Thursday, May 3, 2012

2nd Anniversary of "The Cemetery Traveler!"

Well, it’s been two years since I began writing The Cemetery Traveler blog. That’s most of my two-and-a-half year-old daughter’s lifetime – a fact that puts all that work into startling perspective for me. I’ve posted 120 articles and have 144 regular subscriber/followers. I greatly appreciate the fact that you’re reading this and hope you will continue. 

Daughter Olivia at Laurel Hill Cemetery
After 120 blog postings, you might think I’ve run out of material, especially since these postings have not been just a photo and a few sentences. They’ve been more substantial than even I expected they would be. The articles began as short pieces, but then the content took on a life of its own. I began to get carried away – the blogs started to read like mid-career Dickens. Frankly I’m surprised they held peoples’ attention. But readers responded. In blog comments and private emails, they expressed opinions. Many of the most commented-on pieces were about abandoned cemeteries.

When I started The Cemetery Traveler, my intent was mostly to recount my past experiences traipsing through the graveyards of America (and Europe), camera in tow. However, through Facebook I’ve encountered new ideas, new friends, and made new excursions. I’ve written (or will write) about a variety of people with whom I’ve had interactions in reference to my blog – a psychic, a film maker, descendants of people whose graves I’ve photographed, Andy Warhol’s niece and nephew, Victorian-era and Civil War re-enactors, and fellow writers. I’ve also met new companion adventurers (or ‘gravers,’ as we’re sometimes called!).

Ed's photograph in "175 Years of Reflections"

On rare occasion, I actually wrote about photography (e.g. my blog about ‘painting with light’ in a cemetery at night). This past year saw the publication of the book, 175 Years of Reflections, Laurel Hill Cemetery, which one of my photographs was chosen to be in. The book celebrates Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery and its 175th anniversary.

Abandoned Cemeteries

Probably one of the least expected results of the The Cemetery Traveler blog has been my interest in helping to restore abandoned and run-down cemeteries around Philadelphia .

Mt. Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia
Initially, I started exploring and photographing them like they were carnival sideshow attractions. However, my postings generated quite a bit of heated discussion, mostly from the “how could they let this happen” crowd, but also from descendants of people buried in those cemeteries! I received messages like this (related to Philadelphia’s gigantic abandoned Mt. Moriah Cemetery):

"Mount Moriah holds different emotions for different people. I have family here. As a child in the 70s, I actually played and rode my bicycle with my friends in this place. The people buried here need people to speak for them and try to undo the damage that has been done to them. Help us to do that with your lens. And if you are adventurous, come to a clean-up. They are inspiring and lets those buried here that someone still gives a damn."

Primarily as a result of people commenting on my blogs, I have participated in several clean-up days, and the comment is correct – the work is inspiring.

Tombstone under Betsy Ross Bridge
I also received many comments and emails about the destruction of Monument Cemetery (Philadelphia, 1956), and the unceremonious dumping of its thousands of headstones into the Delaware River. I received dozens of emails from descendants, looking for traces of their ancestors. The stones can still be seen under the Betsy Ross Bridge (at low tide), so I photographed them, and added the names, dates, and photos of the stones to the online database at, as suggested by one reader, whose initial comment to me was:

"While their graves may never be found, their information would be of great interest to family, historians, and genealogists."

The majority of comments  related to the destruction of Monument Cemetery were of this nature:

"I came across your site while trying to locate this cemetery so I could visit my ancestors' tombstones, as many of them were buried at Monument. I feel a bit sick realizing they're now in a mass grave and their tombstones have been dumped like this."

"I join many of those who are horrified that this could have happened in Philadelphia during the 1950's.  It seems so disrespectful and almost sinister in that advertisements were not required to be made in the newspapers if relatives could not be reached.....I think my family, especially my grandmother would have rallied the family (a large one) to relocate the graves of her mother, aunt and grandparents.  I gave a presentation of our family history at our reunion a year ago and my generation was horrified at what we discovered about the cemetery."
Opinions on the travesty of Monument Cemetery ran to the other extreme as well:

"I understand that moving a cemetery for parking seems crass, but the world belongs to the living and the not-yet-living - and Temple [University] has been and remains the most-affordable, best-hope for higher Education in Philadelphia. Isn't that worth more than a decaying cemetery?"

Some people were upset that I wrote about the cemeteries in their neighborhoods in a sensationalistic way. It got peoples’ attention, though, didn’t it? I am sure it helped with public awareness and the need to restore, rehab, and care for what we have.

What’s on The Cemetery Traveler’s  event horizon?

So what is on The Cemetery Traveler’s event horizon for "Year Three" of the blog? Well, a few things.

  • Publish a book of selections of essays from The Cemetery Traveler blog. I expect this to be available in about six months, with eBook versions on Nook  and Kindle. I have to thank the observant reader who commented on this photo a while back, “This photo screams ‘Book Cover’!”
  • Pay closer attention to comments made and emails sent by my readers, as your feedback adds another dimension to my writing. That said,  I’ve not been prompt with my replies. I’ll do better – or at least the best I can with two-and-a-half year-old vying for my attention! 
  • More travel! I plan to have a vendor table at the AGS (Association for Gravestone Studies) Conference in West Long Branch, New Jersey on June 22, 2012. Hope to become a member and interact with the conference attendees. I’m also planning to visit some of the historic cemeteries in Charlotte, North Carolina next month.
In Conclusion…

An advantage the living have over the dead:  we can go to sleep at the end of a long day, then wake up and do it all over again. So, shall I keep on writing? In the words of author/screenwriter S.J. Perelman, “To the fiery temperament, decision is consonant with action.” In other words, I intend to continue shooting off my mouth without thinking. Stay tuned – all shall be revealed.