Sunday, July 28, 2013

Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery also Friends of Accident Victims

At 8 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning (July 13, 2013), the volunteer group Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery was setting up for a restoration event and cleanup day. Half of Mount Moriah is in Yeadon, on the north side of Cobbs Creek Parkway, while the other half is in Philadelphia. The day’s work was to focus on the Yeadon side, near 62nd Street and the parkway. 

Friends Board member helping accident victim
At about 8:30, an automobile accident involving two vehicles occurred directly in front of the cemetery entrance (see map). A small SUV and a Chevy Malibu traveling in opposite directions collided in front of the volunteers who were setting up their registration table. The volunteers ran out into the street, stopped traffic, and began to help the victims. Cobbs Creek Parkway is a busy road and it curves at the cemetery entrance - the scene of frequent accidents (evidenced by the mangled guardrails). Four members of the Friends group controlled traffic in both directions for over an hour, preventing further problems (you can pick some of us out in these photos as we're wearing yellow shirts).

Other members of the Friends helped the injured drivers (neither vehicle carried passengers). Police and Rescue were called via 911 and ambulances arrived. When it was determined that both drivers were conscious, and only banged up a bit, the Friends group set up orange road cones around the wreckage and began clearing debris off the road. (I actually walked up the parkway a bit to where the water company was doing some work and asked to borrow four of their cones.) Friends’ Board members brought water and chairs out to the accident site for the drivers of the vehicles. One woman crawled around both deployed airbags and out of her car, which was smashed against the guardrails. The other woman could not get out of her SUV and had to wait until rescue workers helped her out and onto a gurney.

Friends' registration table at Mount Moriah Cemetery entrance
Interesting how this situation unfolded. Almost immediately after I placed the call to 911, three renegade, wreck-chasing tow trucks arrived on the scene. As police did not arrive until I called them a second time (an hour after the collision occurred), the renegades hung around all that time. One of them even refused to move his vehicle so we could see the backed-up southbound traffic we were trying to direct. I explained this to him and he said, “Maybe that’ll cause another accident.

(Watch the ABCNews video: The Troubled Past of Wreck Chasers)

And other accidents certainly may have occurred if the Friends had not been there to help. This area of Cobbs Creek Parkway is non-residential and so there would have been no one around but other drivers to help. I mentioned earlier that I had to call 911 a second time to request the police. This was odd, so 911-administrators take note: When I placed the original call to report the accident, the 911 person asked if there were people injured. I said ‘’yes.” So she asked if I wanted the “police” or “rescue.” I said, “Well, I guess I want ‘rescue.’” So that’s who showed up. Apparently, if you ALSO want police in such a situation, you need to be that specific!

The north and southbound parkway drivers were for the most part patient with the situation. There were however, a few jackwagons who yelled curses at us and tried to drive around the wreckage. Luckily, there were only two vehicles involved in the collision, which was amazing given the volume of high speed traffic in the area. Both vehicles (one which appeared to be totaled) spun out in the northbound lane, so this left the southbound lane available to shuttle traffic through in one direction at a time.  

Friends Board member helping visitors find ancestors' grave
After the two drivers were taken away to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, family members began to arrive. Friends volunteers communicated information to them and helped calm them down. About two hours of this, the ten members of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery returned to their main objective for the day – cutting grass and organizing the volunteer effort for cleanup. The remainder of the day was spent doing this as well as helping visiting families find graves of their ancestors.

Learn more about how you can help preserve Mount Moriah Cemetery and the surrounding neighborhoods on our website.

One way to help if you're not physically able to attend a restoration event (schedule on our website), is to go onto the "How to Help" page on on the site and buy one of these cool fund-raising t-shirts like the one I'm wearing in the photo at left! 

Tee shirts are $16 for sizes Small to X-Large, 2X – $17.50, 3X – $19.00

Please contact us at to order.
Checks for tee shirts can be made payable to the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery and sent to
P.O. Box 5321, Philadelphia, Pa 19142

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Cemetery ... Coloring Book?

Your favorite Cemetery Traveler does not have to visit actual cemeteries to get his jollies. Oftentimes adventures can be had in other places, like a used book store, for example. Phoenix Book Store in Lambertville, New Jersey, has been something I’ve wanted to check out for months. In mid-June, I had the opportunity to do just that.

Let me start by saying that they are going out of business in August 2013, so time’s a wastin’ if this article excites you and you want to partake of their wares. Phoenix Books specializes in used, rare, and out-of-print books. Antiquarian booksellers are not businesses I frequent, but I do read a lot so it seemed worth checking out. When I got there, I was surprised to see a sign on the door saying everything was half price! So that made the not terribly high prices even more palatable.

I looked around a bit and noticed a large rack of photography books, art books, architecture books, but nothing having to do with cemeteries. After picking up a monograph of Brett Weston’s photography (Voyage of the Eye), it occurred to me to ask the shopkeeper, “Do you have any books on cemeteries?” He thought a moment then shook his head, saying, “No, we don’t … don’t think so …” And then he brightened up and said, “Oh wait! We do!” And he went darting off between the stacks (that’s librarian-speak for the shelves full of books). The kind gentleman returned with the coloring book you see pictured here.

I was astounded. Shocked, tickled even, by my good fortune. Ask and you shall receive. Who would have thought such a thing existed? Not I, said the Cemetery Photographer. The 8.5 x 11 inch sized, thirty-page paperback was published by California’s “Forest Lawn Memorial-Park Association” in 1962 (what were they thinking?!). While I paid four dollars for it, there is no actual price on the cover. This led me to believe that it was given to children (with a pack of crayons?) by the funeral director while the parents were …making final arrangements? But I was wrong (as I so often am). I found this tidbit on the Internet, written in 2009, recalling the author's memories from 1969:

"What I do remember very well is the Forest Lawn coloring book I bought in the gift shop. In it, one could lay crayons to the sculpture and buildings peppering the deep green landscape. (Green was a dominant color in this book.) The cover foretold the fun inside: two children, hand in hand, walk through Forest Lawn's open gate. Ah, family values. Four decades later, who knows if any of the Forest Lawns even have a gift shop."

I’m not certain the writer (Steve Crum) realized the oddness of his experience. Does anyone reading this blog know of any other cemeteries that have published coloring books? To a child, I suppose coloring a scene from the Crucifixion or angels serenading a deceased baby might not raise eyebrows. I know my own three-year-old daughter is undiscerning about what she colors. Granted, the Last Supper and the Pieta are relatively innocuous and safe, but wouldn’t you think coloring an outline of the Administration Building and the Flower Shop to be rather boring? And what about that front cover? A little boy and girl walking hand-in-hand through the cemetery gates? What’s up with that? Why the amber vortex beneath their feet? Are they entering a Disneylandia-type entertainment complex or did they just die and are entering Heaven? And why SIX scenes from the crucifixion?!

At the time of Steve Crum’s colorful experience (1969), I don’t expect Forest Lawn was the huge entity it is now, owning ten Forrest Lawn memorial parks around southern California. I’ve been to two – the one in the Hollywood Hills and the one in Glendale. Back in 1993, I visited the Glendale memorial park in search of movie stars’ graves. I found none, while I expected to see many. I guess I thought the place would look like the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Hollywood, CA), where massive monuments to silver screen titans cover the grounds – even if you weren’t totally up on your silent movie star catalog, at this place ALL the surnames sound familiar! Not so at Forest Lawn. Forest Lawn is, as its architect might have said, more ‘dignified.’

According to the “Seeing Stars” website, “There are more major Hollywood stars buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park than at any other spot in the world.” Now realize, there were no such websites in 1993. All I had to go on were some stupid “Hollywood Stars” maps that people sell on the street corners on Sunset Boulevard (which is where I bought mine). The Glendale Forest Lawn, I have since discovered, is the original and largest (300 acres) of the Forest Lawn Memorial Parks. That coupled with the fact that all the grave markers were flat-to-the-ground and very spread out, I found no movie stars.

Forest Lawn is a memorial park. At the time, I did not distinguish between this and a typical cemetery with upright headstones, statues, and monuments. At the time, I also did not realize the historical importance of Forest Lawn being the nation’s FIRST memorial park. For the uninitiated, a memorial park is a cemetery without upright gravestones or family monuments. They are characterized by flat meadow-like grassy fields with flush-to-the ground grave markers.
Back in 1912, a fellow by the name of Dr. Hubert Eaton purchased Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California (it was established in 1906). His innovative plan for the cemetery was to turn it into "a great park devoid of misshapen monuments and other signs of earthly death, but filled with towering trees, sweeping lawns, splashing fountains, beautiful statuary, and ... memorial architecture." (Wikipedia ref.)

For the most part, Dr. Eaton succeeded. His idea caught on and spread throughout America. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the concept, much preferring the art and architecture of an old Victorian cemetery. The major attraction of the memorial park to the owner, I am sure, is the relative ease with which the grounds can be maintained. Run that riding mower right over the flat grave markers – no bothersome statues and monuments to dodge, no meticulous weed-whacking necessary.

But according to the coloring book, Forest Lawn has many other attractions including the Finding of Moses Fountain, Wee Kirk o’ the Heather Chapel, and the Last Supper stained glass window in the Memorial Center of Honor. For a more updated list, you can check out Forest Lawn’s website.

So while Phoenix Books did not provide me with any other cemetery books, the Forest Lawn coloring Book is a substantial piece to add to my collection. I did find some other choice pieces,  including a copy of The Devils’Race Track – Mark Twain’s Great Dark Writings. I’m sure there are other treasures awaiting you in these last couple weeks before they close, so run! Perhaps like the phoenix of Greek mythology, it will go down in a blaze of fire and at some point be reborn, rising from the ashes of its predecessor.

Further Reading and Reference:

Yelp Review of Phoenix Books in Lambertville, New Jersey (with map):
Forest Lawn Memorial Parks website

Visit Phoenix Books before they close their doors forever in August, 2013!
49 N. Union Street
Lambertville, New Jersey 08530

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Manahawkin Baptist Graveyard - Stronger Than The Storm

As I wrote about the west coast of the U.S. last week, it’s only fair to maintain a sense of balance with an east coast story. Last week I was at the Jersey Shore (Long Beach Island) with my wife and daughter, and so I made a trip to one of the local cemeteries (isn’t that what you would expect the Cemetery Traveler to do while on vacation?). Manahawkin, New Jersey is the last town on the mainland before you enter the causeway over to the island.

Last year I wrote about Greenwood Cemetery, a largish seaside cemetery on Route 9 south of Manahawkin. This time, I opted to head north. My map showed a Baptist Cemetery about a mile up the road (north on Route 9, past the Route 72 intersection, as shown on map).

Long Beach Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy ( image)
Woke up at 6:00 a.m., got dressed and made it out the door without waking anyone. Walked over to what is left of the beach as the sun had just risen and grabbed a couple shots of the show. As I drove the seven miles up the island to the causeway, the view was indeed depressing. In the year since I had last visited, Hurricane Sandy had wreaked massive destruction on the island. Here, a scant eight months later, homes were still up on blocks after being shifted off their foundations. Many businesses were boarded up, many areas of the ocean beach was gouged so that instead of smooth sand declining from the dunes to the water, there were canyon-like drop-offs of epic proportions.

One of many homes washed off its foundation ( image)
Still, the locals have done a great job putting this place back together - they certainly live up to their slogan, "Stronger than the Storm." That said, I couldn’t help wonder if the cemeteries suffered any damage. (Which reminds me – someone contacted me recently with a request to use my blog post "Washed Out Graves" - about flooded graveyards - as part of a presentation on Disaster Preparedness for Cemeteries.) Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States on October 29, 2012, with New York City and New Jersey suffering the worst damage. It was the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, surpassed only by 2005's Hurricane Katrina

Baptist Cemetery was easy to find, what with its little white clapboard church situated at the front of the old graveyard. Talk about shelter from the storm – there are some eighteenth and even seventeenth century headstones here that are in such well-preserved condition, you’d think they’d been under glass for a hundred years! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Johnette Napolitano – the gravely-voiced singer from the rock band Concrete Blonde – was playing a concert in San Francisco on this particular Sunday evening in San Francisco when I visited the Baptist cemetery. I bring this up mainly to convince myself that it was not her I saw roaming around the graveyard at seven a.m. accompanied by a guy carrying a guitar case. Might not have been the most unusual thing I’ve ever seen in a cemetery, but given the time of day, it qualifies for the top ten. Besides, Johnette is kind of spooky herself (just watch this video). I said, “Hi. Didn’t expect to see anyone else here this early.” The guy sort of smiled and they walked around to the other side of the old wooden church, then disappeared.

Baptist Church and Cemetery, Manahawkin, New Jersey
If you’re a legacy reader of this blog, you may recall that in my early days of cemetery photography, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this. Not while I was alive and toting a camera, anyway. Why? No statues. Nary an angel. But after you’ve exhausted the possibilities of statuary photography (or rather, you've hit your own limits), you begin looking elsewhere. I’ve hence begun to appreciate other nuances of cemeteries (and there are thousands of such things, mind you). So the small country cemetery with nothing but stone slabs for gravemarkers does not escape my attention these days. And my photography and writing are all the better for it, I believe. So with that in mind, I began looking at the inscriptions and carvings on the stones.

Although there are a few newer (early twentieth century) granite monuments here, most of the head stones were of the large marble variety with the traditional images, poetry, and epitaphs. However, as I said, many were clearly readable and apparently not worn down by acid rain (is there less of this in coastal areas?). They were really quite beautiful, especially this pair of white marble nineteenth century markers with the clasped hands design. 

White marble headstones, about four feet high
To the left and behind the peeling white church building, I was somewhat shocked to find a small cluster of about five red sandstone grave markers, all but one standing upright. Obviously the oldest in the cemetery (eighteenth century), covered with some sort of lichen or mold that gave them the appearance of being old and worn. Red sandstone was quarried in North Jersey back in the 1700s and is commonly seen in cemeteries around Monmouth County (a bit north of here). Upon closer inspection, these stones were actually wonderfully preserved! I was amazed to see that the lettering and design carvings were not eroded at all, but simply camouflaged by the lichens. The text was clearly readable with border designs still quite crisp. This particular one (below) was dated 1794. A bit of proper cleaning and these stones would be the showpieces of the cemetery.

North Jersey red sandstone grave marker
Freshly-cut area where shrubs must have obscured headstones
Although the church (which I’m not sure was still “Baptist” as the maps indicated) was a bit ramshackle, it was obvious that the cemetery is being tended by someone. There was evidence that trees and bushes had been cut back and removed, to keep them from obscuring the gravestones. I thought this image (below) interesting – the marble stone on the left was still lichen-tinted from being in the tree’s shade for what must have been years, while its counterpart in the sun was lichen-free.

Though I could see no obvious hurricane damage in the cemetery, there was a very obvious reminder of nature’s powerful forces - a large granite monument to “The Unknown From the Sea” (a photo of which you can see at the beginning of this blog). This monument marks the graves of those unknown souls who have left the corporal realm by way of drowning, I suppose. It was in the center of a decoratively-fenced area of about 250 square feet toward the back of the grounds - plenty of room for folks who had tested their mettle against the mighty Atlantic Ocean, and lost.

Further reading:

Learn more about red sandstone and New Jersey gravemarkers in general in Adam R. Heinrich’s paper: 

Read about Manahawkin's Greenwood Cemetery in the "Jersey Shore Cemetery," blog by Ed Snyder

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Burial at Sea

When it comes to the idea of “burial at sea,” I’m probably influenced more by the romanticism of the idea than anything else. My guess is that most of my readers are too. When it comes to the cold, hard facts of how someone gets buried at sea, I’m in a rather wobbly boat. So it was with great interest and fascination that I phoned Captain Johnnie Lee, the proprietor of Long Beach, California’s “Burials at Sea” service.

Queen Mary in background
Amidst the pleasure cruise docks, tourist traps, and the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, is an interesting sign on Pine Street’s Dock 5: “Burials at Sea, by Captain Johnnie Lee (310) 387-0587.” I was in Long Beach a couple weeks ago, so I went down to the docks and phoned Captain Lee. Unfortunately, he was not at his boat at the time, so I only conducted a phone interview with him. He was very forthcoming with his information, and after I told him I’d like to interview him for my Cemetery Traveler blog, he invited me to the boat the next day. Unfortunately, I was in the midst of a teaching engagement at the Convention Center and so had very limited time.

The idea of burial at sea is intriguing to me, so I had many questions about it. What you see below is as close as I can get to a transcript of our conversation. I took notes while sitting on the pier across from his boat on a sunny Saturday afternoon in June, 2013.

Dock 5, Long Beach, California: location of Captain Lee's vessel
After I returned home to Philadelphia and read up on the subject, I found this excerpt from Captain Lee’s website. I’ll let it set the stage for the interview:

Capt. Lee, alongside his vessel, "The Great Faith" (ref.)
Image above and text below are from the website, “Burials at Sea by Captain Johnnie Lee:”

Scattering of ashes and a Sea Burial Ceremony is a time honored tradition. Widely accepted throughout the world, and becoming even more so considering factors such as cost, land use and environmental concerns, and acknowledged in the Book of Revelations, Chapter 20, Verse 13:
"And the Sea gave up her dead that were in it...."

Interview with Captain Johnnie Lee of “Burials at Sea”

CT: How many burials do you do?
JL: Three or four families per day on the weekend, and maybe one or two during the week. I’ve been doing this for about fifteen years. My business has grown to approximately 400 services annually.

CT: I assume we’re talking about ashes, not whole bodies?
JL: Correct. I do not do full body burials, just cremains. For full body burial, you have to go further out and you must be in at least 600 feet of water. You must also weigh the body down.

CT: How far out to sea do you go?
JL: Two to three miles – the law requires a minimum of five hundred yards.

CT: I hadn’t thought of that - there are laws and regulations …
JL: I am certified and licensed, as well as registered with the state [California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau] Cemetery Bureau.

I should note that my interview was done right off the top of my head. I called Captain Lee spur-of-the-moment, and I truly appreciate his graciousness and patience with me. So my questions kind of jumped all over the place, often being spurred in a new direction based on unexpected information imparted to me by Captain Lee.

CT: I assume your burials are somber events?
JL: Not really, it’s not sad. It’s peaceful, tranquil. The ocean helps a lot.

Image from the brochure shown above.

CT: How do you actually drop the ashes into the sea?
JL: I lower them into the ocean in a basket covered with red rose petals. When the last of the petals have floated away, I bring the basket back up.

CT: Sort of analogous to lowering a casket into the ground.
JL: Not really. It’s a scattering at sea.

CT: It seems romantic, something I don’t remember seeing anywhere on the East Coast.
JL: It’s not so much romantic – scattering at sea is part of the Asian, Indian, Hindu, and Buddhist culture, but is becoming widely accepted by all people.

CT: For others, whose religion does not dictate a water burial, it seems like there is no actual closure, no tangible memory left of the deceased – no grave to visit.
JL: The event is one of release and tranquility; each one is unique. I give each family an 8 1/2" X 11" certificate that has a seascape in the background, with their loved one's name, date the service was performed, GPS coordinates of the exact burial site, and my signature.

Image from the website "Burials at Sea by Captain Johnnie Lee"
[Captain Lee added, in a later conversation, "One of the advantages of a burial at sea service vs. the traditional, is you don't have to wait for business hours to go visit your loved ones.  Just go to the ocean, anywhere near the ocean, and you can have that closeness."]

CT: Do you get repeat business?
JL: Oh, yes many people who go out with me decide right then, that they want this type of service for themselves.

CT: Do you have any extraordinary recollections from your years of providing this service?
JL: Weather conditions. Choppy seas. On my first service, I let the surviving family member release the ashes overboard and the wind blew them back at us. Since then, I designed the basket approach.

End of Interview

I have to say that Captain Lee in no way thought this final comment humorous – he was very serious and treated the matter with the utmost respect. The honor and dignity afforded to the process and people involved by Captain Lee was quite obvious. My interview ended there with his invitation to meet me at his boat the next day. Unfortunately I could not do this.

One of the intriguing questions regarding a burial at sea service would be, “How much does it cost?” I have copied the full fee schedule from the Captain Lee's Burials at Sea website:

Fee Schedule

Witnessed Burials at Sea: $450.00 for 1 to 6 people on board when departing from Long Beach or Alamitos Bay*, $500.00 for 1 to 6 people on board when departing from Huntington Harbor. An affiliate vessel that carries up to 149 people on board is available. Please call Capt. John for pricing of this vessel. Fees are payable by Personal Check, Cash or Major Credit Card. Payments by Credit Card must be made two days before the planned departure date. Payments with Cash or Check may be made when we return to shore.

Permits: Client families are required to obtain the Burial At Sea Permit from their Mortuary, Crematory or local Department of Health, and bring it with them on the day that we depart. I will execute and file the Department of Health Permit with the appropriate agencies, with copies to my client family and Mortuary.
Non-Witnessed Burials, where I scatter the cremated remains without the family on board: $100.00 per scattering, payable upon receipt of cremated remains, and Permit.

Extended cruises and special requests may be accommodated.

* Note: An additional fee of $100.00 applies to Alamitos Bay departures only, payable directly to the Alamitos Bay Harbor Master.

Further Reading and References:

Burials at Sea by Captain Johnnie Lee website
Burial at sea, Wikipedia