Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Memorial Day Re-Dedication

Original setting of Silent Sentry sculpture, Mount Moriah Cemetery

I very rarely time my blogs with particular events. Not because I don’t try, but because I’m scatterbrained. You would think this would be relatively easy, with, for instance, holidays, which tend to happen on the same day every year! But for Memorial Day 2016, I believe I will actually be able to post a topical blog in time for the holiday! Now, I’m not perfect – the Memorial Day event about which I’m writing actually happened two years ago, in 2014. 
Re-enactors at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, for re-dedication of the Silent Sentry, 2014

But here’s a timeless fact: Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as it was originally called), an observance with Civil War origins, was first officially held on May 30, 1868. It was observed in Philadelphia at Laurel Hill Cemetery on that date (ref.).

The Silent Sentry

Ed Snyder with Silent Sentry
But on the Memorial Day in question, in 2014, the Civil War memorial bronze statue "The Silent Sentry" (sometimes referred to tas the "Silent Sentinel") was unveiled to a crowd of hundreds at Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery. I attended the re-dedication ceremony. It was quite an event, attended by Civil War re-enactors (both men and women), musicians, historians, members of the General Meade Society, the clergy, the military – in short, people from many walks of life. (The photo of me with the statue was made in May, 2013, when the Silent Sentry was initially delivered to Laurel Hill Cemetery.)

After gathering at the gatehouse on that bright sunny day, the crowd first proceeded to the grave of General George Meade (successful Union Army Commander at the Battle of Gettysburg), where some speeches and three 21-gun salutes were made. I happened to be in the wrong (or right, depending on your point of view) place at the time of the salute. I was standing directly behind the line of Civil War re-enactor soldiers when they raised their rifles and fired into the air! I was surprised by the loud reports and the smoke! However, I did manage to snap a few photos, one of which ended up on the front page of the Philadelphia Public Record newspaper a week after the event (click to see image). This is the photo below.

Civil War reenactors giving a 21-gun salute at General George Meade's grave

After Meade's headstone was decorated with floral wreaths (the original intent of "Decoration Day"), those assembled processed to the site of the veiled Silent Sentry statue, which had been placed high up on a newly-made granite pedestal. The original pedestal was long ago reused for a statue in Gettysburg National Cemetery, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

The Silent Sentry statue itself, a magnificent seven-and-a-half-foot-tall bronze of a Civil War soldier, was originally in residence at Philadelphia's Mount Moriah Cemetery. It was installed on the Yeadon, PA side of the cemetery in 1884; Mount Moriah spans two counties, half of it is in Philadelphia, the other half in Delaware County.

Ceremony at General George Meade's grave site

When and why did the Silent Sentry leave Mount Moriah?

If you’re a reader of my blog, you’re probably aware of the fact that Mount Moriah was in pretty bad shape between the years 1970 to 2011. The prior owners allowed it to become overgrown and did not maintain it. The volunteer organization, The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc., took over maintenance of Mount Moriah in 2012 after the enormous property (reputedly 300 acres) was legally abandoned. The Silent Sentry originally stood guard at the Soldiers' Home of Philadelphia plot, which was “a civilian organization that helped care for indigent and disabled Civil War veterans ... The home bought a plot at Mount Moriah for soldiers who died under its care” (ref.). The photo at the beginning of this article is a late-1800s image of the Silent Sentry in its original location (image is owned by the The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. or FOMMCI, and not for reproduction elsewhere).

The plot is the final resting place for 96 Civil War soldiers. In 1889, after 25 years of service, the Soldiers Home “dissolved their corporation and deeded their treasury and burial lots and memorials in Trust to the ‘Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States,’” or MOLLUS (ref.).
Civil War veterans' MOLLUS Plot at Mount Moriah Cemetery

Since then, the original Soldiers Home plot has been referred to as the MOLLUS plot. The plot with its small white marble headstones is still there (see photo above), but the statue and pedestal are gone. The Silent Sentry was removed in the 1970s by thieves, who stole it and attempted to sell it to a Camden, New Jersey scrap yard. The scrap dealer notified authorities, who retrieved the damaged sculpture. It was taken to the Laran Bronze foundry in Chester, PA where it was repaired. The bronze statue remained there for about forty years, as MOLLUS did not feel there was adequate security at Mount Moriah Cemetery.

The Silent Sentry’s New Home

Silent Sentry at Laurel Hill Cemetery
The statue has found a new home in Philadelphia’s historic Laurel Hill Cemetery, and was unveiled and
rededicated on Memorial Day 2014. It “stands watch over the Gen. Meade Post No. 1 Grand Army of the Republic burial plot, looking out at the cemetery where nearly 20 other generals from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, World War I and World War II also are buried” (ref). A fitting place for the statue, in many people’s opinion.

Silent Sentry arriving at Laurel Hill Cemetery, 2013 (

MOLLUS wanted a more secure location for the Silent Sentry. Although the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. has made great strides in improving the condition of the cemetery since 2012, there is still little security to guarantee the safety of the such a valuable piece of art. The new location is well-lit, near a public road, and fenced in. 

Veiled "Silent Sentry" statue at left, Laurel Hill Cemetery

But back to the re-dedication of the statue. Speeches were made and music was played during the ceremony. It was a rather solemn event. People forget that Memorial Day means more than just a cookout in the back yard with family and friends. Memorial Day honors those who have died in the defense of their country. Originally, the occasion referred specifically to decorating the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. The legal holiday originated in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), an organization of Union veterans, for the purpose of honoring Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Confederate traditions were observed on a different day but by the beginning of the twentieth century, the two had merged. The nation began observing the day in honor of all those who have died while in military service.  

At the lovely after-party following the ceremony, everyone had a chance to mingle and enjoy complimentary refreshments. I met a gentleman who introduced himself as a member of the “Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.” Knowing that my friend Sam Ricks, a member of the “Sons of Confederate Veterans“ was nearby, I introduced them to each other. After they smiled and shook hands, I slipped away into the crowd ….

References and Further Reading:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Melbourne General Cemetery, Australia

For this week’s Cemetery Traveler installment, I would like to introduce my guest blogger, Samantha Kent. Samantha lives in Australia and posted some interesting photographs on Instagram recently. They piqued my curiosity and so I asked her if she would share her experience at this particular cemetery with our readers. Enjoy! – Ed Snyder

Melbourne General Cemetery, Australia 
by Samantha Kent

My interest in photographing historic cemeteries began in August 2015 and has turned me into a serious taphophile and admirer of ironwork and stonemasonry. The beauty and history leaves me in awe and I have to make sure I have at least two hours to explore each cemetery because I get so enthralled in what I find. The majority of the cemeteries I have explored and photographed have been in and around my home town of Brisbane, Australia but recently on a trip to Melbourne, Australia I made a visit to the Melbourne General Cemetery and within minutes of being there it became my current favourite historic cemetery! I adore the statues and crosses within the grounds with most still in excellent condition despite being decades old.

Melbourne General Cemetery was opened in 1852 covering 43 hectares (106 acres) and is now considered one of the most important and historically significant cemeteries in Australia. The cemetery has different sections including chapels, gardens, 3 mausoleums added in the 1990’s, and religion sections specifically for individuals of different faiths including Church of England, Roman Catholic, Baptists, Methodist and Presbyterian. The cemetery holds several notable interments including Prime Ministers, Premiers, explorers and entertainers. The cemetery holds 300,000 burials which will mean several more visits by me in future.

Claude Cricket Williams' headstone

On this visit I came across several graves of interest. The first is that of Claude Cricket Williams. Claude’s grave inscription says he was “accidentally killed at the Bijou Theatre fire in 1889.” He was 28 years of age. My research has revealed that Claude was the hall porter at the theatre and Claude died along with Captain Parsons, 33 years old, of the East Melbourne Brigade. The inquest found that there was “abundant evidence to show that both men came by their deaths through disobedience of order.” In Captain Parsons’ case, he was with a group of fire fighters who placed a ladder over a narrow gangway in an attempt to get onto the stage. Despite being warned by others that the walls could be heard cracking from the heat, the men proceeded with the ladder until the east wall gave way, striking Parsons in the head. In the case of Claude it was deemed he stayed in the burning building in an attempt to assist with the fire “without any right as he was not a member of the fire brigade.”

A "Father" of the Australian Labour Day

The second grave I came across is that of James Stephens who the founder of the “8 hour system” in Victoria, Australia. James was a stonemason, Trade union official and Chartist who on 21 April 1856 lead a group of stonemasons who walked off the job demanding the 8 hour system (8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation, 8 hours of sleep) be introduced in Victoria, with the same pay. The movement worked and a public holiday called “Labour Day” is now held every year to remember this achievement.

This grave really caught my eye because it is the grave of a local undertaker, John Allison. I look forward to my next visit and what other stories I will find.

Check out Samantha's photographs on Instagram. Just click that link and log on with your Facebook ID (if you're not already on Instagram). Cut and paste Samantha’s Instagram identifier into the search box: "sammy_eternityandchurch_pics." Please visit and enjoy her work!


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ebeneezer Tucker, of Tuckerton, N.J.

I’ve been wearing the same old pair of jeans for a few weeks now, in order to jog my memory so I would write this blog. I bought them last summer under a strange set of circumstances which has to do with death and cemeteries. You’ll see.

In the summer of 2015, I flew off to a distant land to attend the funeral of my friend’s wife. The day of the funeral coincided with the week my wife and I rented a place on the Jersey shore. Plan was that she and my daughter would drive down to the shore (from where we live in Philadelphia), then I would fly back to Philly after the funeral and drive to Long Beach Island, where we would be staying.

A hectic week, that was. I flew back to Philly on a red-eye flight, and caught a few hours’ worth of sleep at home. Next morning I threw my stuff in the car and headed to LBI to spend the remainder of the week at the shore. I was quite diligent about including my photographic gear in that stuff, as I’d planned to stop at a cemetery I’d never been to on the mainland opposite LBI. Tuckerton, New Jersey, was my stopover destination, a small fishing village on the bay.

On scenic Route 9, in South Jersey!
Just about the time I was to get off the Atlantic City Expressway and head north on Route 9, I had one of those heart-stopping realizations – I had forgotten my clothes! I remembered the camera gear, of course, but I neglected to grab my suitcase with a week’s worth of clothes! Atlantic City was an hour south of Philadelphia, so there was no way I was turning back. But I didn’t want to be late getting to the shore to see my wife and daughter. What’s a guy to do?

This guy figured he had two options:
  •       Stop at the Atlantic City outlet mall and blow a few hundred dollars on casual clothes; or
  •       Stop at the Goodwill on the Black Horse Pike just outside AC and blow but a few DOLLARS on a week’s wardrobe!
I opted for the latter. I think I spent a total of thirty dollars. My wife would be appalled, of course, but hey, when in a pinch….

On scenic Route 9, in South Jersey!

So anyway, these jeans I’ve been wearing the last week, they were one of the thrift shop scores. Half the clothes I threw away since last summer, but a few shirts and these cheap jeans I kept. Every time I looked at them, I thought, “I gotta write that blog.” So they served that purpose, at least.

On scenic Route 9, in South Jersey!
Every photographer who travels the fine roads of New Jersey knows that Route 9 is a visual feast of roadside attractions, such as giant milk bottles, tiny Victorian houses, and dinosaur statues. And that’s only within a ten-mile stretch. Eventually I made it to Tuckerton, where a friend of mine lives. My stop was not at his place, however. It was Old Methodist Cemetery, a new notch on my “Cemetery Traveler” belt. (This cemetery, by the way, is also called Greenwood Cemetery on some maps.)

Old Methodist Cemetery, Tuckerton, New Jersey

This cemetery is tiny – maybe it takes up the space of sixteen single-family homes. An easy analogy, as Old Methodist is in a residential area, surrounded by single-family homes. The major cross street is North Green Street, a few blocks north of Route 9, or Main Street, as its called here in Tuckerton.

A permanently ajar rusty gate at the corner entrance and low stone walls on two sides separate its overgrown grass from the well-manicured middle-class lawns around it. As is my wont, I seldom do research on a cemetery BEFORE I visit it. Sure, I miss stuff that later on I kick myself for, but generally, I like surprises. So, coming upon old Ebenezer Tucker’s tall white marble obelisk was a bit exciting.

Ebeneezer Tucker's monument at rear
I kind of figured this sleepy little fishing village had a founder named Tucker. Tucker, oddly, was born in Tucker’s Beach, New Jersey, but later moved to what is now Tuckerton, which was in fact named after him.  So what did he do that was so noteworthy as to have the town named after him? consider the following excerpt from the website

"It was from Ebenezer Tucker (1758 – 1845) that Tuckerton received its name. In March 1789, Mr. Tucker hosted a feast at 'Clamtown' for the residents at which time they officially changed the name to Tuckerton. Tucker was prominent as its first Collector of customs; a soldier of the Revolutionary War and served at the battle of Long Island. He was a member of Congress from New Jersey 1825-1829; a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas; Justice of Court Of Quarter Sessions and Judge of the Orphans Court."

That’s all very quaint, and it's not surprising that the locals put him on a pedestal for his good deeds. But there's a little known fact about Tuckerton, this sleepy little seaside village, that surprised me - and made me wonder why Tuckerton is not better known outside of South Jersey. The website,, states:“Tuckerton became the Third Port of Entry of the United States, with Ebenezer Tucker appointed Collector; his  commission bearing date March 21, 1791 signed by George  Washington, president and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State.”

Odd Fellows Symbol on headstone
Apparently, Ebeneezer Tucker was quite a big deal, as was Tuckerton itself! What were the first two points of entry into the United States, you may ask? New York City and Philadelphia. At one time, for sure, Tuckerton played a major role in the growth of our nation. Today, people might think it unusual for a town this small to have THREE cemeteries, but then back in the day, it's population must have been much larger.
Walking through Old Methodist Cemetery you certainly do get a sense of history. Some of the headstones are very old, dating to the late 1700s. Established in 1699, Tuckerton was originally called “Clamtown,” as you read above. Tuckerton must have been a major source of this sea food before it was all fished out. So let's see, what else can I tell you about this little graveyard?

New Jersey State Seal
One thing that baffles me is the fact that, given the hard Atlantic coast weather, with the ocean salt spray and all that, why the detail has not worn off the soft marble grave markers? Further inland where there is more pollution and acid rain (I assume), such detail has long vanished from similar stones. Here, you can see the Victorian symbols of death quite clearly, the willow, the lamb. Even the New Jersey State Seal on old Ebeneezer Tucker’s 1845 marble obelisk is still plainly visible!

References and Further Reading:

Friday, May 6, 2016

Antique Cemetery Roses!

Old City Cemetery, Sacramento, CA (

I suppose I’ve been living under a rock all this time. Even my MOTHER knew about “antique roses” when I asked her if she had ever heard of them. Now, unless you're totally into horticulture, you might never think to put those two words together (unless you're naming a new rock band - "Antique Roses" is at least as good a name as "Stone Roses,” the name of a well-known British band). But Google "Antique Roses" and you will find something surprising, especially if you are a taphophile or coimetromaniac!

For those unaware of the names people use to describe us cemetery travelers, a “taphophile” is one who loves “funerals, cemeteries and the rituals of death” (according to and (according to www.wordinfo) a "coimetromaniac" is someone who exhibits “an abnormal attraction to and desire to visit cemeteries.

So anyway, its apropos of the season that I am writing this, as it is springtime and so many flowers are in bloom. Live flowers in cemeteries banish the darkness, the dread, and this is one of the reasons Victorian cemetery architects designed it that way.

Roses Gone Wild
I would assume that most people don’t realize that some of the roses growing in our old Victorian-era cemeteries might very well be the actual roses that were planted there a hundred years ago! If a cemetery is well-maintained and families trim the bushes around their ancestors’ graves, there’s no reason to assume that a particular rose bush might be “antique.” But it is certainly possible.

If an old cemetery is allowed to grow wild, like the 1855 Mount Moriah Cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia, one can see the effect of bushes and trees that are not maintained. A fifty-year-old rose bush can grow into a ten-foot ball of thorns, totally obscuring a headstone or monument. This has happened at Mount Moriah. Since taking responsibility for the grounds keeping in 2011 (when the cemetery was abandoned), the all-volunteer Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, Inc. has cut back a large portion of the bushes grown wild, the invasive trees, and Japanese knotweed that do their best to hide (and sometimes topple) the grave markers.

On a recent tour of Mount Moriah Cemetery that I gave to representatives of the University of Pennsylvania's Morris Arboretum (see link at end), I pointed out such an overgrown rose bush, which would soon blossom and equip itself with thorns that could pierce armor. Bryan Thompson-Nowak (Assistant Director, Continuing Education & Penn Student Outreach of the Morris Arboretum), replied simply, “antique roses.”

This was the first time I ever heard those two words together. I asked him to explain. It seems that people who know a lot about roses and want to propagate the old varieties, will visit old cemeteries and abandoned houses to get clippings of the rose bushes! Clippings can be used to start a new plant. Why bother? In addition to their unusual beauty and historical significance, hundred-year-old-rose variations are hardy. They may have lasted behind that abandoned house for fifty years with no need for humans to care for them.

“In addition to their long and rich history, old roses have many benefits over many of the modern hybrid varieties found in today’s gardens … these beauties are able to thrive under difficult conditions – and for good reason. You see, old or antique roses grow on their own roots, so they can tolerate winter’s freezing temperatures. In fact, they’re often referred to as “subzero roses.” Additionally, old roses are drought-hardy and easily stand up to hot summer sun and drying winds – once established.” -

Hundreds of rose varieties from the 16th through 20th centuries have been identified and are cared for in many cemetery horticulture gardens around the United States. See links below for websites that describe such gardens in Denver, Lynchburg, and Sacramento.

This weekend, in fact – Mothers’ Day Weekend – is the Annual Antique Rose Festival at the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia!

For an amazing tour of Sacramento, California’s Old City Cemetery historic antique Rose Garden (500 roses!), please visit their website:

References, Further Reading, and Photos Galore!
(Several of these links were graciously provided by Bryan Thompson-Nowak of the Morris Arboretum)