Tag Archives: Laurel Hill Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #57: Laurel Hill Cemetery

The Warner Monument

Laurel Hill Cemetery
3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19132
Telephone: 215-228-8200
Founded: 1836
Size: 78 acres
Number of interments: 75,000
Open: Weekdays 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Weekends 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Closed major holidays.
Admission: always free

THIS WEEKEND: Atlas Obscura’s Obscura Day focuses on “The Bizarre and Mysterious at Laurel Hill Cemetery” Saturday, April 28, 1 to 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be ordered here. Hurry, as many Obscura Day events have already sold out.

Founded in 1836, Laurel Hill Cemetery is the second oldest garden cemetery in the United States, after Cambridge’s Mount Auburn. Architect John Notman designed Laurel Hill’s maze of roads to wind amidst terraces above the Schuykill River.  His intention was to give the people of Philadelphia a park from which they could ponder their mortality and look forward to the glories of Heaven.

The cemetery’s driving tour explains that “Within a few months of its opening, Laurel Hill Cemetery was Philadelphia’s most popular attraction,” drawing more visitors than Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The cemetery was so popular that in 1860 it received over 140,000 visitors. The cemetery office issued admission tickets to control the flood of visitors.  These days, you can often have the lovely place nearly to yourself, which is a shame.

Permanent residents include Sarah Josepha Hale (whom we have to thank for “Mary Had a Little Lamb”), portrait painter Thomas Sully, and Union General George Gordon Meade (who was victorious at Gettysburg) and four other Major Generals as well as fifteen Brigadier Generals, both Union and Confederate. A signer of the Declaration of Independence is buried here, as well as a sailor who fought in the War of 1812.

Mausoleums overlooking the Schuykill River

The cemetery is a sea of obelisks and grand mausoleums, with its own Angels Row. In fact, Laurel Hill contains more than 33,000 monuments. The most striking monument in the graveyard remembers the William Warner family. Designed by Alexander Milne Calder, the sculpture embodies the Angel of Death as a stern woman whose gown is slipping from her shoulder. She has opened the granite sarcophagus to release the soul trapped inside. A winged face rises from the open tomb in a flame of stone.

Death’s arms were broken off as early as 1977, when a photograph of the Warner monument appeared in Famous and Curious Cemeteries. Hopefully, repairing her is on the schedule.

Unfortunately, the cemetery suffered years of neglect, but a Friends group formed in 1977 and continues to raise money to restore the sculptures. (When I visited in 2002, the cemetery office — housed in Notman’s ornate gate house — was selling a t-shirt that said “R.I.P. Restoration in Progress.”) Laurel Hill became a National Historic Landmark in 1998, one of the few American cemeteries to rate the distinction.

The cemetery continues to welcome guests to Laurel Hill for self-guided walking, driving, or audio tours. You need only stop by the office to pick up a map of the cemetery grounds, a brochure for the audio tour, or to purchase a $5 guide highlighting the graves and histories of some of the best-known residents. They offer a cell phone tour whose only cost is minutes on your cellphone plan. The grounds are also open for jogging, nature walks, dog-walking (on a leash), biking, and picnics.

In addition, the cemetery offers frequent tours. One in May will be led by Russ Dodge, the mastermind behind the venerable Findagrave. Money raised by the tours continues to fund preservation of the cemetery.

Useful links:

The official Laurel Hill Cemetery site

Monthly tours at Laurel Hill

A Laurel Hill love story

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Laurel Hill Cemetery:

The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History

Famous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries

Victorian Cemetery Art

Other garden cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #12: Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan

Cemetery of the Week #17: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York

Cemetery of the Week #28: Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #31: Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Cemetery of the Week #42:  Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio

Cemetery of the Week #53: Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

Cemetery of the Week #55: Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, California

Cemetery of the Week #58: Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island

Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

The Larkin monument at Cypress Lawn

Thomas O. Larkin served as the only United States consul to Mexican province of Alta California during the 1840s.  He was captured during California’s transition to the United States. After annexation, he became a “merchant prince” in California, speculating in land from the Mexican ranchos.  He co-founded the city of Benicia, which served briefly as the California state capitol.  At one point, he was the richest man in America.

After his death in 1858, Larkin was buried in San Francisco’s beautiful and historic Laurel Hill Cemetery.   Decades later, his grave was suitably marked with an angel carved by German-born artist Rupert Schmid.  The down-gazing angel is placing a feathered pen on the grave.  Larkin had been one of the signers of the Californian constitution.

At the dawn of the 20th century, San Francisco politicians banned burials inside the city limits.  Laurel Hill Cemetery fought developers who eyed its land, but in 1940 the cemetery was demolished and its residents moved to Colma.  Larkin, and his angel, were transfered to Cypress Lawn Cemetery, where they remain to this day.

Cemetery of the Week #55: Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, California

What’s the prettiest cemetery in springtime?

Mount Auburn in the spring

Several years ago, I took a graveyard tour in the springtime, driving from Boston to Philadelphia and back to New York City.  I saw 17 cemeteries in 10 days, each lovelier than the last.  So my question to you is:  where is the best place to revel in spring?

I’m limited by the poll-making program to 10 responses, so I merely listed the first 10 beautiful graveyards that came to mind.  I know I’ve missed many, many more.  Please point up the omissions in the comments.

Also, you can feel free to vote for more than one in the following list.

Finally, this poll doesn’t record your identity, so no worries there.  I’m just curious to see what springtime cemeteries I should add to my must-see list.

Thumbnail Encyclopedia of Cemetery History

Silent Cities: the Evolution of the American CemeterySilent Cities: the Evolution of the American Cemetery by Kenneth Jackson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This reference book (so-called because the photos are reproduced too small to be enjoyed without a magnifying glass) is chock-full of fascinating cemetery minutiae. Spanning from the first churchyard burials in America to the modern rise in cremation, exploring the differences in tomb decoration in various ethnic burial grounds, defining architectural movements, and studying reflections of American culture in grave monuments: the book rushes through a breathless amount of material. Four to seven crisp full-color photographs crowd each page. If you are curious about understanding what you see as you wander the local boneyard, this encyclopedia will get you started.

This review originally appeared on Gothic.Net.

You can sometimes find used copies on Amazon: Silent Cities: the Evolution of the American Cemetery.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

100 Cemeteries to Visit Before You Die

Famous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries and the Famous and Infamous People WhoFamous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries and the Famous and Infamous People Who by John Francis Marion

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This encyclopedia from 1977 explores 51 international cemeteries in depth, followed by visits to 22 American Military graveyards from Mexico City to North Africa, which special emphasis on the battle monuments to the World Wars in Europe. At the end of all of that, it breezes through a hundred more burial grounds that rate a paragraph or two. All of this is impeccably researched and documented with more than 250 black-and-white photographs. If you are new to visiting cemeteries, this is your 100 Places to See Before You Die.

Amazon has several listings for the book: Famous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries and the Famous and Infamous People Who

It’s worth tracking down a copy for yourself.
View all my reviews