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Archive for August 2015

Beautiful Dilapidation or Disrespectful Negligence? Mount Moriah Cemetery

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Some people I’ve met so far in the Greater Philadelphia area and Delco (short for Delaware County) blanch when they hear the word “Yeadon”.

Blanche twice daily.

Blanche twice daily.

Yeadon, as it happens, is a fairly nice town, a relatively quiet frontier city at the edge of West Philadelphia staving off townhouse incursion into Delco. The border guard’s moat, if we we’re picturing this medievally, would be Cobb’s Creek. The battleground of the dead, then, would be the little-known, breath-taking Mount Moriah Cemetery.

The cemetery is not as awe-inspiring as North Philadelphia’s gorgeous Laurel Hill Cemetery, but due to years of baffling neglect, it triumphs over the more maintained Laurel Hill with its beautiful dilapidation; vines crawl up gothic monuments, crumbling and weathered tombstones look as though they’re being pulled down into the earth, and wild animals slink in and out of the thick bushes which have enveloped a good deal of the northern section.

Currently, the 200-acre grounds – said to hold around 80,000 dead – is under the watch of the Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation (MMCPC), which only started up in 2014, and is slowly being restored by volunteers of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery. Prior to this, Mount Moriah Cemetery Association was responsible for the cemetery since its incorporation in 1885.

The cemetery was, not long after its founding, the perfect spot outside the city for the dead from Machpelah Cemetery, which before 1894 could be found on 10th Street and Washington Avenue. A news article cited the reason for the mass reinterment as health concerns, stating that the

bodies of the dead are sown there as thick as herring.

In the 80s, the cemetery inexplicably began to decline. Yet, even stranger and unexpectedly, it was reported in 2004 that the cemetery’s last officer, Horatio Jones, Jr., had died, leaving a will naming his wife as heir.

While details are murky and the sources questionable, an e-mail transcript circulated on the internet which documented exchanges between Mrs. Jones and several concerned citizens who complained of the poor state of the cemetery, the vandalized tombstones and fences, and the difficulty in locating the graves of loved ones under the encroaching weeds. The thread reveals that Jones responded to the complaints, vowing to speak with her husband, a strange courtesy, given that she stated she had “no substantive relationship to the Cemetery” upon her husband’s death later in 2004.

In 2011, after more years of decline from neglect, the last employee deserted his or her post, and the cemetery was suddenly closed, denying new burials and even those for which had already been paid.

It wasn’t until September of 2014 that the defunct ownership association was dissolved, and control of the cemetery was finally transferred to MMCPC.

While one source claimed that prisoners from a nearby jail were employed to cut grass at Moriah, the lot is now mainly maintained by the Friends organization. At one point, a “vacant lot program” run by the city estimated the cost of grass cutting at a mind-boggling $60,000.

The clean-up effort has some ways to go, but the Friends and its volunteers have so far managed to hack down an impressive amount of overgrowth. Curious cemetery goers may now be able to find such historically notable individuals’ tombs such as George Connell, Philadelphia’s first Mayor, Civil War Union Army officer William McCandless, or, for the more morbid, the graves of gangster Mickey Duffy and his bodyguard John Bricker (the Friends of Mount Moriah website gives a short but fascinating synopsis of their lives).

Unfortunately, Betsy Ross’s remains were removed and placed at the Betsy Ross House in the Old City. Or at least that’s what the grave diggers intended. Even so, Mount Moriah Cemetery is simply a lovely place for a walk among the mysterious, hidden graves and flourishing wildlife thanks to a chaotic past of care and neglect.

Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery (including history, cemetery map and plot outlines, and notable burials)

Mount Moriah Cemetery Timeline 3





Book-to-Movie Quandary and Review: A Walk in the Woods

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I know it’s a struggle for some to decide between reading the book first or watching the movie, a dilemma voiced by The Daily News in regard to the book-turned-movie A Walk in the Woods.

Halfway through the seven magical and impossible-to-put-down Harry Potter books (I’d spend hours locked in the bathroom, my favorite reading place, ripping through these things multiple times), I decided to see the first film in the theater: all was ruined. Hagrid was much shorter than I envisioned, the headmaster more twinkly eyed, and Professor McGonagall not Maggie Smith. No offense, Dame Smith. You were fantastic in Hook.

Also, let’s make this happen.

Recently, it’s been all I can do to refrain from watching Game of Thrones. Having finished the first book, I’d be safe watching the first season, but, as with the otherwise exceptional Harry Potter films, I’d lose all the imagery and character development I ascertained from the books. Although they did capture Snape EXACTLY as I had pictured in my mind.

This September, those who fear films shattering their carefully constructed characters (unavoidable alliteration, sorry), including myself, will have to make the decision when Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods goes to the screen.

Robert Redford will play Bryson, while (and more believable in my opinion, though I’m hoping to be proven wrong) Bryson’s kvetching hiking companion, Stephen Katz, will be played by Nick Nolte. The storyline has the pair attempting to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail cutting northeast from Georgia to Maine.

Bryson’s short travelogue is compactly packed as always with the more interesting historical and intriguing tidbits about the Trail and the small towns in its path.

What sets A Walk in the Woods apart from Bryson’s other books, such as At Home and The Mother Tongue, is its attempt (and success, I think) at capturing the dynamic between Bryson and Katz as well as the whole idea of travel and everything that come with it: dreadful wrong turns upturning an itinerary (like missing a destination by a half a mile and ending up hiking nonstop for nine hours), heart-palpitating dangerous situations, dashed hopes and failures, mental fatigue (“I’m finally here and I should look around, but I really just want to hole up in a comfy hotel room with a tv”), mind battles (“Why am I doing this again?”), and the mixed feelings of accomplishment (“I’m gonna do this again next year!”).

Which may adversely leading to some adopting the Bernard Black philosophy on life.

Which may adversely lead to some adopting the Bernard Black philosophy on life.

The book (and fingers crossed for the movie) shows the complicated and wonderful notion of travelling, of going out into the unknown and, afterwards, hopefully having a story – good or bad – to tell. If anything, it really shows how difficult it is to find a decent travel partner.

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

August 23, 2015 at 4:01 pm