mausoleum from arboreal prison
I arrived late at Mount Moriah that Saturday, due to my earlier planting commitment. One group of volunteers had just gone, while a half-dozen diehards continued the hard work. All the grasses and vines had been cleared from the right side of the structure, and several trees had been downed from the left side. Over the next few hours, we chainsawed about a half-dozen more trees, dragged them out of the thicket with a small tractor, and hacked all the branches off them (so they could later be chipped by a tree-cutting service).

I was amazed at the number of people in both groups – the cutters now, the planters earlier. The drive, dedication, and the amount of energy these people directed toward their goal was wonderful and infectious. Arbor Day, forward and reverse!

From the City of Philadelphia website:

Keep Philadelphia and your community beautiful, plant a tree.
Trees bring a multitude of benefits ranging from decreased air pollution, stormwater runoff and extreme temperature days to increased property values, carbon sequestration and quality of life.
Many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods lack adequate tree cover. GreenPlan calls for Philadelphia’s tree canopy to increase to 30 percent in every neighborhood by 2025. To support this goal, Greenworks Philadelphia sets a target of planting 300,000 trees by 2015. It’s an ambitious goal, but a goal we can strive for together as a City.
Trees in summer offer cover for spray-painting vandals
While on one hand it seems that the city is attempting to reach a place Carlos Casteneda only dreams about, it also sponsors a project to hack out an abandoned cemetery from its jungle confines. The former to promote life, the latter to, well, celebrate life.

Mt. Moriah Cemetery at sunset
Both endeavors had merit. One part of the city needs to be greener, the other, well, less green.  Now don’t get me wrong – I’m the world’s biggest fan of cemetery trees. They can add a certain je ne sais quoi to a photograph as a spooky compositional element that is hard to beat. However, Mount  Moriah Cemetery in Southwest Philly is simply a jungle. After thirty or more years of unrestricted florid overgrowth, the place cannot be enjoyed as it was meant to by its Victorian landscapers and designers.

As the cemetery has been abandoned by its legal owners, groups of concerned citizens have taken it upon themselves to thin out the thousands of random trees and keep the weeds and vines cut. It’s going to take a lot of work to repair the damage to the monuments and other structures that the trees have wrought, but first the trees must be removed.  Four hundred acres of wild vegetation is quite a challenge. The photos at right and at the top of this article are fairly common sights in the heavily-wooded sections of the cemetery.

Cut trees at Atkins mausoluem
Which is funny when you think about the overgrowth – when you try to purposely grow plants, they seem to just have a death wish. You try to keep that azalea alive or nurse the insect-ridden holly back to health and you swear they just want to die! You feel as though you’re just prolonging their agony, keeping them going by artificial means. For instance, I know I’ll be fertilizing and watering the new tree alongside my house for the next year, hoping the roots will take hold. However, there’s every possibility that it could just shrivel up and die. Worse yet, the jackass vandals who set a candle burning on the roof of my convertible may just rip the branches off this tree. As for the cemetery tree-clearing, there’s every possibility that once the mausoleums and monuments at Moriah are exposed, vandals may tag them with spray paint. All you can do is the best you can do.

Pulling cut trees with tractor and chains
What may save the cemetery, however, is the simple fact that more people are spending time there. If vandals see other people, they’re less likely to commit criminal acts. Also, fewer trees mean less cover for the criminal element (see my previous blogs listed at the end of this article for further reading), so thinning out the trees may result in less defacement and damage.

From the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery website:

Next Mount Moriah Volunteer Cleanup – May 19, 2012
Join the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery on May 19th from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM for a cleanup event at the cemetery. Friends, relatives, historians and anyone interested in Mount Moriah Cemetery are asked to meet at the Yeadon entrance to the cemetery on Cobbs Creek Parkway starting at 8:00 AM.

Further Reading (Mount Moriah blog postings by Ed Snyder):

Beginning to Die - The Strange State of Mt. Moriah Cemetery

No One Hears an Abandoned Cemetery Scream

Mount Moriah Cemetery, on the Cusp

Pit Bulls, Deer Ticks, and Poison Ivy – The Allure of the Abandoned Cemetery

Mt.Moriah Cemetery Rising from the Dead?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wingless Angels

I had a lovely interaction with one of my Facebook readers last week. She saw the serene, snowy image above after I had posted it on Facebook and recognized it as the statue at her family plot – the statue her great grandfather had sculpted around the 1930s!

Here’s part of her original message:

"Dear Ed, I recently Googled statues located in Holy Cross Cemetery [Yeadon, PA,  on the southwest border of Philadelphia] …. One image completely stunned me. It was a partial view of a large stone angel taken in winter, seen here. I am pretty sure this is my family's angel statue - she is leaning on her arm reading a book - that my great grandfather sculpted for the family plot over 80 years ago. How wonderful to see this image included in your photos. Thank you."

The writer’s description of the “large stone angel “ didn’t quite fit the photograph - the stone angel on the left side of the image is not really that large. I replied to her that the figure to the right is not an angel. 

Her reply was rather interesting:

"She isn't really an angel as she doesn't have wings but we have always called her that. She is really a mourning lady sitting down with her head in her hand reading a book. It was sculpted over 80 years ago. She is over our large family plot that actually holds 8 to 12 spots. Thanks so much for your beautiful work!"

I've heard people refer to wingless figures as angels before. In fact, the Warner Memorial (shown here) at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia is usually described as the angel of death (wingless woman at left) releasing the soul of the deceased to the heavens.

Warner Memorial, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia

Initially I asked the writer if her great grandfather had been a local sculptor, to which she replied:

"My great grandfather came from Italy in the late 1800's and he worked in all types of stone as a mason and sculptor. He worked on statues for St. Rita's and St. Monica Churches in South Philly and monuments for cemeteries. He died in 1939. Unfortunately, we don't know exactly which sculptures they are but I've come across some very old pencil sketches from my great grandfather, that my dad had rolled up in a closet, and they look like planned architectural features you see on churches. We may be able to track down some of those features on those churches and match them to the sketches."

I enjoyed being part of this story, albeit in such a small way. I offered to send her a copy of the photograph, and she was very appreciative, adding, “your beautiful work takes me to so many cemeteries I may never get to.” Its amazing how rewarding cemetery photography can be when others find such meaning in your work.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What do you want on YOUR tombstone?

Pizza commercials aside, ten years ago I thought it unnecessary for me to have a tombstone, or a grave marker of any sort. Kind of selfish of me, I suppose, since I spend so much time photographing, reading, and researching other people's tombstones! I just figured, cremate me and throw my ashes to the winds (or better yet, pour them in the gas tanks of cars owned by people who really pissed me off in life!).

I’d also felt that there was a bit of vanity associated with cemetery memorials, especially the gaudy mausoleums. Would I mmortalize myself in stained glass, for instance? I’m a lot of things, but vain isn’t one of them. However, I just finished reading Douglas Keister’s novel, Autumn in Summer, and I now am thinking that maybe I would like a tombstone.

Available from Amazon
Keister is a photographer of cemetery monuments, who happens to also write eloquently and prolifically about them. In fact he has thirty-nine books to his credit! His glossy coffee-table book, Going Out in Style catalyzed my interest in photographing cemetery objects about a decade ago. In his current book, a mystery novel,
Keister incorporates many of the things he's learned about cemeteries in his travels. It's quite interesting reading for the taphophile.

There’s an interlude in the narrative of Autumn in Summer where the protagonist states to a cemetery worker how he doesn’t want a tombstone when he dies. The worker tells him that while it doesn't matter whether you get cremated or buried:
"You need to leave your name behind somewhere. Cemetery's just a spot where you're better assured permanency. While there might not be much left of your physical remains, seeing your name on a piece of stone gives your descendants a better sense of who they are. We need to leave our name somewhere. People need to come to a place to remember us, to connect to us, to connect to themselves, to connect to the past and the future... People come thousands of miles just to see a name, to make that connection."

Author with Friend
I am reminded of the situation involving my research on the discarded tombstones from Philadelphia’s Monument Cemetery. My writing has inadvertently put me in touch with many people who are looking for a trace of their ancestors. When the cemetery was condemned and demolished in 1956, thousands of bodies were removed and reburied in mass graves in a suburban cemetery (Lawnview Cemetery in the Rockledge section of the city), without so much as a plaque indicating their presence. Their thousands of headstones were dumped into the Delaware River, to be used as a foundation for the Betsy Ross Bridge. So for people looking for physical traces of their ancestors, there are none to be found. I guess I don't want this to happen to me.

So I thank Mr. Keister  for allowing me to think of headstones in a different way. As he puts it, a mechanism that will allow me to leave a tangible trace of my existence so that loved ones, friends, and curiosity seekers have a place to land when they want to think about either me or their own mortality.

So what would I like on my tombstone? Keister says,"You only get one chance to make a last impression." Maybe I'd like some weird sort of statue? Or a photo of myself on a simple stone? How about an epitaph? Maybe some pithy phrase or some strange symbols I’ll  make up just to mess with people’s heads? Something like this, perhaps:

Given my penchant for trespassing, maybe an appropriate engraving for me would be:

Ed Snyder  1958 - ____
“Forgiveness is easier to get than permission.”

References and Further Reading:
Douglas Keister on Facebook

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover and Gladwyne's Abandoned Jewish Cemetery

Where flesh is doomed to rot to naught
And worms feast on their limbs,
I find myself amidst the graves
forgotten in Gladwyne

(I took liberties with the poem Where Flew His Soul? by Charles Sudbury, 1826)

Cemetery Entrance
Over the past five years, I’d heard about an abandoned Jewish graveyard somewhere in the woods of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Gladwyne itself is mostly woods, with million-dollar homes sprinkled throughout for good measure. It’s a suburban community in Montgomery County on Philadelphia’s Main Line. Your chances of finding this cemetery without someone showing you are completely nil.

Near entrance, tennis court in background
A friend of mine located it several years ago, and was going to show it to me, but we never got around to it. Then last week, Frank, my fellow cemetery traveler, was shown the cemetery by a friend. Frank, in turn, graciously gave me directions. It turns out that if you drive up the private driveway of #135 Conshohocken State Road, and veer to the left instead of driving up to the house, you drive right to the crumbling stone pillars flanking the entrance to the cemetery. In fact, from the driveway you can see old marble tombstones through the fence of an old tennis court. If you go, do show respect for the neighbors. 

Near entrance, home in back
Having no public access and without being visible from the road, this creepy old cemetery has only been seen by its immediate neighbors and occasional volunteer clean-up groups over the years (the years that span the 1920s to the present, i.e., since it appears that the last burials were in the 1920s).

Walking through this place is a MUST for any cemetery explorer – you may be appalled, afraid, amazed, or desire to use the location for your next zombie movie. You walk into the place and it starts off quaint - the tilted headstones, the  lone cradle graves. As you walk further through the weeds, you begin to see small clusters of graves, surrounded by rusty decorative fencing. Most of the fencing has fallen to the ground and is waiting for you to trip over.

About a hundred feet past the entrance you see where the main cemetery begins in earnest. Hebrew writing all over the stones (most of which are upright thanks to volunteer preservationists through the years) coexists with English words – “Our Dear Father,” “Wife,” etc. Dates range from the mid−1800s to about the 1920s. The cemetery was established in 1860 and became inactive around 1930. Apparently, it was forgotten until the late 1980s.

Pickers and rusty fence, protecting headstones
The ground slopes gently away as you get further into the woods. Family plots can be seen scattered about, slowly being taken over by picker patches. In a few weeks this place will be a forest again, impassable and unrecognizable as a formal burial ground (fall and winter are the best times to explore abandoned cemeteries, due to foliage growth). The odd thing here – well, let me stop myself – there are many odd things here, but very strangely, there are expensive houses and private land surrounding this old cemetery. As I’ve said, there is no public access!

Looking downhill into the vast wooded cemetery
So you need to trespass to get here, sort of. State laws vary on the matter but in some states, you are well within your legal rights to walk or drive across private property to visit an isolated cemetery! Um, I hadn’t actually checked the law in Pennsylvania before I visited, having gotten a bit carried away by my sense of adventure! Anyway, all nineteen acres (or so I’ve read) of this place are bordered by private property, VERY private, and VERY expensive property! Driving through this area reminded me of those gated estates in the Hollywood Hills. 

Sometime in the early 1990s I was in LA, and took the car tour of the movie stars’ homes. My Mom had always been a fan of Elizabeth Taylor, so I went in search of her home. Liz Taylor’s estate in the Mount Olympus section of Beverly Hills was surrounded by a hedgerow of small violet flowers. I parked my rental car, got out, and picked one of them for my Mom. Almost the instant I popped it into a film canister, helicopters appeared overhead, stationary in the sky, postured in a very threatening formation! Gladwyne doesn’t have such tight security, but then Liz Taylor never lived here.

Spiral vines and rusty fencing
As you continue walking further into the graveyard, the clusters of white marble headstones become more frequent, peeking out from behind termite-eaten fallen trees. Unimaginably thick vines curl up the live trees, strangling them and eventually pulling them to the ground. There are some crumbling stone burial crypts about five feet high, which are situated near the peak of a hill. As you look down the hill, the vastness of this decrepit cemetery stuns you! Nineteen acres! Through the trees, you can see rows upon rows of closely set cradle graves (not children's graves, just a style of stonework that looks like a cradle), separated in sections by rusty fencing.

"Cradle" style graves
The tangles of pickers and weeds were already advancing in this early Spring - live things coming out of the ground to hide all the dead things. The rows of graves disappear into the distance, an estimated 1200 of them. The woods are gray and misty, affording an occasional glimpse of a pump house or an old log cabin (circa 1698) on the facing hillside. Not a place you want to be on Halloween night, or even on a bright spring day, for that matter. The way the rows of graves go on and on, ever downhill, reminded me of something much more Eastern European than American. Many of the deceased must have been original immigrants to America.

Toward bottom of hill, looking across at log cabin

Note angel and Hebrew script on stone
Stubs of rusted iron posts delineate what once were distinct sections of the cemetery. Several family plots are marked with tubular cast iron fencing with the decorative cherub centerpiece commonly seem in cemeteries around Philadelphia. The odd thing is that you seldom see angels in Jewish cemeteries. (This is not because Jews don’t believe in angels – angels appear in the Hebrew Scriptures. it’s just that throughout Jewish history there’s been an avoidance to depict the human form in funerary ornamentation.)

The history of this place is not well-documented. The fragments of supposed fact come from letters and oral recollections. "Har Ha Zetim Cemetery", aka Gladwyne Jewish Cemetery and "Mount of Olives," was supposedly established in 1860, and served the poor Jewish population of Philadelphia and Norristown until the 1920s. No doubt some of the the people interred here emigrated from Russia during the pogrom in 1881. The fact that this exodus occurred on Passover of that year oddly coincides with my writing this blog on the eve of Passover, 2012.

How Gladwyne Jewish Cemetery came to be abandoned is anyone’s guess. Mine happens to be that the congregation that established it eventually dissolved, leaving the cemetery to molder. This happened to the B’nai Israel Cemetery in West Philadelphia. No reason for the town to condemn Gladwyne Jewish Cemetery as a public nuisance or force anyone to clean it up as it isn’t, well, public. In 1999 Judge Stanely Ott of the Court of Common Pleas, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Orphans' Court Division, settled litigation over the disposition of this cemetery. Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne became the official owner. So Gladwyne Jewish Cemetery is no longer formerly abandoned, just officially inactive.

In his book Old Weird America, writer Greil Marcus proposes a metaphorical version of America, contained inside the contemporary United States. “This alternative America at once inspires and explains the strangeness of our daily lives.” Marcus refers to a land of myth, violence and transcendence (Gibson, 2009). Abandoned cemeteries in general provide us with a metaphorical version of America – back then something happened. We’ve lost track of what it was, but without a doubt it has influenced who we are today. We may want to forget about it, or we may be embarrassed by it, but these old graveyards are a metaphor for our all-too-disposable history, a history we seem to have traded for technological advance.

Walking through Gladwyne's Abandoned Jewish Cemetery is not like finding a lonely outcropping of headstones in a farmer’s field somewhere – this was a COMMUNITY! A community of ancestors, now lost to the ages. But as you walk through the lanes of graves, the presence of all these people is alive in the air, they were REAL. They lived. They had rites, manners, and customs that were as real to them as ours are to us.

When I had emerged from my latest rabbit hole dive into yet another abandoned cemetery, I inadvertently left my camera tripod behind. What can I say – the place was a photographer’s paradise, so distractions were legion. A few days later I was doing a photo shoot in another abandoned cemetery, and someone needed a tripod. I went back to my car and realized at that point I had left the tripod in Gladwyne. So one afternoon a few days later, I made the trip back. This time, it was sunny, so I got better pictures. The tripod was right where I had left it. I’m sure the place gets very little traffic. Besides, Gladwyne's crime rate is probably as close to zero as you can get. Unlike the neighborhoods in which most abandoned graveyards are found, this is one where you can leave your car doors unlocked.

If You Go:
135 Conshohocken State Road (Route 23), Gladwyne, PA. The driveway is on the left as you drive down the hill. Head up the driveway as it takes a sharp swing to the left away from the house. Cemetery entrance is just ahead on the right, past the tennis court. There is an enormous body of state law governing access to burial grounds surrounded by private property. Pennsylvania allows access if you have relatives buried there.While there is nothing really stopping you from saying you are visiting relatives, please show respect for the nearby property owners, as well as the dead.

References and Further Reading:

Abandoned Jewish Cemeteries “ blog by Ed Snyder
Old Weird America, by Greil Marcus
Hubert’s Freaks, by Gregory Gibson

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mt. Moriah Clean-Up on Civil War Anniversary

Just got home from the big "Park Day 2012” (March 31) cleanup event at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in West Philadelphia. back. Wait right there while I fix myself a Motrin Smoothee... 

From the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery website (link at end of article):
"On Saturday, March 31, 2012, history buffs and preservationists from around the country will team up with the Civil War Trust to help clean and restore America’s priceless battlefields, cemeteries and shrines.  The nationwide effort – dubbed Park Day – is underwritten with a grant from History™ and has been endorsed by Take Pride in America, a division of the US Department of the Interior.

The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, in commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, will participate in Park Day 2012, an annual event sponsored nationwide by the Civil War Trust, The History Channel and the National Park Service."

There were probably a hundred people working at the cemetery today, totally amazing! Folks digging out family plots, clearing brush from obscuring the veterans' burial ground, hauling rocks away that had been dumped, and weed-whacking with a vengeance. Chains saws tore away at the trees that had been overtaking graves, and machetes hacked away at the vines and other invasive growth. ABC News was there and Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter stopped by to give everyone a T-Shirt and a "Thank you" from the city.

Veteran's Grave
Even though Park Day is mainly about saving locations historically linked to the Civil War, there were very few Civil War buffs at Mt. Moriah today. There were a few guys with period kepi caps, but there were also groups of high school and college kids, neighbors, and people who have family buried here. Some of the latter used the opportunity to clear their own ancestors’ graves, but most just helped with the mass cleaning of the overgrown areas in front of and around the Soldiers’ Plot (Section 200). This is where the bulk of the work was concentrated. Local Veterans’ organizations care for these actual grave sites, but not the overgrown plots that keep you from accessing (or even seeing) the section. The rake trucks, police cars, food trailer, and an assortment of other city vehicles were parked here, near the barricaded Cobb’s Creek entrance.

Groups of Volunteers working at Mt. Moriah Cemetery
Weed whacking
The work began at 8 am, and mercifully ended at 1 pm. Everyone had to register and sign waivers to the effect that it was their own responsibility if they got hurt. Good plan, given all the chainsaws ripping through trees and machetes swinging at the underbrush. (I thought it rather comical that one guy was distributing brand new machetes to any takers this morning. "Where do you actually BUY a machete?" I asked. He said, "Home Depot! I was actually surprised at the quantity they had available!" Hey, this IS Philadelphia, after all.)

It's a strange feeling to pull a wet flag out from under the weeds and drape it on a stone, stranger yet to discover a hidden flush-to-the-ground veteran's marker, and weedwhack it back from obscurity into the light of day.

Between trysts with Japanese knot weed and tearing through the tall grass with a gas-powered weed whacker, I chatted with some of the other volunteers. I was surprised to learn that about ninety-five percent of the 400−person membership of the Friends of Mount Moriah are descendants of those interred at the cemetery! I wondered if they came out en masse because they felt it was safer here with so many other people around. I felt WAY in the minority, just being someone who cares about the cemetery, the neighborhood, and the memory of the thousands buried here. 

Rakers taking a break (note mausoleum and monuments in background)
There was a college-aged guy making a video of the day’s work, who was surprised when I told him about the dangers of being in here alone.  I had just been told that the city pound rounded up the latest pack of resident wild dogs and hauled them away. They seem to form in the overgrown wilderness areas of this cemetery every few months. In the photos here you see relatively low grass around the tombstones. The woods in the background actually delineate the major portions of the cemetery – probably eighty percent of its 380 acres. If you look closely at the trees in the photo above, you can see a mausoleum in the center and a red granite obelisk sticking out of the trees.

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter (second from right)
I caught bits and pieces of some on-camera interviews with people throughout the day. Many of the volunteers were in their sixties, had grown up nearby, then moved away. The 1960s were fine here, so they said, with things going downhill in the 1970s. One woman’s husband worked here as a groundskeeper in the 1970s-80s. He told her, “A place this size would take a crew of ten people seven days to just cut all the grass. Then you’d have to start over.” Another woman and her friends learned to ride their two-wheeled bicycles on the hilly roads of the cemetery when they were children.Two volunteers, both equipped with site maps and print-outs of burial records, found they both had ancestors buried in the same section of the cemetery. This place is more than a graveyard – it’s really a web of relationships.

Every hour or so, I would take a break and hit the Potty Queen or grab a bottle of water from the free supply. Once, on my return to the work site, I came upon a woman shoveling turf off a buried sidewalk that crossed the section in which her ancestors were buried. She was working in front of four large granite stones, one of which was knocked off its pedestal. She and her husband were dismayed that the base was unlevel, so righting the stone would not be a permanent fix.  This is the sort of thing “Perpetual Care” was supposed to encompass, and what people paid for as part of the original burial fee. Unfortunately, the cemetery owners didn’t live up to their end of the bargain.

At one point, I laid down the weed-whacker to help load a truck with chainsaw-cut logs, and then helped load chunks of busted-up concrete from an illegally-dumped pile. One of the local residents had a four-wheeler and a large hauling wagon which she used to cart off the concrete to dump into sink holes in other parts of the cemetery. While we were loading the concrete, a fellow volunteer – who came from the other side of Lancaster to be here today – told me he has relatives buried on the Cobb’s Creek side of the cemetery. When he was visiting and tending to these graves about five years ago, two trucks appeared, dumping building materials in the weeds nearby. Imagine the BALLS that takes! Especially when the dumper SEES a person there tending a grave! Luckily, this has stopped, mainly due to the city having barricaded the entrance with concrete highway dividers.

Food Tent
Around noon, I headed over to the food cart for a Philly soft pretzel and was thrilled to find piles of hot dogs on buns! Don’t know if these were voluntarily provided or paid for by the city, but after all that work, these things tasted great.

The section in which we were working looked great with all the grass cut, so then people began hacking away at the periphery, felling trees growing on the hillside. College students swarmed over the area bagging the grass clippings, and some of the people more knowledgeable about the cemetery led small groups of interested parties on quick tours here and there. I called my wife to tell her how great the place looks. She said, "If you clean it all up, what will you take pictures of?" Then I told her that we probably only cleared a few acres.While that small area does look much better, the place is almost 400 acres of mess, most of which is a forest. Everything's relative - where will the hawks and vultures roost then?

Mt. Moriah Hawk
I was surprised at the number of people who routinely visit Mt. Moriah (aside from myself, of course). There’s the guy who rides his bike through the place every midnight, the woman who lives nearby and cuts grass here with her riding mower, and the guy with the chainsaw who cuts down the invading trees in his spare time. I felt better about the place knowing that there are several (sort of) normal people who “haunt” Mt. Moriah Cemetery!

At the end of the day, the city will hopefully find a "receiver" to manage the cemetery. A Pennsylvania State Representative introduced legislation last year that would protect an entity willing to take over operation of the abandoned cemetery from current and past outstanding liabilities. Expecting descendants or other volunteer organizations to keep the place up is just not realistic. One fellow I spoke with used to live nearby as a child, and he and his cousins used to come here to tend to his great-grandparents' graves. Cemeteries used to count on this sort of thing, before people became more mobile and began moving all over the country. This particular gentleman moved away to the other side of Lancaster, PA. in the 1970s. He brought his mother back in the early 1980s and they were greeted by "about thirty guys hanging out in the cemetery, shouting threatening things" at them. He said his mother never returned. Hopefully, now that more and more people are actively involved with Mount Moriah Cemetery, those days are gone for good.

As I finish writing this two days after the cleanup, my biceps are aching. I earned a new appreciation for the backbreaking work done by cemetery groundskeepers. I don’t REALLY look forward to the next cleanup day (which will be published here), but there’s always Dr. Seuss' Lorax nagging:

Purchase from Amazon
 “Unless someone like you
Cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.
” – The Lorax, Dr. Seuss

References and Further Reading:

Park Day 2012
Volunteers Help Clean up Mount Moriah Cemetery (Delaware County Daily Times, April 2, 2012)