It's up for debate

Beautiful Dilapidation or Disrespectful Negligence? Mount Moriah Cemetery

with 5 comments

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





5 Responses

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  1. Very nice article. Just for correction, the MMCA was incorperated by an act of legislation in 1855. Also, we have recently uncovered a document exchange April 17, 1968 between the cemetery manager/accountant and the lawyer of MMC which stated “… in short, I could not produce a body.” there is also evidence that the Betsy Ross House folks were aware of it and we’re doing it as a symbolic gesture. The “alleged” act of exhumation in 1975 was just not believable. Feel free to email me with questions.

    Take Care.


    August 28, 2015 at 2:20 am

    • Thanks for your correction and comment — that’s great information! I thought I recalled seeing/hearing something at the Betsy Ross House regarding her supposed reburial.


      August 28, 2015 at 6:30 pm

  2. This is a wonderful starting point for an honest chronology of the history of Mount Moriah Cemetery. Lots more that could be plugged in.
    Thanks for the great start.

    susan facciolli

    August 28, 2015 at 10:11 am

    • Thanks, Susan! Anything you might have to add, please feel free to share — the more detail, the better; this cemetery and its history has just really captivated me.


      August 28, 2015 at 6:31 pm

  3. […] received my own education today, administered by a sting-happy wasp I ran into while jogging in Cobb’s Creek. Once again, I felt the trace amounts of toxic chemicals flood into my skin albeit a faster and […]

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