|Mikveh Israel Cemetery, 55th and Market Streets, Philadelphia|
|John (L) and "Marco Polo"|
|Market Street wall and gated entrance to Mikveh Israel Cemetery|
If you know Philadelphia, you know that 55th and Market is right under the elevated train tracks that follow Market Street. And you might also guess this is inner city at its best (or worst, depending on your point of view). As in most major cities, this is where you find the cemeteries with the most character. Congregation Mikveh Israel keeps the grass cut and the fencing in place, which is about all that is needed to keep troublemakers out.
|Building near 55th and Market Streets, Philadelphia|
The original Mikveh Israel Cemetery (the first Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, established in 1740) is located at Eighth and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, near Pennsylvania Hospital (the nation’s first hospital, established in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin). Two additional plots of ground were added by Congregation Mikveh Israel – a second one at 11th and Federal Streets and a third one, which is the subject of this blog, at 55th and Market Streets. While I can find no information on the years in which the second and third cemeteries were established, the 55th and Market Street cemetery has headstones marked from as early as 1868 to as recent as 2008. This cemetery is actually labeled “inactive” on the website of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia (JGSGP).
The tall marble obelisk you see in the photo above marks the grave of Rev. Isaac Leeser (1806 - 1868), "the most famous leader and spokesman of traditional Judaism in Antebellum America" (ref). He was a minister in Congregation Mikveh Israel, as well as founder and publisher of The Occident, a monthly anti-discriminatory periodical "devoted to the diffusion of knowledge on Jewish literature and religion." He translated the Hebrew bible into English in 1853.
If you’d like to visit any of these three Jewish cemeteries, please note that you cannot actually get inside any of them without either A) having someone from Congregation Mikveh Israel unlock the gates (good luck with that); or B) climbing over the fence or wall (which I would not recommend). All three cemeteries are quite secure, though not actually guarded. All are well-maintained.
Further Reading and References:
Find-a-Grave link to each of the three Philadelphia Mikveh Israel cemeteries in Philadelphia
History of Philadelphia’s Congregation Mikveh Israel Cemetery