Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Visit Mount Moriah Cemetery Now!

Gatehouse, Mount Moriah
It’s sort of traditional for me to write about Philadelphia's Mount Moriah Cemetery in the fall -  since that’s when everything begins to die. Formerly Pennsylvania’s largest abandoned cemetery (it is no longer abandoned, having been adopted by the recently-formed Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery in 2011), fall and winter were the best times to see this opulent Victorian masterpiece, when the secret cloak of its forest green fell to the ground.

Easily half of Mount Moriah’s (approximately) 380 acres were covered by forest – an astounding sight for the uninitiated. About ten percent of the grounds was clean-cut, as active burials were taking place there up until 2011 (there are none allowed, at this time). The rest of the place was a wildly overgrown thicket of invasive vines, poison oak and ivy, and thorns that could pierce through armor.

But this year is different. Thanks to the tireless efforts of a handful of individuals − leaders in the restoration effort − the progress toward freeing this beautiful cemetery from its forest confines is astounding. Looking at the photo above may give you the impression that Mount Moriah Cemetery is is mess. However, this cluster of mausoleums and monuments was buried in trees up until this past summer. You couldn't see any of this architecture before!

The Friends group has organized many official volunteer cleanup days with busloads of college students from the likes of (Philadelphia area) Cheyney and Villanova Universities, with the result being huge areas of the cemetery (both the Philadelphia and the Yeadon sides) looking neat and trim. I was rather shocked to see the condition of the Yeadon side (photo at left) in October, with the weeds all cut back and the mausoleums unobstructed by trees! Looking at this from the road, it looked like, well, a cemetery - one that you could easily enter and walk around in, safely.

Much of the praise goes to the handful of concerned citizens who work the cemetery not only every weekend, but daily (many who are members of the Friends). They’ll chainsaw some trees crowding out a family plot or machete their way to a hidden tombstone to help a visitor locate an ancestor’s grave. Patches of tall weeds have been hacked away to provide at least visible access to some giant monuments as well as smaller grave stones that I can only assume have been hidden for decades. I’m not used to being able to photograph small details (see right) on monuments and stones at Mount Moriah, but this is very possible now.

Circle of  St. John
Yeadon side
One thing that elated me about a recent (November 2012) trip to Mount Moriah was the presence of makeshift access roads that several individuals have created by plowing down weeds and trees through various areas of the cemetery. You now have easy access (do take a map, however!) to such grand sites as the Circle of Saint John, Betsy Ross’ grave (the one with the flagpole behind the Circle), and the area behind the mausoleums (on the Yeadon side). The latter has a wonderful Japanese maple tree that turns an amazing red color in the fall.

Fall foliage at Mt. Moriah
Recently, I introduced my friends Karen and Bob to the splendors of Mount Moriah. As we hiked across the grounds, I was happy to be able to show them the sights without too much effort. Still, there are wildly overgrown portions of the cemetery − the place is huge and will continue to require work for a long time to come. But there is beauty in this, as well. We were all rather shocked to see a ten-point buck trotting out of the weeds near the Naval Asylum Plot on the Yeadon side. I had wondered why the sign at the entrance gate had recently been changed to say, “No Hunting,” in addition to "No Dumping!" (Good call, Donna!)

Ten-point buck at Mount  Moriah Cemetery

So to sum up, Mount Moriah is worth a visit, now more than ever. See it in its fascinating state of recuperation, with noticeable improvements on almost a daily basis. In fact, many more people are visiting these days. Quite a few visitors with whom I’ve spoken have relatives buried here. They’ve stayed away for decades because of the steady decline of the cemetery’s conditions. Though I am certainly grateful to the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery for clearing the way for me to make interesting photographs, the most grateful people seem to be the descendants of those buried here. Maintaining this as an active, open, and safe memorial park is certainly in keeping with the original intent of the Victorian cemetery planners - to keep memories sacred.

Further Reading:

Historic Mt. Moriah to be Brought Back from the Dead
Some wonderful genealogical reading here related to findings at Mt. Moriah.
Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery on Facebook

If you're interested in purchasing one of the bright yellow "Friends of Mount Moriah" t-shirts depicted at the beginning of this article, please contact Friends' President Paulette Rhone. They are $16, funds which will aid the restoration effort.

To make a financial contribution to the upkeep of Mount Moriah Cemetery, click here.