After deciding to take a spur of the moment trip to Philadelphia for Valentine’s Day, we hit the internet for ideas of what to do. I guess unlike most like people we weren’t looking for museums, or delicious restaurants, although we obviously love both of those things. We were looking for abandoned buildings, accessible rooftops, and any other little interesting, yet often overlooked, nooks and crannies. I knew from my last, visit a few years back, that Philadelphia has some really great cemeteries. I was thinking we could swing by Laurel Hill Cemetery again. It was beautiful, my photography has definitely improved since then and I’d love to re-shoot it. Then we found it… Mount Moriah Cemetery, the cemetery of my dreams.
Mount Moriah Cemetery was established in 1855. It’s the final resting places for over 80,000 people. It spans 380 acres. You can read the full history of the cemetery here. The short version is that the cemetery was privately owned but in 2004 the last known member of the association passed away. Basically it was a big legal mess and the cemetery was essentially abandoned. It suffered from years and year of neglect. Large sections became completely overgrown with weeds. I even saw a tree growing straight out of an obelisk! By golly, this place is a sight to see!
I didn’t do too much research on the cemetery before visiting. I guess I didn’t want to get too excited in case we weren’t able to make it there. So my first though upon parking outside the cemetery was “Okay, this has to be trespassing…”* Jeff and I slipped in through the broken fence and made our way to the gatehouse, which was what initially caught our attention in the photos online. It was in A LOT worse shape than we had seen. I actually didn’t even mange get a decent shot of it, the sun was at a funny spot in the sky, and I was completely overwhelmed with everything else that surrounded me.
I don’t even know how to describe this cemetery to you right now, except that it was all of my cemetery dreams come true. I know, I’m sorry, thats awful to say. I don’t think it’s awesome that someone royally screwed up and let this happen to a cemetery but I would be lying to say that “abandoned cemetery” didn’t rank SUPER high on my list of things I’d like to photograph.
In 2011, Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery was formed, a group of clearly amazing volunteers dedicated to the preservation of the cemetery. Although the cemetery was definitely overgrown, and in the worst shape I have I ever seen a cemetery in, it was obvious that lots of hard work had been going into it recently. Trees growing up beside headstones and been cut down, and there were piles of brush waiting to be hauled away.
Right now FOMMCI has a gofundme running to raise the money needed to save the gatehouse. It will cost $35,000 to stabilize the structure. They currently have $24,500 from a grant and previous donations. They need another $10,500 to keep it from becoming a pile of rubble. Any donations over their goal (which they reached in two days!) will be used for additional Mount Moriah Cemetery capital improvements. You can read more and donate, if you feel so inclined, here!
We barely saw a fraction of the cemetery. It’s the largest in the state of Pennsylvania! Part of me is sad that it’ll no longer exist in this condition. I’ll never be able to experience it like I did on this day but I guess that’s why I feel photography is so important… The other part of me knows that’s obviously a really good thing that it’s now on the up and up. I’m sure returning this cemetery to it’s former glory will take a very, very long time but it’s definitely on it’s way. FOMMCI, you guys rule!
*Just wanted to note that everything I’ve read says the cemetery is open and visitors are welcome.