Through some series of internet rabbit holes, I became obsessed with a place called Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although I do just like cemeteries in general because the culture surrounding death and burial fascinates me, but this one in particular because it had been abandoned. The idea that a hundred and fifty year old urban cemetery could just be left to nature and vandalism astounded me. I guess I thought that sort of thing was regulated- that people’s last wishes weren’t just going to decay in such a quick and brutal fashion. There is a group of volunteers who has taken on Mount Moriah in the last couple years, clearing paths and righting stones; a small force in the incredible destruction that has been allowed to take place.
For months I read everything I could find on it- messageboards, blog entries, photography, etc… I eventually convinced a friend who often accompanies me on these crazy adventures to take a roadtrip. I had worked up Mount Moriah to be this magical place and was worried I would be disappointed, but it was everything I imagined and more. I felt like I was walking through a book- something I could only imagine. I know in part that that’s due to me coming from Colorado where nothing is very old and nothing is very green. The overgrowth was intense. It was like walking through a jungle for two girls from the high plains. We stumbled over gravesites from the 1800s, which volunteers had cleared a path to, otherwise it would’ve been impossible without some serious weaponry.
I learned that there are quite a few famous burials at Mount Moriah- from actors to state senators to athletes - and a veteran section with graves dating back to the civil war. The remains of Betsy Ross were once at Mount Moriah, but were later relocated (although it’s said that nothing notable actually remained in the ancient grave, so she is still there). This is definitely not a place that should have been easily forgotten.
In my research, I found out that Mount Moriah has been without direction since 2004. Although arrangements continued until 2011 under false pretenses, leaving more disarray and questions than before. The factors that seemed to have lead here started with the cemetery being in a bad area of town and ended with the controlling association dying out. I’ve read accounts of people who purchased plots that are now just out of luck and people who have struggled to locate their relatives beneath the dense overgrowth. I’ve read of people who have been chased out of the cemetery by a pack of wild dogs and fresh grave sightings. It’s a sad, strange, and scary place by all narratives.
Visiting Mount Moriah was an intense experience. It made me think a lot about mortality and its monuments. I hope to go back soon because there are a ton of mysteries I didn’t even touch on my first visit. Big, big thanks to the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery and their restoration and preservation efforts. More pictures can be found here.