Saturday 11/8 9:00am — Mount Moriah Cemetery, Yeadon, PA
Volunteering at Mount Moriah Cemetery was not at all what I had expected. The cemetery was HUGE, bigger than any cemetery I had seen before near my home in the suburbs of Montgomery County. The night before our trip to Mount Moriah, my mother — an all-things-creepy enthusiast — warned me about cemeteries, her grin audible through the phone as she told me I could sink a foot right through the soil into someone’s grave if I got too near. While my idea of a large cemetery was skewed by films, novels and ghost stories, and our discussion in class of Mount Moriah in particular planted a certain picture of the site in my mind as well, the cemetery in person was a lot different than I thought it was going to be — it was overrun with plant life and garbage, and featured sporadically cleansed patches of land and completely hidden forests. Tombs were entombed again in brush and trees: a layer of time measured in yards of vegetation.
Around 9:00 am was when I (and a certain someone whom I dragged along to share the greening experience with) arrived at a rallying point and were then sent to cross the Cobbs Creek Parkway to enter the Yeadon side of Mount Moriah Cemetery where the day’s work was to be conducted. Taking the SEPTA 13 trolley was an experience in and of itself that morning, as we clutched our seats in anxious arrival of our stop while the trolley curved streets and rushed along roads, but luckily a fellow Green vs. Grayer was on the same trolley and we found our way to Mount Moriah without trouble.
On the Yeadon side of the cemetery we were greeted by the smiling face of a Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery member sitting bundled up under layers of warmth behind a white table, clipboard in hand. We signed in and were allowed a look at a binder packed with information and history on the cemetery: slipped under clear plastic page protectors were copies of aged maps and photos, updated maps of the cleaning progress of the cemetery’s volunteers, and pages of interesting facts and figures about the space. It was amazing to see that the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery — the group leading the restoration of the overgrown cemetery — really cared a lot about the area they invest so much time into. The pages we saw showed that they valued the history and development of the site and wanted to show volunteers exactly what we were working toward; viewing the history, we felt a sort of renewed, fresh energy and excitement and we were able to put the cemetery and its contents into context which I think made volunteers work harder with real people and a true history in mind.
Once we found the working space, we realized just how much of the cemetery was buried underneath the vegetation. The main entrance point of the Yeadon side and what could be seen once you entered there seemed to be clear, but when we got to the spot we were to work on for the next few hours — just up the path — we saw that there was so much work yet to be done.
A leader of the Friends of Mount Moriah spoke to us about the efforts that go into this ongoing (and seemingly never-ending!) project. He talked about tools, strategies and volunteers, and we learned that all of the ingredients that have gone into clearing grave plots and carrying out the project were — and will be for awhile — provided by volunteers who steadily and often weekly contribute their time to Mount Moriah. The tools we used to hack away at unwanted plants, the trucks used to carry cleared vegetation debris away, the snacks we hungrily munched on after a few hours’ work, the cider warmed in crock pots we drank all huddled up together in the grass — all of these elements were provided to us by local residents and perhaps even people that don’t live so close by Mount Moriah.
The above picture shows the area that we worked on for the day. This space was covered in high grass, plants, weeds and vines which we cleared with clippers, pitchforks, rakes, and the help of a weedwacker and small lawnmower. It was amazing to uncover tiny grave stones and large markers and even more thrilling to see the size of the space we helped to bring out from underneath the mess of tangled vegetation. It was also great — after learning more about the context of the cemetery clean-up — to think about the people that were buried
there and know that we were helping families rediscover or simply have the ability to locate and visit deceased family members. I definitely came prepared to do some heavy work but spending a few hours at Mount Moriah was a tasking and exhilarating experience. We got to check out some wildlife (birds and bird nests!), learn a little more about certain plant species, and see root systems up close (and figure out how to get rid of them!).
We ended up getting a lot of direct help from members of the Friends of Mount Moriah, who were so happy to have us (and Drexel students…) work with them for the day. They checked in with us periodically, showed us some clearing techniques, and acted as our mentors in a way, telling us where to start and what not to waste our time on (the weed whackers cut down a lot of work for us and we ended up having a hard enough time raking away the trimmed vines and weeds!). They also praised us as we brandished our clippers and we became so eager to please them and clear as much land as we could; they were an amazing team of people to work with and they made us feel like a small community of our own for the day. Temple students accomplished so much and it felt so good to be able to see a visibly altered space as a result of our hard work: bags of leaves and vegetation were piled up along grave sites and our
working space was lined along the rocky pathway with piles of cleared debris.
From working at Mount Moriah I got the chance to see up close the effects of making a large space like a cemetery accessible to a community who has missed utilizing this space for many years (the caretakers of the cemetery up and left years ago, leaving the space under the mercy of garbage dumping and invasive, fast-growing plant species). The impact we had that day, though seemingly small compared to the size of Mount Moriah, was a pretty big one, even if we didn’t believe so at first. From the Friends of Mount Moriah’s viewpoint, we helped out a lot: we aided local families, we helped create a greener space with a larger greening potential in the future, and we unearthed not just dearly beloved people but a general spirit, a common human sentiment. We built friendships — even if they were temporary — and we worked together to accomplish one mission, proof that urban greening brings together communities (just the fact the Friends exist also shows that greening brings together community members who work together for the long term). I also accomplished another of my stewardship goals, which was to find out what a Philadelphia activist group has to say about their environment; a few members of the Friends chatted with us about how he viewed the cemetery when he first started, and how he views the space now relative to community activism.
Volunteering my time at Mount Moriah Cemetery was an amazing experience and I am so glad to have participated with so many wonderful people and community members. I am eager to return next year (after my spring semester in Japan this year!) to help out again and see the progress the Friends and their helpers make on the land and on their documentation work!
Check out the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery via the link below! Participate in a day’s work of urban greening for a community that treasures its cemetery and green space!