Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cemetery Coffee

I sit here in my kitchen at 7 a.m. nursing a cup of hot coffee and some minor bodily bruises. Fell on the ice in my driveway last night after getting out of my car. Went down like a ton of bricks – “ass over tin cups,” as my father would have said. Car keys ejected themselves from my key ring as it left my hand; with the projectile force of small missiles, they shot randomly into the darkness and snow. Ow. 

Anyhow, I’m sitting here staring at my coffee cup and wondering why I never wrote about Leverington Cemetery, which is located in Roxborough, Pennsylvania. That’s the horizon of the cemetery you see beyond Bob’s Diner on the mug above, the headstones casting long shadows from the morning sun. Weird design, huh? Bob’s owner (who I don’t think is actually named Bob) had a rather lively turn of mind to celebrate the fact that his diner was right next to a cemetery – great landmark to find the place!

Bob’s may just be the best greasy spoon diner in the Philadelphia area. I bought the mug there after a completely satisfying breakfast. You sit at the counter eating your scrapple and eggs while the short-order cook stands in front of you slamming more of the same on the grill for the next person. You can see the cemetery out the window, with traffic running on busy Ridge Avenue in front of the place.  Truly a “5 Star” “Monumental” eating experience, as the sign and mug describe.

Civil War Memorial, Leverington Cemetery
Roxborough is a suburb of Philadelphia, physically above Manayunk on a steep hill. Bob’s essentially sits at the top of Levering Street, or the “Manayunk Wall,” which is the focal point of the (bicycle) cycling world’s most grueling U.S. race course. “The Wall” is a section of the race circuit that is an 800-meter incline up Levering Street – it reaches a seventeen percent grade in spots. Doesn’t sound like much? Try walking that one time! The race is a 124-mile one-day event consisting of a 14.4 mile circuit that has cyclists riding up the wall SEVEN TIMES in the same day! (See link for more bike race info.)

At the top of Levering Street is the Leverington Cemetery. Its old American civilian graves are scattered among the graves of Revolutionary war soldiers and monuments, Civil War graves and a monument to those who died in that “War of the Rebellion.”

There is an amazing monument to a Civil War nurse, Hetty Ann Jones, with a medical tent carved in marble (see image below). Jones worked as a nurse caring for Union soldiers wounded in the war. She left Philadelphia's Roxborough area in 1864 to be closer to the front lines, at General Grant's HQ in City Point, VA. Within a month, she succumbed to pleurisy (a lung disease) in her “chilly, leaking tent.” She died alone, fairly quickly. Her family was sent for, but it was too late. I wonder if the tent flap is open awaiting them to come bid her farewell …? Like a faithful soldier, she died at her post,” says the book, Woman's Work in the Civil War.

Civil War nurse Hetty Ann Jones' grave, Leverington Cemetery

Leverington Cemetery is quite large, its land running far back off Ridge Avenue. The frontage is only about half a city block wide, which might give you the idea that it is rather small. The grounds are surrounded by wonderfully spooky iron fencing, the kind Tim Burton might have patterned the sets of The Nightmare Before Christmas after. I love the unusual granite pillars at the cemetery entrance.

The last time I’ve visited (summer 2012) I explored a bit back beyond the maintenance shed reading the names on the older headstones. I snapped this photo (above) at the time because I thought the headstone in the shape of a bread slice was distinctly odd. The older stones are back behind the adjacent closed Baptist church, its graveyard adjoining Leverington Cemetery with no perceptible line of demarcation. The church has been closed since the 1980s.

Most burial records for Leverington Cemetery were supposedly lost in a fire in the 1960s. Aside from the Civil War monuments, most of the grave markers are regular-sized, marking the graves of regular, non-affluent people. A lovely small-town cemetery up on a hill, with trees and grounds that are well-cared for (by whom, I don't know), Leverington Cemetery is a quiet oasis in the center of a busy commercial district.

That said, ghost hunters seem to love the place. Search the Internet for “Leverington Cemetery” and instead of historical information, all you’re likely to learn is that “apparitions” are seen “frequently.” On returning to my car the last time I was there, I walked around the maintenance shed and found one of the large red barn doors open. Luckily I only glanced inside -  I wished the sight had been just an apparition. However, I was mere yards away from some warm-blooded breathing guy taking a dump into a plastic five-gallon can. Perhaps he had a key, perhaps not. When your time comes, you have to let nature take its course, right? Time to finish my coffee and close the book on this topic.

References and Further Reading: