Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cemeteries across the Commodore Barry Bridge

Ed Snyder (Photo by Robert Reinhardt)
Back in the fall and out of the blue, my friend Bob and I found ourselves with a few hours open in our schedules. We planned a road trip into South Jersey for the next Sunday morning (not terribly far as we both live in Philadelphia). Always in search of the interesting old graveyard, I suggested we drive across the Commodore Barry Bridge to see what that area had to offer.

The Greater Philadelphia area is replete with cemeteries, big and small. I’ve traveled quite a bit around the area in the past fifteen years and have not visited them all! Back in the olden days – like ten years ago – you had to rely on paper maps and written directions to find the graveyard you were after. One of the new technologies that makes these sacred tracts of land easy to locate these days are the GPS map Apps in smart phones. For example, with the Apple iPhone 6, simply type in the words “cemetery near Philadelphia” and the map lights up with little red push pins all over (indicating cemeteries in this region) and a cursor showing your location (let’s assume you are driving a car). Simply drive toward one of the red pins, and your cursor on the map will follow!

When you find yourself somewhere in the swamps of Jersey, you need all the help you can get. Guardian angels notwithstanding, the smart phone map app can be very useful. As we drove south across the Barry Bridge on Route 322, we didn’t see any cemetery dots for about twelve miles, until we came to the Swedesboro/Mullica Hill area. We found and tramped through three cemeteries that day.

Lake Park Cemetery

Our first stop was Lake Park Cemetery, a smallish suburban cemetery in the town of Woolwich, “situated high on a wooded hill and overlooking the placid waters of Lake Narriticon,” according to the Swedesboro cemetery guide brochure, “Alive with History.” This informative text goes on to say that Lake Park “has been considered one of the most beautiful and enduring cemeteries in the state.” Hmm. Perhaps winter is not the peak season here. I should probably return when the trees and flowers are in bloom.

Toy cars on a child's grave

Water pump, Lake Park Cemetery
The place was pretty desolate, although well cared for. There was a car at the office building and a quaint red water pump nearby. A few mausoleums stood on the high ground (that's a photo of me in the doorway of one at the beginning of this article), and most of the stonework was covered with lichens. This damp, shady cemetery would have looked great photographed with color infrared Ektachrome film, back in the day. With an orange filter, the lovely green lichens would be red, the stone would be grey, and the leaves would be, perhaps yellow? I used to shoot this stuff all the time, and although you can digitally simulate black and white infrared film, simulating color IR is a bit trickier.

Photo by Robert Reinhardt
But I digress. Like the lichens, there were many interesting details if one took the time to look. The leaf-covered cars on a child’s grave that you see in the photo above was quite a sobering scene. On the lighter side, I asked Bob to make a few photos of me here at Lake Park (like the one at left) for scale – where else but in New Jersey would you find a plastic leaf rake as part of the decorative grave installation?

Trinity Episcopal Church Cemetery

Trinity Episcopal Church and grave yard
Our next stop – the nearest red stick pin on my iPhone map App, was Trinity Episcopal Church Cemetery, about a mile away. The original “Old Swede’s” church sits across Second Street from the current and much larger church, its large graveyard alongside it. Colonial Swedes (hence the name Swedesboro) settled in the area in the late 1600s. According to Wikipedia, “The congregation was founded as a Swedish Lutheran parish in 1703 after local residents tired of crossing the river to Delaware or Philadelphia to worship.Rowing across a river to attend church! Now THAT is religious fervor!

The church’s graveyard has been here since 1703. According to the informative online brochure Swedesboro NJ – Alive with History,Many graves of the early Swedes, Finns, Native Americans and African Americans are now un-marked but plots are shown on a parchment map dating to the mid-1800s.However, headstones dating back to 1721 are still standing. One of the grave stones no longer standing is that of Eric Mullica, who arrived on this continent in 1638. His sons founded the nearby town of Mullica Hill. A commemorative plaque stands in the graveyard in memory of these pioneer settlers.

Mortonson-Schorn Log Cabin, Swedesboro
We don’t see a lot of ornamentation here in the old Trinity Church grave yard, just standard headstones. The first thing I noticed was a newer red marble headstone inscribed, “My Mother’s Grave” near the church, and a small old log cabin on the far (east) side of the graveyard. Turns out this cabin is “one of the oldest original log cabins of early Swedish-Finnish architecture in the United States” (ref.). Known as the Mortonson-Schorn Log Cabin, it was built in 1654 by “Morton Mortonson, the grandfather of John Morton, who signed the Declaration of Independence … Prior to and during the Civil War, the Mortonson-Schorn Cabin was used as a station for the Underground Railroad.”

Ivy, ferns, flowers, and other leafy designs
Across a small street from the graveyard is the “new” Trinity Episcopal Church Cemetery, which was created in 1812 when the original one near the church filled up. We see lot of floral-motifs on many of the stones here – marble-carved flowers, vines, and leaves. In fact, this row of four white marble stones above (members of same family, I believe) had distinctly different flowers, leaves, and vines carved on them!

The “new” cemetery’s most striking detail, I thought, was the brick-columned entrance way, with rusting iron ornamental lamps atop the columns. Flags from a previous Memorial Day lay inside the gate, near a rusty old water faucet.

St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church Cemetery

Directly across Church Street from the “new” Trinity Episcopal Church Cemetery we found St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church Cemetery. Originally I thought it might be yet another extension of Trinity, until I noticed the congregation on nearby Broad Street letting out, with the Catholic priest greeting those holier than I, those who chose to worship mass on Sunday.

Reverend Antonio Cassese's grave marker, St. Joseph’s Church Cemetery
In the mid-nineteenth century, Catholics found it difficult to buy ground for a cemetery here in Woolwich Township due to anti-Catholic animosity that reached its peak in America at this time. In the midst of this persecution, the cemetery was established in 1857, and St. Joseph’s Church was built in 1860. It’s first resident priest, the Reverend Antonio Cassese, is buried under the stone memorial you see in the photo directly above. Born in Naples, Italy, he served the parish from 1872 to his death in 1886.

Passion Flower engraved in granite
The floral motifs continued in this cemetery, with several granite examples of the passion flower. My friend Bob indicated that this symbol is quite prevalent on monuments in Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland. I had to look up it's funerary, mourning art, or religious significance, as I was unfamiliar with this flower. Here's what The Cemetery's website says:

“Passion flower - The elements of the passion of Christ: the lacy crown—the crown of thorns; the five stamens—the five wounds; the 10 petals—the 10 faithful Apostles."

Hmm. “Ten” faithful apostles? I thought it was eleven (twelve minus Judas)? Oh well, you learn something every day. After our cemetery tours, Bob and I adjourned to a local diner for a late lunch. Jersey diners are typically worth the trip. Visually, I include them in the garish roadside attractions for which New Jersey is well known. The food on the other hand, can be hit or miss. After ordering the breakfast burrito at this place I realized that I too, could easily prepare a breakfast burrito. What they served was pretty much what I would have made with basic ingredients found in the fridge – sausage links, onions, and store-bought salsa. About as basic and plain as you would expect from the Swiss and Finns, I suppose. But hey, at least they didn't use swiss cheese in the burrito!

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