Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit

So would Detroit have such a thing as a Victorian-era cemetery? I was headed there on business, so I wanted to find out. Detroit in the dead of winter didn’t sound all that enticing, so why not just visit the dead, you know? If San Antonio, Texas had a Victorian cemetery (which surprised me when I was there some years ago), Detroit must too, I supposed. A cursory search on the Internet turned up the gem, Woodlawn Cemetery.

A few miles north of downtown Detroit (on Route 1, Woodward Avenue), sits this amazing, star-studded cemetery (which has been in existence since 1895). Seriously, for star-power, this place ranks up there with the best of them. Notables buried there? Berry Gordy’s family, Edsel Ford, The Dodge Brothers, Rosa Parks, George Trendle (creator of The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet!), various Motown musicians, Albert Cobo (Mayor of Detroit after which famed Cobo Hall is named – c’mon, you remember the movie Detroit Rock City, where the teeners were trying to get to the KISS concert at Cobo Hall …?). Anyway, I was quite looking forward to my visit.

The visit itself was wonderful, but getting there was quite tense. My flight from Philadelphia was due into Detroit at 3 pm and Woodlawn closed at 5 pm. At best, I would have an hour inside the cemetery. At worst, I’d never make it. But I aimed high, and wanted to try.

Abandoned buildings along Detroit's Woodward Avenue.

I flew out of Philly in my green “Underdogs” T-shirt the day after the Eagles won Superbowl 52. Riding high! That is, until I hit the airport and saw that my flight was delayed, and I would now be arriving in Detroit at 3:40 pm [Expletive Deleted]! Still worth trying? You bet. My back up plan was a pet cemetery near 8 Mile Road (yes, the one made famous by rapper Eminem).

I call Woodlawn on a whim (that’s how my mind works, whims and misfires, basically). I ask whether the office closes or the gates are closed at 5 pm. The kindly woman tells me that “The office closes. The gates are closed at dusk (heart races).” This being winter (early February to be exact), I offer, “So the gates are closed around 6pm?” “Well, she says, “between 5:30 and 5:45.” Oh well, better than 5 pm. I just bought myself a half hour, perhaps.

My plane touches down, taxis forever to the terminal, and finally pulls to a stop. 4 pm. I get up to stretch my legs; can’t go anywhere as I have to wait for twenty-two rows of passengers ahead of me to exit. Then I realize former vice president Joe Biden is sitting in the seat ahead of me. Autograph seekers are murmuring. I’m sensing a log jam soon. I tell Mr. Biden that my wife saw his lecture in Philadelphia recently and she enjoyed his book. He says, “Thanks for saying so.” Not much else you can say to a celebrity at close range. Finally the line is moving! We get up to the cockpit …. and the pilot asks for the Vice-POTUS’s autograph! DAMN!

Vice-POTUS Joe Biden on the plane
To baggage claim, then to the Enterprise Rental Car shuttle bus. 4:15 pm. When the bus dumps ten of us at the auto pickup spot, all the counters are open and we all immediately get a customer service agent! The smiling young man behind the desk asks me if I’m in Detroit on business or pleasure. I stare blankly at him. People come here on vacation? I say I need to be at Woodlawn Cemetery by five and he drops all the mushy stuff and gets me into my car in about seven minutes. All the while, thrilled-to-be-there Enterprise employees are offering us all bottles water and bags of popcorn. Something’s up here, but I’m not sure what ….

I’m doing 80 mph heading east on I94 toward Detroit in my rental mid-sized, watching for cops in the rear-view. I get off I94 onto Route 10 North, and its 4:45pm. I claw my way up Woodward Avenue, past mile after mile of abandoned commercial buildings. Warehouses, movie theaters, fast-food joints, etc., boarded up, graffitied, missing roofs, doors, windows. If you’re an abandoned site photographer, this is the place to be. Woodlawn Cemetery is across from the Fairgrounds, just south of 8 Mile Road.

As I write this, I realize that you already know that I made it to Woodlawn – you see the photos here! But, allow me to continue my story. Fact is, until I pulled up to the property and saw the open gates at 4:55 pm, I really was never sure I’d get in.

The cemetery was covered in a blanket of pure white snow, it was quiet and cold - twenty degrees. I pulled up to the grand granite office building and went inside. No one at the desk. Heart races. I walk into the anterooms saying, “Hello …?” A gentleman sees me and tells me someone would be right with me. I go back to the waiting area and he returns shortly with a woman who sits behind the desk. I blurt out something like, “Hi, I’m visiting from Philadelphia and I know you’re closing soon but I’d like to get a map or something that shows where certain people are buried …” I try not to sound rushed. They ask me which graves I’d like to visit. First and foremost, Rosa Parks. The gentleman says, “2-4-6-8 ….. and if that doesn’t work, try 0-2-4-6-8.” No idea what he’s talking about. Then it hits me, "The combination to a community mausoleum?" “Yes. Her crypt is in the Rosa Parks Freedom Chapel, just across the driveway.” The woman tells me where inside to find her crypt, adding, “She’s buried with her husband.”

Inside the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel and mausoleum

She spent another five minutes with me, giving me maps showing where the Fords and Dodges and Hudsons are buried. She seemed happy that I asked where Berry Gordy’s family plot was (Gordy, founder of Motown Records, is still alive). I thanked her, grabbed the maps, and headed to the chapel. 5 pm. Maybe I’ve got a half hour.

"By refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus in 1955, black seamstress Rosa Parks (1913—2005) helped initiate the civil rights movement in the United States." 

I made up the security code for the chapel, by the way. If you want the real one, you need to ask the people in the office. Crypts line the walls leading to the central chapel area. Rosa’s crypt is to the right. Someone had left a rose in the vase, so I plucked a petal from it to take home to my eight-year-old daughter Olivia, who has studied Rosa Parks in school. February being Black History Month, it felt right to visit her first. Respectfully, I left the chapel, being careful not to slip on the ice as I hurried to my car.

I needed to at least drive through Woodlawn, to get the general feel of the place. It is rather lovely in winter. Curved roads, a beautiful lake, ornate mausoleums and with some grand Victorian statuary sprinkled throughout. On my left up a hill was a hauntingly beautiful white marble statue in a glass case. Snow was about eight inches deep, so I opted not to climb the hill. I drove most of the way around Section 10, hoping I would see Berry Gordy’s marker without getting out of the car. 

Mercifully, the sections are not square, and are not large, so you can see most of the monuments without much difficulty. The Gordy family plot came into view rather suddenly as I drove around the other side of the section. I got out of the car to see the red granite sculpture up close. Gordy, founder of Motown Records and producer to the stars, is still alive but a few of his family members are buried here. (Gordy discovered and developed recording artists Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and on and on and on!) He owns a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery in California, which may end up as his final resting place. (There is a rather amusing debate as to whether Michael Jackson is buried here in the Gordy plot - see link).

Ironically, the site I had the most difficulty finding is arguably Woodlawn’s largest funerary structure – the gigantic Dodge Brothers' Egyptian-themed mausoleum. This final resting place of the automotive pioneers is the only monument in Woodlawn that I located ahead of time on the Internet, so I knew what I was looking for. My map showed the name “Dodge” in both Sections 10 and 13, so I drove around both, but in vain. How could I miss something so large? Light was fading and I drove up toward the entrance gates to make sure they were still open. 5:15 pm. Still open. Lights on in the office. Cars still parked behind it. Did a U-Turn and headed back to Dodge. The beautiful bronze statue you see here with the sunflowers diverted my attention. I pulled over, got out of the car and spent about ten precious minutes photographing her from many angles. This sculpture is one of the most beautiful cemetery monuments I’ve ever seen. Such emotion, such sadness.

I should add that my main camera for this trip was my iPhone 6, with a chemical handwarmer packet rubber-banded to it! Ever since I’ve had it, cold temps drain a full battery to zero in about ten minutes and the fun is over. I also had my Canon G11 with me, as it is small and easy to pack.

I hopped back into the warm, running Hyundai and headed back into the center of the cemetery, realizing I had not tried driving around the lake in the opposite direction. Maybe I’d find the Dodge mausoleum that way. It was then that I realized I was not looking at two maps, one Section 10, the other 13, but two versions of the same map. Dodge was in lot 13 of Section 10. But then two deer diverted my attention.

One of three identical Ford family crypt covers in Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit

I drove after them, thinking I might get some video of them near the bridge over the small peaceful frozen lake. Except, I was distracted by the three large black marble crypt covers labeled, “Ford.” I pulled over and walked through the crunchy snow around the back of them to see the inscriptions. Edsel Ford and his wife Eleanor are buried under one. I’ve heard that their mansion in Detroit is quite a sight to see. The three family markers are elegantly understated in their beauty, nothing elaborate at all. I wondered if there was one or three underground mausoleums.

I turned around to take the serpentine road in the opposite direction around the lake, for one last attempt at the Dodge Brothers. I knew I only had minutes left. As I crossed the main center road of the property, I noted with comfort that the gates were still open. 5:30 pm. Always know when your gates will close - being locked in a cemetery is not a pleasurable experience. It has happened to me, and I’ve had many close calls over the years.

Mausoleum of the Dodge Brothers, Horace and John

And then I saw the massive granite structure with twin sphinxes flanking the entrance. It had a set of inner and outer bronze doors, cast with the Egyptian winged deity, Horus, symbol above (sphere with wings) - I assume "Horace" Dodge helped choose the design!

Egyptian funerary style was quite popular in the Victorian era, people no doubt placed heavy emphasis on life after death. On many surfaces of the Dodge brothers' mausoleum, we also see the twin rising cobras, or uraeus, which symbolize protection - guardians of the gates of the underworld. 

Wikipedia describes the sphinx is a powerful Egyptian deity "viewed as benevolent but having a ferocious strength." This quite amused me after reading the biographies of Horace and John Dodge, as this describes them to a "T" (a Model T, perhaps, as you'll read in a moment)! Maniacal innovators and cutthroat competitors, the Dodges treated their employees amazingly well for the times (1920s). The Dodge plant had a “fully staffed medical clinic, a department to look after workers’ social needs, and, perhaps most significantly (and a fore-runner of Silicon Valley and 3M), a machine shop called “the Playpen” where men could fix or invent things after hours. Employees were served huge platters of sandwiches and pitchers of beer at lunch hours, paid for by the company” (ref.).

Like the twin sphinxes, the Dodge brothers were inseparable - they dressed in identical tailored suits and would not even open mail unless it was addressed to both of them! If not for automotive pioneers Horace and John Dodge, Henry Ford’s company would have disappeared in 1903. They redesigned the Model T to make it more reliable and marketable, and built all its parts for Ford, bailing Henry Ford out of near-bankruptcy! - read their fascinating story here.

What struck me as very distinctive to their mausoleum was the giant (I can’t even estimate its size) stained glass window in the center of its back wall. Pyramids! What an amazing design! Pyramids rise from the earth to the heavens, as the Egyptians expected would happen to them after death.  

It really was time to leave. Very cold and the light was fading. I rolled out of the gates at 6 pm (Thank you Woodlawn!), pulled the car over, got out and made this final photo of the illuminated “Woodlawn Cemetery” sign (that’s the Rosa L. Parks Freedom Chapel/mausoleum in the distance, at bottom left). I turned back for one last look at the imposing granite gatehouse just as a woman was closing the main gates behind her. I immediately thought of the Victorian notion of woman, the designated mourner.

I expect to return to Woodlawn at some point, as I now do business in Detroit. There is still the Hudson mausoleum to find, Michael Jackson's memorial (he's not buried here though), and the grave of George W. Trendle, creator of The Lone Ranger. I kind of felt like a Lone Ranger myself during this visit. No one (in their right mind) was out on the grounds this day except for me and the stellar ghosts of our collective past. All silent in the snow, with frozen beauty all around me.

Please see links below for further information:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mom Loved to Fly

Elizabeth Jones, c. 1930
My guest author for this blog post is my Mom's cousin, Cheryl. With all the media focus lately on Amelia Earhart, I asked Cheryl Owens Fox if she would write a memorial blog about her Mom, Elizabeth Esther Jones, my great aunt. She was an airplane pilot at the same time as Earhart, which was astounding, really, as women were seldom allowed in "men's" professions. Hope you enjoy! (PS. I must point out the great photo Cheryl provided of her Mom with my grandfather, Daniel Jones!)

Mom loved to fly.  For as long as I can remember, whenever she heard an airplane overhead she would stop and watch it, smiling, until it flew out of sight.  I don’t know when she was first attracted to flying. Perhaps it stemmed from her admiration of Amelia Earhart, an adventurer and a strong supporter of equal rights for women who refused to be confined by convention.  Mom certainly did her best to be unconventional!  Or maybe it was when she fell in love with an aspiring pilot named Woodie.

Elizabeth with Daniel Jones
My mother, Elizabeth Esther Jones, was born in 1914 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to Welsh immigrants who had arrived in the US in 1905. Her father was a coal miner in Wales, so his skills enabled him to find work in the Anthracite coal region of northeastern Pennsylvania. Working in the mines provided a good living for his family, but it also took away his health.  He died in 1920, when Mom was only 6, just a month after his eldest daughter had passed away because of heart problems.

Mom watched her mother struggle to provide for herself and her 3 children, working as a cook and a maid as she had in Wales before emigrating.  When she was 14, Mom quit school to work and help support her family so that her two brothers could continue their education.  She and her best friend Marion found work in the Wilkes-Barre Lace Mill.  As the mill was owned by a Mr. Smith, they jokingly referred to it as “Smith College.”  Years later, they would still laugh about it.  They both worked at the mill through their early twenties. Apparently wages were reasonably good, as Mom was able to pay for flying lessons and was earning more than my father when they married in the late 1930s.

"Woodie" - Woodrow B. Evans (c. 1935)
I don’t know when Mom first met Woodie, but by 1935, they were engaged to be married.  Woodrow Baden Evans was an electrician at Dorrance Colliery, a coal mine in Wilkes-Barre where Mom’s father had worked years before.  Woodie was learning to fly, and on April 24, 1935, he earned his private pilot’s license.  Sadly, it was only 4 months later that he was electrocuted at work.  He was only 22.  I know Mom mourned him for a long time, as I have found notes among her papers that she had written about him after his death.

By early 1937, Amelia Earhart had already flown solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific.  Just two days before Earhart began her ill-fated trip around the world, Mom took her first flying lesson.

Elizabeth Jones' flight log

I still have her pilot log book, one of my most precious possessions, so I know her lessons were in a Taylor Cub.  She flew out of Wyoming Valley Airport, a small airport just a few miles north of Wilkes-Barre which is still in use and still offering flying  lessons.  She also joined the Wyoming Valley Flying Club which was led by her flight instructor, Bill (Roland) Klisch.  Mom’s friend Marion occasionally accompanied her to her flying lessons, and eventually Bill and Marion fell in love and married.  The three remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

Taylor Cub, like that flown by Elizabeth Jones in 1937

Amelia Earhart’s plane was reported lost in the Pacific just one month after Mom’s first flight.  She was my mother’s idol, and for years Mom saved the many newspaper clippings she had accumulated about Amelia.  I remember reading them when I was young and dreaming about having adventures like she had.

On Sunday, December 12, 1937,  mom flew her first solo flight.  Her flying club newspaper wrote “…She experienced a little difficulty with the stabilizer adjustment on the first landing and as a result bounced around a little, but all who witnessed the second landing agreed it was perfect.”  She was so proud of her “wings”.  When she was older, she had them mounted on a disk that she could wear on a chain around her neck.  She never took it off.

One of mom’s stories about her flying days involved a famous boxer who she had met at Wyoming Valley Airport.  She talked about how big he was, and how her hand disappeared in his when they shook hands.  I had forgotten his name until recently, when I was flipping through her pilot’s log and noticed something handwritten on the second page.  It was an autograph:  “Good luck, Jack Dempsey”. She had met the man who was boxing’s world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926.

Boxer Jack Dempsey's autograph in Elizabeth's plane manual

My family moved to Florida in 1958, about a year before my grandmother passed away.  Although she enjoyed her new home, Mom always missed her family in Wilkes-Barre.  She also never forgot Woodie, her first love.  It was over twenty years after my father died that I lost my mother.  She had given me careful instructions that she was to be cremated and her ashes returned to Wilkes-Barre, where I was to spread them on her mother’s grave and on Woodie’s.  I knew my grandmother was buried in Mount Greenwood Cemetery in Trucksville, just a few miles outside of Wilkes-Barre, along with my grandfather and step grandfather.  But where was Woodie buried? Mom couldn’t remember the name of the cemetery.  When I was young, we had visited his grave several times, but I had no idea where it was located.

Elizabeth Jones' mother, Elizabeth's (1880 -1959) grave, Trucksville, PA
Finding Woodie’s grave was almost an impossible task.  I spent many hours on line trying to find him, and even convinced a dear cousin who lived near Wilkes-Barre to help me visit all the cemeteries in the Wilkes-Barre area.  I could not find him.  I spread half of my mother’s ashes on her mother’s grave that year, but, hoping I would find Woodie one day, I saved the rest and returned home to Alabama.

Several years later, I was looking through some of my mother’s papers that had been in storage when I came across a small, yellowed newspaper clipping.  It was about Woodie’s funeral at Fern Knoll Burial Park in Dallas, Pennsylvania, and told how his friends from Wyoming Valley Airport had honored him by circling above and dropping flowers during the ceremony.  I discovered his grave was just a few yards from the graves of my father’s father and step-mother.  That was why I remembered visiting it when I was young.

When I finally stood in front of the Evans family’s tombstone, tears began  streaming down my face.  I had never met Woodie, but I knew how much my mother cared for him for all those years.  I placed a photo of the two of them on his grave marker, along with Mom’s ashes, and told him that he had never been forgotten.  In my mind, I could see Mom smiling.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Ed Snyder's "Stone Angels" at Art for the Cash Poor!

On July 17-18, 2017, I will be showing (and selling) a sampling of my 17-years’ worth of cemetery photography at InLiquid’s 16th annual “Art for the Cash Poor” event. This is a large social event in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood that will feature 100 artists, beer, live music, food, and great art - with no single piece costing more than $199!

I’ve been an InLiquid (sort of an artists’ collective) artist for over 10 years and have done the AFTCP event many times. In recent years, however, I’ve not had the opportunity to attend. My job would take me to various parts of the U.S. on the same weekend. (I would, in those instances, make the most of it and visit and photograph the grand Victorian cemeteries in the region.) In the few years since my last AFTCP showing, I’ve made a lot of new work, a portion of which you will see at the event. I will have matted prints, greeting cards, and my books for sale - which I will gladly sign. (By the way, if you purchase a book at the event, you save shipping costs versus buying them through Amazon or!)

Artist and critic Don Brewer describes my work as “dark tourism,” and it is. Quite voyeuristic for most observers. A peek into the dim dark corners of everyone's mind, where death lurks, awaiting us all. I just happen to get a little closer to it than most of you. (Read Don's review of one of my exhibits here.) Quite often, people will tell me why they are buying a particular photograph. Sometimes it’s a funny story, sometimes disturbing, but always informative. Sharing such feelings and emotions helps us all grow, and I’m glad people find their own meaning in my work.

I do enjoy talking with all of you, so please stop by! I appreciate hearing about new cemeteries I haven't visited, and quite honestly, am surprised by some of the stories you tell me. Recently a woman approached me at a show and proceeded to tell me about the morning after her husband died. He was in the hospital and she received the sad news that night. The next morning her 5-year-old son woke up and came in to see her. She told him what happened and he said, “That must have been when Daddy was in my room last night with all the bright light around him.” I didn’t know what to say either.

Visit InLiquid’s event page to see the kind of art (and all the artists) who will be at Art for the Cash Poor with me (I will be outside, by the way, near the bands and beer!). Great opportunity to meet talented creators, for instance, my daughter Juli Snyder who will be there with her abstract “Black Arrow Arts” paintings and prints.

"Fractures in Light," Juli Snyder

Art for the Cash Poor: June 17–18, 2017 – Noon–6pm
InLiquid is pleased to present our annual summer art sale at Crane Arts located at 1400 N. American Street. Based on the premise that everyone can be an art collector, AFTCP is one of the longest running art festivals in the Kensington/Fishtown area. The best part: all works, by both emerging and established artists alike, are priced at $199 and under. This is a one-of-a-kind event where first-time collectors can speak with artists firsthand about their process, inspiration, and above all: find their niche within the arts scene.

For more examples of Ed Snyder's work, please visit these sites:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Restoring Gladwyne, PA's formerly abandoned Jewish Cemetery

The densely forested Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery
Dragging tarps loaded with dead tree branches up the hill and out of the old graveyard didn’t seem like such a big deal. However, this was definitely work! My new volunteer friend and I took about six loads over a course of two hours before we finished the job – or more realistically, before the job finished us.

Wood cuttings awaiting removal
About thirty of us showed up on this cool Monday morning, MLK Day in January 16, 2017, volunteering our efforts to cleanup an old abandoned graveyard. Why? Respect. Respect for our history, respect for those who came before us. The event was organized and led by the Beth David Congregation, of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. It's synagogue is a little way up Conshocken State Road, walking distance from what is now being called The Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery.

Beth David was recently granted legal ownership of Har Hasetim Burial Ground, this forested gem of Jewish history  (the cemetery had been active from about 1890 to 1945) in the deep woods of Gladwyne, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia). Its past is checkered and colorful, and someone must someday write its full history (portions of it can be read at this link). In the meantime, its decay has been stalled, and in fact, reversed. A considerable effort has been put forth over the past few years by Beth David’s “Friends of Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery,” a community partner of West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, PA.

Volunteers clearing weeds from graves on MLK Day, 2017

About twenty of our MLK Day group were here thanks to “Repair the World,” a volunteer organization that “works to inspire American Jews and their communities to give their time and effort to serve those in need. We aim to make service a defining part of American Jewish life” -

Central area of the property
I’ve written previously on The Cemetery Traveler about this formerly abandoned Jewish graveyard in the woods, and you’re certainly welcome to reread those posts listed at the links at the end. They’re in a chronological order that, well, chronicles my experience with this wonderful chapter of our history. In short, I found it in 2010, after hearing about its fabled existence for five years prior to that. To say that Har Hasetim, or “Mount of Olives” Cemetery is in a secluded location, is to underestimate its inaccessibility.

Har Hasetim is in the woods, surrounded by multi-million dollar private homes, in the Philadelphia suburb of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The obvious question on many peoples’ minds is, “How do I get to it?” Well, you don’t. At least not without an escort, for the time being.
Entrance to the cemetery
Organized tour of Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery in 2015

Currently, if you want to see the property, you need to attend one of Beth David’s tours, which are typically associated with a cleanup event. Typically, people meet at the synagogue (1130 Vaughan Lane, Gladwyne, PA 19035), then walk down the horse trail through the woods to Conshohocken State Road. A few hundred feet down the road, you file up into the driveway of a private home (a right of way to the cemetery that has existed since the surrounding properties were subdivided many years ago - the neighbor has been gracious in recognition of that right of way and is a supporter of the Friends' efforts), through the back yard, past the wood pile, and into the cemetery. A pair of crumbling stone posts flank the entrance to Har Hasetim. There is no automobile access to the property at this point in time.

(Check the Friends’ Facebook and website for scheduled events and get on their mailing list. See link at end.)

Invasive wineberry plants in lower portion of cemetery, winter, 2013

The request on this 2017 MLK Day by the Friends group was to focus on pulling the prickly red wineberry plants from the grave sites. Heavy gloves were distributed. Truth be told, at this point the cemetery looks rather good, the result of many prior cleanup efforts. I made the photo above in the winter of 2013, showing the immense wineberry tangle obscuring the majority of the graves in the lower section of the graveyard. Today, it looks like this, below. Still, there is much work to do. 
Absence of wineberry plants in lower portion of cemetery, winter, 2017

"Ecograss" test patch in upper portion of cemetery
The invasive trees and vines that have grown wild on the property will eventually be taken down. On this MLK Day, there was a tree cutter with a chain saw felling dead trees. In the future, weeds and other invasive growth are expected to be kept in check with “Eco grass,” a low maintenance, drought tolerant, durable mix of lawn grasses. In fact, there are a few test patches near the cemetery’s entrance that had been test planted in the fall of 2016, by the Philadelphia-based non-profit LandHealth Institute (, which is consulting with Beth David on the restoration of the property. If it was green in mid-winter, it does indeed seem to be a hearty variety of grass.

Below you see a photo of the same section from 2014, prior to weed removal and planting of the Eco grass. Its also worth noting that all the rusty sections of old fencing seen throughout the cemetery will remain. Originally, they delineated family plots and organizational plots.
Same section as shown in photo above, but made in 2012.

Log trail through cemetery
Sounds like I've spent quite a bit of time researching this place, doesn’t it? I have, in the past. During previous visits, I’d learned much about the cemetery’s history, and plans for its future from the dedicated members of the Friends of Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery. However, on this MLK Day, all I did was help drag and carry dead branches from the lower graveyard to the upper region so that the wood chipper people can turn them into chips to line the log-bordered path that meanders through the property.

At end of MLK Day, "Repair the World" leader addresses volunteers

After my teammate and I finished clearing the branches, I spent an hour or so pulling weeds and wineberry stalks from graves. I stopped every so often to take a photo of the other volunteers doing the same. It was heartening to see children helping as well. At the end of the day, Neil Sukonik (president of the Friends group) and the leaders of Repair the World addressed the volunteers, thanked them, and ended the event with a prayer.

References and Further Reading:
Friends of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery on Facebook
Friends of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery Website

For a fascinating bird‘s-eye-view of the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery, click this YouTube link from the Beth David Reform Congregation website:

Ed Snyder's “Cemetery Traveler” blog posts about the Gladwyne Jewish Memorial Cemetery in chronological order:

Holocaust Remembrance Day, posted April 30, 2016
Graves Beneath the Snow, posted March 9, 2014

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Jewish Cemetery Vandalized in Philadelphia

This has been a busy week for the small (Jewish) Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia. You’ve no doubt heard of the desecration - it became national news: 75 to 100 headstones were knocked over sometime Saturday evening, February 25, 2017. This follows on the heels of similar vandalism in Missouri, from February 20, when over 100 headstones were toppled in the Jewish Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in University City, Missouri (see story at this link:

Philadelphia Daily News
To fuel the fear of a “hate wave” spreading across America, about thirty bomb threats were made at the end of February to Jewish schools and community centers in eighteen states (see link). As of this writing, the case has been solved and seems to have been the work of one person, not related to the incident at Mount Carmel Cemetery.
A portion of the damage in Philadelphia's Mount Carmel Cemetery

Bad stuff, any way you look at it. However, I’m not going to jump on the hate crime bandwagon just yet, even though the FBI is investigating the vandalism. Why? Well, for one thing, thirty-three headstones were toppled last month in the Holy Redeemer Catholic Cemetery in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia (see link), less than two miles from Mount Carmel. So it may not be antisemitism, just cowardly aggression toward those who cannot defend themselves – the dead. In both Philadelphia situations, communities have come together to repair the damage.

Volunteer registration at Mt. Carmel coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

I’m still (perhaps naively) thinking it was a small group of drunken kids with beer muscles, at least in Philadelphia. Should the people responsible be caught and punished? Damned right. A $69,000 reward (it increases each day, see link) is being offered through a variety of sources for the apprehension of those responsible. 

Headstone fallen and broken in half
Looking at the situation from a vandal’s perspective, Mount Carmel was, unfortunately, an easy target. And that may simply be the main reason it WAS targeted. If you wanted to topple headstones, Mount Carmel would be a better choice than any of the cemeteries on the other three sides at this intersection (Cedar Hill and North Cedar Hill) of East Cheltenham Avenue and Frankford Avenue in north Philadelphia. At Mount Carmel, you are hidden from the road by the densely-packed headstones, making it easy to do your dirty work without being seen.

Mount Carmel Cemetery also has no road inside it so neither police, nor any other cars, can drive through it. Besides, the gates are left open at night, unlike the other, better cared for and more secure cemeteries. The rear gate opens up onto a parking lot and there is quite a bit of tree cover. These many drawbacks will be remedied, however, through the generosity of many donors - significant improvements will be made to the cemetery going forward. 

Wide open rear gate at Philadelphia's Mount Carmel Cemetery

Throughout this past week, hundreds of people have volunteered their time to help repair the damage done at Mount Carmel Cemetery. 

On March 1, 2017, I visited and spoke with members of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, who were organizing the volunteer effort. A registration table was set up at the cemetery’s entrance, bottled water and bags for trash, branches, and weed clippings were provided. Dozens of volunteers (all races and religions) spent the day cleaning up debris, raking leaves and dead branches, and marking and cataloging the damaged grave stones. The Federation has been receiving calls from individuals asking if their ancestors’ headstones had been knocked over. They took it upon themselves to gather this information. Someone had placed cut flowers on all the damaged headstones and monuments. People are upset, but have joined together to correct the situation.

Philadelphia Inquirer,

I’ve seen damage in cemeteries, but I was not prepared for this. You can't really grasp the magnitude of the damage through on-the-ground newspaper photos. A hundred headstones does not seem like a lot, but Mount Carmel is not a large property. This may amount to a tenth of all the stones in the cemetery. The swath taken by the vandals is obvious, as you walk the length of the property. Stones are toppled throughout the center portion of the rectangular cemetery (east to west). The aerial photographs published by the newspapers give the best depiction of the extent of the damage. Seeing this atrocity in person is jaw-dropping – cracked stones, large monuments pushed off their pedestals, grave markers of all shapes and sizes knocked over.

From the Philadelphia Police Department
Anyone with information on the suspect(s) involved in this crime, please contact either:

·         Northeast Detective Division – 215-686-3153/3154
·         Philadelphia Police Tip Line – 215-686-TIPS (8477)
·         Tips via email –
·         Citizens Crime Commission – 215-546-TIPS (8477)

Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Donation page for Mount Carmel Cemetery:

Preventing Future Damage
There is a clear message being sent to the criminals responsible for the Mount Carmel damage – the greater community will repair the damage and will prevent such damage in the future. Police will patrol the property 24x7 until the criminals are caught. Fencing will be improved.

“… the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council offered to replace the toppled headstones and … the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 98 offered to install additional lighting and security cameras." -

Mount Carmel is apparently an active cemetery, as I was told of a relatively recent burial here, 2015. There is a bit of pre-existing damage (a few fallen headstones), a bit of overgrowth, and some areas where the ground has subsided, causing a handful of grave markers to tilt. Clearly, work needs to be done here, especially if families have paid for “perpetual care.”
Volunteers bagging debris at Mount Carmel Cemetery

The lopsided headstones made me realize that before members of local labor unions are allowed to reset the fallen headstones, someone needs to consult a professional about a safe and secure way of doing that. Even if the stone base of the headstone is level, the headstone should be pinned to its base with steel or fiberglass rebar to prevent future damage. Believe it or not, many extremely heavy granite headstones simply sit on their bases! They are not fastened in any way, which is why people are injured or killed when headstones fall on them! If the base is not level, it needs to be leveled first, as shown in this video:

Pinning a headstone to its base is not an unusual practice, but it does cost more money, which is probably part of the reason it is not always done. Two holes are drilled in the base and the underside of the headstone, ... rebar is used to attach the stone to the base, then the joint is sealed to keep water from seeping into the joint between the stones.

“Blind Pinning is exactly what it implies, pins you do not see once the stone is installed. The concept is very simple. Holes are drilled in both the [headstone] and base at exactly the same locations so they match up when joined. Then metal [or other material] pins are placed in the holes, and usually mortared in place. The basic thinking was that if the monument was knocked or began to lean the pins would prevent a complete failure, and the damage this may cause.”International Southern Cemetery Gravestones Association, “HOW TO INSTALL A GRAVESTONE”

References and further reading:

Mount Carmel Cemetery 5722 Frankford Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19135. Phone: 215-535-1530. Fax: 215-535-5192