April 17, 2013

Laurel Hill Cemetery

For some time I’ve been meaning to visit Laurel Hill Cemetery.  Founded in 1836, it is one of the few cemeteries in the United States to be designated a National Historic Landmark.  It covers over 70 acres in North Philadelphia, adjacent to East Fairmount Park.  Laurel Hill isn’t that far, but if I lived closer, I know I’d go there more often.  I’d make friends with the dead, like the boy in The Graveyard Book.


The office staff and groundskeepers were all friendly and helpful.  I picked up a map and some brochures in the office, and the employees gave me some suggestions on where to head first, based on what I was most interested in.  I was surprised that I didn’t see anyone else visiting that day.  In some places, I felt like I was the only person in the world.  


Many of the graves were from the 1800s.  The older graves tended to have the more elaborate tombstones and statuary.  The Warner plot in particular was interesting.  

the more well-known Warner monument
One of the most recognized graves in the cemetery is the Warner monument.  If you google “Laurel Hill Cemetery,” often you will find a photo of this memorial.  I think another figure in the Warner plot is also remarkable.  

the lesser-known but more liked by me Warner monument
Angels were well represented among the statues.  I didn’t see any Weeping Angels.  


One large tombstone noted that the man it was memorializing was buried in a cemetery in France.  He was an Army soldier in WWI.  I noticed that this monument faced east.  I wondered if that was a coincidence and if his headstone in France faced west, looking home.  


A grave both beautiful and sad was that of a mother and twins.  They died in the mid-1800s.  She was 34 years old.  The gravesite was at the southwestern corner of the cemetery, high up on a hill, overlooking the Schuylkill River.  On top of a pedestal was a statue of a woman holding two babies.  The inscription on the pedestal noted that they were all buried there together.  


These words from a poem by Philip James Bailey were engraved on the side of the pedestal:

WE LIVE IN DEEDS NOT YEARS
IN THOUGHTS NOT BREATHS
IN FEELINGS NOT IN FIGURES ON A DIAL
WE SHOULD COUNT TIME BY HEART THROBS
HE MOST LIVES
WHO THINKS MOST
FEELS THE NOBLEST
ACTS THE BEST


I like cemeteries, especially old ones.  I’ve mentioned previously that cemeteries are peaceful places.  City cemeteries can be a respite from the chaos and noise that typify an urban environment.  More than this, the dead are at peace themselves.  Whatever hurt them or burdened them in life is gone, as they are gone.  I don’t believe in heaven or hell.  I don’t think that people are burning for their evil deeds or floating on clouds with harps in reward for their good ones.  Everyone gets the same peace of the dead.  


Beside the Dead

By Ina Donna Coolbrith

WITH hands that folded are from every task,
It must be sweet, O thou my dead, to lie
Sealed with the seal of the great mystery,—
The lips that nothing answer, nothing ask;
The life-long struggle ended; ended quite
The weariness of patience and of pain;
And the eyes closed to open not again
On desolate dawn or dreariness of night.
It must be sweet to slumber and forget;
To have the poor tired heart so still at last:
Done with all yearning, done with all regret;
Doubt, fear, hope, sorrow, all for ever past:
Past all the hours, or slow of wing or fleet—
It must be sweet, it must be very sweet!


8 comments:

  1. Love the pics you took - and the place sounds cool. Glad you got to visit it.

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! I enjoyed taking them.

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  3. I really liked this post a lot and your observations on the appeal of cemeteries in particular.

    "Even in Arcadia, I exist."

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. I think this is one of my favorite posts myself.

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  4. That last photo- THAT'S the weeping angel....

    But I love Laurel Hill, I've gotten some fascinating shots of the monuments there.

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    Replies
    1. I love it, too. It's one of my favorite cemeteries.

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