Confederates, Catholics, Muslims and Masons: The Mount Moriah Cemetery Tour
December 1, 2007 § 20 Comments
Mount Moriah Cemetery, in the Kingsessing section, is arguably Philadelphia’s most democratic burial ground. The undiscriminating plot is home to many Masons, U.S. Navy sailors, Civil War Yankees, North Carolinian cavalrymen, Philadelphia Muslims, ethnic Catholics, the young, the old, the powerful, the meek. Though its in rougher shape than any other of Philadelphia’s rural cemeteries, being unkempt it’s surprisingly rustic: more woodland than the Woodlands.
Founded in 1855 in what was Kingsessing Township, the cemetery hoped to replicate the success of upscale rural cemeteries like Laurel Hill and the Woodlands but for middle class clientèle. As discussed in the Woodlands post above, the popularity of the rural cemetery movement was predicated on changing attitudes toward the dead and public health in the city. Supporters of rural cemeteries feared burial grounds’ fetid miasmas and the prospect of an ignominious eternity in the city’s cramped, poorly drained churchyards. In the act incorporating the cemetery, Mount Moriah Cemetery Association claimed as its guiding principle, “the practice of intra-mural [in city] interments has been found injurious to the health of the living in populous cities and the propriety of providing suitable places for depositing the bodies of the dead in convenient proximity to but beyond the compactly built portion of the town has been fully recognized both as a sanitary and religious obligation….” In trying to differentiate the cemetery from the host of other middle-class rural burial grounds popping up in the mid-19th century, promoters claimed that the cemetery’s distance outside the city meant it wouldn’t be profaned by residential development.
If you go to MM: keep an eye out for these interesting features:
^Mount Moriah has a brownstone castellated gatehouse further west from the main gatehouse at 62nd and Kingsessing. It is fenced in and in severe disrepair. It was designed by Stephen Decatur Button (1813-1897), a contemporary of Thomas Ustick Walter who also designed the first Alabama State Capital.
^According to Edward Shippen’s 1888 article entitled “Some Account of the Origin of the Naval Asylum at Philadelphia,” when the Naval Asylum was constructed in 1827, sailors’ remains in a cemetery located at the corner of Bainbridge and Sutherland (Schuylkill) were moved to “the Naval Plot” at Mount Moriah. A Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Cultural Inventory indicates the Naval Plot was moved in 1866 and is situated across Cobbs Creek in the northern portion of the Cemetery.
^Mount Moriah is especially significant to Freemasons, many of whom were buried and continue to be buried at MM. [The day we went we observed a Masonic burial.] Thomas Keels has pointed out that many of the second tier rural cemeteries established in Philadelphia profited from institutional alliances with many of the era’s fraternal societies. By associating with the Masonic order, the cemetery profited from “bulk” plot sales. Also, Mount Moriah, being the mountain on which King Solomon’s temple was built in Jerusalem, is integral to Masonic allegory. Look for Masonic icons and gravestones. In the middle of the formal circle in the far western portion of the lower cemetery is a large marble column with the square and compass.
^Civil War soldiers who died at Camp Satterlee hospital (Clark Park) are buried in a prim plot maintained and manicured by the Veterans Administration (??). There are two Confederates (maybe more) buried in the plot with extra-white gravestones. The Civil War plot is near the bridge over Cobbs Creek in the lower cemetery.
^Long stalks of cotton grow throughout the cemetery.
^There is one open mausoleum near the bridge connecting the two cemeteries.
^Take a tour below and choose the “view map” feature to orient you.
^Compared to the disrepair of its actual presence, the Mount Moriah virtual presence is fairly good. You can search for plots here.