The Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia is known as the second major rural cemetery in the country, dating from 1836. Its location isn’t remotely rural now, but in its early days the cemetery was outside the city on a sizable hill overlooking the Schuylkill River.
As the cemetery’s web site says, “Previously, churchyards were the only places available to bury the dead, and they were often as crowded and unsanitary as the streets that bordered them. Worse yet, rapid industrialization and population growth commonly led to the disinterment of burial grounds to make way for roads and buildings…. Laurel Hill was not only established as a permanent, non-sectarian burial place for the dead, but also as a scenic, riverside sanctuary for the living.”
As the city grew around it, Laurel Hill itself become crowded, and it’s now a sizable necropolis with about 33,000 permanent residents in 74 acres. Many spots are lush with growth.
Some monuments reach toward the sky.
There are less conventional stones. Find a Grave says that “the shattered urn symbolizes a violet death. Stewart was murdered by his manservant.”
The cemetery also has a large stock of striking funerary art, such as the Warner Memorial. Bellamorte.net says: “The Warner Memorial, sculpted by yet another Scottish craftsman, Alexander Milne Calder, shows a full-sized female figure opening a casket while the spirit of its male inhabitant slips free and takes wing. Sadly, the monument has been the target of vandalism over the years; both of the woman’s arms are missing as is the nose of the rising male spirit.”
Another detail from the Warner Memorial.
I didn’t seek out too many notable burial sites, except for Gen. George Meade, resident of the cemetery since 1872. He and some of his family have a spot with a nice view of the river, and I can report that people put stones on his grave.
One of the oddest stones I saw belonged to Catharine Drinkhouse Smith and Levi Franklin Smith, a five-sided pillar (not four, as it says on Bellamorte.net). Mrs. Smith was a noted spiritualist of her time.
Her side of the stone said, with curious precision about some things: “Mrs. Catharine Drinkhouse Smith was born at Reading, Berks County, State of Pennsylvania, on Thursday, the Fifth day of August, 1824, at 15 minutes past 5 O’clock in the morning, and passed to spirit life 15 minutes before 12 O’clock the 27th day of March, 1893, from the residence of her husband, Professor Levi Franklin Smith, 2430 Thomson Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Smith was a devoted Spiritualist, and one of the best mediums of her time, and accomplished great good, in spreading this beautiful truth, and in demonstrating a continuity of life.”
Another odd thing: the cemetery had a gift shop. Besides Arlington National Cemetery, I think that’s the only time I’ve run across that. The man behind the counter was an informative fellow, happy to talk about the place (and a bit about Professor and Mrs. Smith). I did my little part to support the cemetery by buying some postcards and a refrigerator magnet.