Thursday, April 30, 2015

Park Day 2015 at Mount Moriah Cemetery

On March 28, 2015, The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. celebrated our nation’s “Park Day” with a special restoration event at the cemetery (half of which is in Philadelphia, half in Yeadon, PA.). Tours and cleanup activities abounded! About a hundred people showed up to help restore some of the sections that had become overgrown.

America’s  “Park Day” is sponsored by the Civil War Trust. For the fourth year in a row, the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. participated and honored the memory of those who died in both wars. I was there to photograph and document some of the activities.

"Since 1996, the Civil War Trust has sponsored Park Day, an annual hands-on preservation event to help Civil War — and now Revolutionary War — battlefields and historic sites take on maintenance projects large and small. Activities are chosen by each participating site to meet their own particular needs and can range from raking leaves and hauling trash to painting signs and trail buildings."

Easily a hundred people attended, most with tools in hand to help clear graves. After I posted the image above on Facebook (click for link), one reader responded: "That is one of our old sledding hills in the back ground. The silver car is parked at the bottom. I don't know how long it's been since I saw it. Congratulations to the Friends of Mt. Moriah for your labor of love. If I didn't live in Arizona I'd be out helping you."

Section 27 (photo above) was an area of work concentration for the day. Flags were placed on Veterans' graves after the weeds were cleared.

Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Board Vice President Bill Warwick and his trusty chainsaw! That wonderful yellow shirt he's modeling with the Mount Moriah Gatehouse logo is available for purchase, by the way: $20 from the Friends. Please inquire at Help us fund future restoration work!

Volunteering to clear a heavily wooded area near the Masonic Circle of St. John are workers from Circle Landscape Services of Philadelphia. The company is affiliated with Philadelphia's Masonic Jerusalem Lodge 506.

One of the most photographed examples of overgrowth at Mount Moriah Cemetery is evident in the photo above. The orange paint marks the trees to be cut and chipped from around this crypt in Section 31.

Happy restorationists Joe (Sr.) and Joey (Jr.) Reilly (of Harleysville, PA) cleared overgrowth and weeds from the area around Civil War Nurse Mary Brady's grave. (Read more about their experience at this link.)

Volunteers tackling the high weeds in Section 27!

Temple University (Philadelphia) student volunteers Anastasia Longoria and Ryan Greed take a break from their work of clearing graves. Temple sent forty students to help at Mount Moriah for Park Day!!!!!

Circle Landscape Services (Philadelphia) workers start up chainsaws to fell trees around the Masonic Circle of Saint John. Note the tall marble column in the background, the monument to the Pennsylvania Masonic Grand Tyler. The column can be seen in the photo below, through the weeds at right. This is what the Circle of Saint John looked like before the massive restoration project of 2013!

Circle of Saint John, c. 2012

Joe Becton of the 3rd Regiment USCT (United States Colored Troops) was on hand to place flags on Civil War veterans' graves. He is greeted by The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., Board President Paulette Rhone at the check-in area.

Reverend Marlon Smith (photo above, far right in foreground) leads tour of “African American Sailors of the Civil War” in Mount Moriah's Naval Asylum Plot (Yeadon, PA side of cemetery). Rev. Smith's son, Joshua, read short bios of each veteran on the tour's stop. A wonderful presentation! The fellow at left is reenactor Dan Cashin (Fort Delware). This gentleman is a specialist on the war ships used in the Civil War, and explained the vessels on which each of the veterans served.

Reenactors stood guard at each grave on the tour of “African American Sailors of the Civil War” in Mount Moriah's Naval Asylum Plot.

Readers interested in helping out at a future restoration event, or sponsoring one, please contact the (The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. at The schedule is posted at this link.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Civil War Nurse Mary Brady's Headstone Found!

Joey Reilly plants flowers before the grave stones he helped discover (Photo FOMMCI)
On March 28, 2015, “Park Day,” the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. (FOMMCI) sponsored a cleanup and restoration event in this sprawling, formerly abandoned cemetery (you can read about the history of Mount Moriah at the website link at the end). America’s national “Park Day,” is sponsored by the Civil War Trust, and while it is mainly about saving historic Civil War battlefields, it also encompasses related historic sites. Mount Moriah Cemetery is sacred in that hundreds of Civil War soldiers and sailors are interred here.

Volunteers clearing Section 27 of Mount Moriah Cemetery

On March 28, 2015, “Park Day,” the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. sponsored a cleanup and restoration event in this sprawling, formerly abandoned cemetery (you can read about the history of Mount Moriah at the link at the end).  America’s  national “Park Day,” is sponsored by the Civil War Trust, and while it is mainly about saving historic Civil War battlefields, it also encompasses related historic sites. Mount Moriah Cemetery is sacred in that hundreds of Civil War soldiers and sailors are interred here. 

Joe and Joe Reilly Jr. beginning their day at Mount Moriah

I planned to photograph some of the events and projects going on that day, which included tours, searching for visitors’ ancestors’ graves, and various brush-cutting and raking endeavors. Section 27 on the Philadelphia side of the cemetery was the designated area for the latter, and scores of volunteers showed up to help clear weeds and other dead vegetation. This was one of the last opportunities to tackle these plants, as everything would be greening up soon. The live plants are more difficult to cut back, the leaves and vines hide headstones, and springtime ushers back the deer ticks and poison ivy.

Volunteers felling and chipping trees near the Circle of St. John

Section 27 is just below the Masonic Circle of Saint John (click link to map, which indicates the density of overgrowth in all sections of Mount Moriah Cemetery). Early in the day, as I was hiking up to the Circle to see what all the chain saw noise was about (volunteers felling trees), I noticed a young boy and his Dad pulling tools out of their car and setting up to cut weeds near the lower end of Section 27, near the road.  I interviewed them for a bit and took some photos. Joe Reilly, Sr., said he had brought his ten-year-old son to Mount Moriah a couple times and the youngster really enjoyed the landscaping work. As Joe Jr., Joey, went at the weeds with clippers, I could see he was really charged up.

Joey Reilly beginning to clear weeds from around the Brady headstone
 I knew that about thirty feet up the hill was the grave of volunteer Civil War nurse Mary Brady (1821 – 1864), which had been cleared last year but now had weeds growing all around it. I offered to show the Reillys her grave and suggested that, with this being Park Day - when we focus on Civil War-related historic sites - perhaps they would like to clear the area around her grave. They were both enthusiastic about this so we grabbed their tools and walked up the hill.

 From the Civil War Trust website

"Since 1996, the Civil War Trust has sponsored Park Day, an annual hands-on preservation event to help Civil War — and now Revolutionary War — battlefields and historic sites take on maintenance projects large and small. Activities are chosen by each participating site to meet their own particular needs and can range from raking leaves and hauling trash to painting signs and trail buildings." 

Joe and Joey Reilly, after having cleared the area around the Brady headstone

As I showed the Reillys the Brady head stone, Joey started poking in the dirt with a small shovel exposing pieces of marble. He asked me what this was. I explained to him that over the years, grave markers and parts of monuments fall and are buried by natural soil erosion. I told him that what he was poking at might very well be a headstone of someone in Mary Brady’s family. I left them to explore as I went off to photograph other events in different sections of the grounds.

Joey Reilly examines the headstone of the Brady children
About an hour later I stopped back to see their progress, and to do a “before and after” photo. To my surprise, Joey had unearthed a regulation-size marble headstone, lying on its back a few inches below the surface. I took a brush and swept some dirt off the top of the inscription, and saw the last name “Brady.” I congratulated them and told that they found the headstone of a member of Mary Brady’s family.  Joey was beaming! They had uncovered the headstone of Eward Brady, Mary's husband.

Civil War Nurse Mary Brady's original headstone; 1990s-era replacement stone at rear (photo FOMMCI)

At the time, I told them not to try and lift the stone themselves, but to go get one of the Friends of Mount Moriah volunteers to work with them. I had to leave then to go photograph the tour of the Naval Asylum plot and left the cemetery after that. You can imagine my surprise when I saw this photo (immediately above) on the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Facebook page the next day! The Reillys uncovered two headstones – one that marked the grave of Edward Brady and another that marked the graves of their children. At some point after the Reillys had gone, Ken Smith, Treasurer of the Friends, along with other volunteers raised and secured these, along with an even more fascinating stone.

Ken Smith uncovers Mary Brady's original headstone (photo FOMMCI)
In the words of Paulette Rhone, President of the volunteer Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.:
"As if the day could not get any better, it did. After the headstones for the family of Mary Brady were unearthed, we knew that she must have one too. Well, you know Ken [Smith] was bound and determined to find it and he did. Civil War nurse Mary Brady's original headstone is now standing tall with the rest of her family. Mike Comfort did the honor of placing the flag. It just doesn't get much better than that for Civil War Park Day!"

Hat’s off to Joe Reilly Sr. for providing his son with the opportunity to rediscover American history in such a personal way! And for giving us all a prime example of one of the things that can happen to headstones in a cemetery. For whatever reason – ground subsidence, vandalism, etc. – a headstone may fall. Over the years, it may get buried with leaves, silt, mud from water runoff, etc. Eventually, it may only be a few inches below the surface, but to the naked eye, it has disappeared. Unless documentation exists that a stone was there, no one can be sure if there ever was one placed. One could also assume the grave marker was stolen, or even that the grave was relocated.

When the 28th Pennsylvania Historical Association of the Sons of Union Veterans decided to honor Mary Brady’s memory in the 1990s by having a new grave marker carved and installed, it probably did not occur to them that the original stone lay but a few inches underground. Today, the original stands proudly before the substitute, but oddly, bearing different dates! The original shows Brady's life dates as 1821-1864, while the original shows 1822-1864. Ah, the mysteries of cemeteries ….. !

Volunteer Mike Comfort places flag before Mary Brady's newly-raised headstone (Photo: FOMMCI)

References and Further Reading:
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. Website
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc.
Facebook Group Page
Civil War Trust Park Day link

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Danger in Our Cemeteries!

This is kind of a follow-up blog to the one I posted last week, entitled, “Man Killed by Falling Headstone” ( That was about a poor unfortunate fellow who was killed on Easter (2015) in northeastern Pennsylvania when the family grave marker that he was decorating fell on him.
Perhaps every cemetery should have these sort of signs throughout the property. Perhaps also something should be done to prevent headstones and monuments from falling. The sign is offered by the state board charged with identifying and preserving Oregon's historic cemeteries.

According to the story, (Aug. 21, 2013) “Warning: Historic cemetery ahead:”

The safety signs are intended to warn visitors that historic gravestones can be unstable. If the heavy stone monoliths fall, injuries or even deaths can occur, the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries said. "The Commission tries to focus on practical services and programs for historic cemeteries." noted Commissioner Dirk Siedlecki. "This simple sign will remind people to use caution both for safety and for preservation of the markers."

Signage is important, obviously, but is simply the first step toward a lasting solution. I got to thinking about how to rile up the public enough so that money would be spent shoring up our cemetery monuments so they wouldn’t fall on people and kill them. Normally, if enough people die, something gets done. However, no one seems to be jumping up and down about the safety issues in our cemeteries. Maybe Ralph Nader needs to get involved.

1971 - "Danger in Our Hospitals"
Mr. Nader, as some of my readers may recall, is the famous consumer advocate who published the book, Unsafe at Any Speed, in 1965, which was a critique of the safety record of American automobiles and their manufacturers.

Oddly, I owe my livelihood to Ralph Nader. Currently I am a Clinical Engineer in an academic medical center in Philadelphia, but I began my career as a “Biomedical Equipment Technician.” This job classification was a direct result of something that Nader brought to the public’s attention. One of Nader’s alarming consumer alerts was published in the March 1971 edition of the highly-respected technical magazine, Ladies' Home Journal. To this I owe my livelihood. The issue carried the article, "Ralph Nader's Most Shocking Expose," in which he claimed, "At least 1,200 people a year are electrocuted and many more are killed or injured in needless electrical accidents in hospitals."(Ref.)

Who knows how many people were actually being accidentally electrocuted in U.S. hospitals, but it was a big enough scare that it birthed an entire new career, that of the “Biomedical Equipment Technician.” This person’s role was to keep all the electrical devices (everything from infusion pumps to heart monitors) safe for staff, visitors, and patients in U.S. hospitals. These technicians, who were usually electricians or electronics technicians, were not specifically trained for this new role– colleges and universities had no biomedical electronics degree programs at the time. The people hired for this technical role in hospitals were concerned primarily with keeping the existing inventory of equipment safe (for example, ensuring that every electrical device had a three-prong power plug to keep the chassis grounded). They were not initially involved in the design and manufacture of those devices, only in the ongoing safe use and maintenance of them.

A fallen, thousand-pound headstone

See the analogy to the falling headstones yet? To warn unsuspecting citizens of the potential hazards in cemeteries is one thing, but shoring up the monuments and headstones to ensure stability should be the next step. Not only that, but the manufacturers of these grave markers should be required to design them with a greater emphasis on safety. As I said in the “Man Killed by Falling Headstone” blog, our forefathers may not have expected that the ground would shift, that vandals would push headstones off their bases, or that earth tremors would happen – but we know that now! So why would we not secure new monuments with new technologies? One of the more obvious techniques - pinning headstones to their bases with metal rods - has proven to not be a viable long-term solution, for reasons that my Facebook Friend, David Gurmai points out:

Pin holes in the base of a fallen marble headstone
”The metal pin method causes the stones to degrade sooner. Metal expands/contracts faster than rock (cracking the stone), plus moisture still seeps in at the joint and corrodes the metal. You can tell the pinned stones in a cemetery immediately because their joints are rust stained and they are all cracking/cracked where the pins are. It only takes a few decades for the damage to begin showing.
In the late 19th century they "restored" the Parthenon with the metal pin method. By the 1960's (when the current conservation/restoration effort began) it was in worse condition than if they had done nothing at all."

It turns out that if the 1898 restoration effort had followed the method of the ancient Greeks, the Parthenon project might have been successful. Read more about that here.

So, can our cemeteries be made safer? Of course. All it takes is money, research, and perhaps, Ralph Nader. After all, Nader got the entire country so scared with his hospital electrocutions article that the problem was solved in ten years’ time. It all began with a bit of sensationalism – the opening line in Nader’s Ladies' Home Journal article was, “Too many hospitals are hazardous electrical horror chambers, says America’s leading safety crusader.” In the period between 1971 and 1981, the biomedical technicians (and later, biomedical engineers) along with hospital administrators, demanded safer designs from the manufacturers of electrical and electronic medical equipment. Eventually, medical products became very safe and therefore presented little of no risk to the patient or user.
A fallen, thousand-pound stone that nearly claimed a woman's leg.

The thousand-pound headstone pictured above nearly claimed a woman's leg when it fell on her. Unprovoked, it simply fell over as she walked by. Notice the off-level base. It took six men to lever the stone off her leg. Luckily, the ground was soft and gave a bit, so she did not lose her leg. She has internal pins keeping it together. I witnessed this calamity. You only have to see such a thing once to become a believer in cemetery safety.

So while it pays to be cautious around cemetery monuments, perhaps the monument manufacturers and stone carvers can incorporate new (or even ancient Greek) safety methods in their future designs. The Greeks used iron clamps to hold the Parthenon marble pieces together, but sealed the joints against moisture with molten lead. Molten lead being rather toxic, maybe non-metallic rods can be used to hold headstones to their bases? As an analogy, automobile manufacturers not only strive to make vehicles pleasing to the eye, but they also constantly improve the safety of the vehicles. True, certain aspects of this industry are government-regulated, but hey, if that’s what it takes to design safer cemeteries, so be it. Now if you will excuse me, I must go and see if Ladies' Home Journal is still in publication ...

References and Further Reading:
Read the entire article here: Nader, Ralph (March 1971). "Ralph Nader's Most Shocking Expose;"
Ladies Home Journal 3: 176–179.
Wikipedia article on Biomedical Equipment Technicians