Mount Moriah: A Cemetery and Its Friends

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.

The gate of Mount Moriah was actually a little creepy, but standing in front of it, I could still envision many a happy family stepping off a trolley back in the day to walk past the iron and brick to visit their loved ones entombed in the once well-kept cemetery.
The gate of Mount Moriah was actually a little creepy, but standing in front of it, I could still envision many a happy family stepping off a trolley back in the day to walk past the iron and brick to visit their loved ones entombed in the once well-kept cemetery.

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.

A view of a restored and well-maintained section of the cemetery.
A view of a restored and well-maintained section of the cemetery.

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 shot of an overgrown area: you can see in the background the amount of tree canopy and general vegetation that covers grave sites and plots. A large amount of this will disappear so that the cemetery can be visited easily by community members, but this work takes time and a lot of hands, all the hard-working ones of volunteers.
A shot of an overgrown area: you can see in the background the amount of tree canopy and general vegetation that covers grave sites and plots. A large amount of this will disappear so that the cemetery can be visited easily by community members, but this work takes time and a lot of hands, all the hard-working ones of volunteers.

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.

A better maintained area -- a gorgeous military plot -- lays under orange-leaved deciduous trees. We got the chance to visit the plots after we worked on another lesser maintained area.
A better maintained area — a gorgeous military plot — lays under orange-leaved deciduous trees. We got the chance to visit the plots after we worked on another lesser maintained area.
Me with ma handy pitchfork, used to push aside piles of plant debris.
Me with ma handy pitchfork, used to push aside piles of plant debris.

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

The space we helped to clear with our bare (okay, gloved) hands!
The space we helped to clear with our bare (okay, gloved) hands!

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 Bags of plantsand 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

Our working space, a family lot, was lined along the pathway with high piles of debris.
Our working space, a family lot, was lined along the pathway with high piles of debris.

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.

The two unknown graves (the Friends have speculation as to who these may belong to) that were moved to this spot after grave adjustments.
The two unknown graves (the Friends have speculation as to who these may belong to) that were moved to this spot after grave adjustments.

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!

http://friendsofmountmoriahcemetery.org

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Mount Moriah: A Cemetery and Its Friends

  1. What a wonderfully written piece. I live in Arizona and my ancestors are buried in one of those plots hidden by growth. I hope they too will be uncovered one day. Thank you for volunteering and helping to restore this beautiful cemetery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I had a lot of fun doing the work but I am glad it means more to others who are closer and directly linked to the space. It’s a shame that the cemetery was left alone for so long!

      Like

  2. It was a pleasure having you all out. You all did an amazing job, leaving enough branches and debris, to leave a few of us burning til long after dark.

    I’d just like to say to you personally that I have had many experiences with college students who come out and do our volunteer group events and often wondered if they even cared. Wondered if they were there thinking they’d get a few “easy” credits (that is, until they step off the bus.. lol). I’m so glad to read about your day here. It has renewed my views on the younger generation, giving me hope that there will be others to follow us, in our footsteps, as we strive to renew Mount Moriah to what she deserves. Thank you!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! I cannot tell you how happy I am to both give and receive feedback about the event and my post. I understand how many people feel about the generation I belong to, and I am glad to get the opportunity to defy expectations! A lot of my classmates who volunteered at Mount Moriah had so much fun and I’m sure they felt just as honored to be another set of hands caring for Mount Moriah and helping the community. I am amazed that my post reached so many members of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery! Thank you again!

      Like

  3. I want to thank you and all the Temple/Drexel students who helped clear some of the brush at Mount Moriah. I have ancestors long buried there that I have recently discovered. I cannot help with the cleanup as I live out of state but do contribute money to help with the cleanup. It’s nice to see young people taking up the challenge that is Mount Moriah. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, I’m glad my thoughts reached so many and that I could show the Friends how much I learned from the experience. Thank you for mentioning my post! I look forward to coming back to help out at Mount Moriah again, as it was actually my favorite urban greening volunteer experience of the semester so far!

      Like

  4. Alyssa, what a wonderful post! I am so proud of you! As a parent who volunteers regularly in the community, it was always my hope that you would participate in some of the many volunteer opportunities Temple University offered. Working at Mount Moriah, you discovered Its not about the task at hand, but the back story, that really has an impact on a volunteer. That is the key.

    Thanks for mentioning me in your post too!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Alyssa, I found out about my ancestors buried there about twelve years ago .I was in town about 10 years ago, I asked about 10 family members if they would take down there. Not a one would take me. The most honest excuse I received was nothing good goes on down there. When I share stories of Mount Moriah now especially ones like yours, offers to take me when I am town leave me in quite the quandry. Perhaps I can get them all to meet on a volunteer day. Thank you for helping to change the minds of others about the work going on there.

    Like

    1. I’m glad you are inspired to try to go back to Mount Moriah, you will be surprised by how friendly everyone working there is. Since the management left years ago the cemetery became overgrown and trash was (and still is) in many places. This is probably why they said not to go then, but if you check it out now on a volunteer day, the Friends of Mount Moriah will tell you all about it! I hope it will be a good experience for you!

      Like

  6. Alyssa, Thank you for spending the day with us. The group we had out that weekend was the most amazing group I had the pleasure of meeting at Mount Moriah all season. They had a real interest. When they uncovered a rail that went around one of the larger plots they were not going to let it lay on it’s side. They rolled up their sleeves put their back into it and help to reset it. That was the first time I had seen the lightbulb moment. She (Mount Moriah) is a wonderful, mysteriously beautiful place that just begs you to come back. Keep writing about what interest you. You are good at it. Good Luck in Japan.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s