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Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Laurel Hill Cemetery is a historic cemetery in Philadelphia. Founded in 1836, it was the second major garden or rural cemetery in the United States. In 1998, it was designated a National Historic Landmark; few cemeteries have received this distinction.[4]

Located in Philadelphia's East Falls section, the 74-acre (300,000 m2) cemetery overlooks the Schuylkill River. Laurel Hill contains more than 33,000 monuments and more than 11,000 family lots. Its thousands of 19th- and 20th-century marble and granite funerary monuments include obelisks and elaborately sculpted hillside tombs and mausoleums.[5]


The cemetery was founded in 1836 by John Jay Smith[6], a librarian and editor with interests in horticulture and real estate who was distressed at the way his deceased daughter was interred in a Philadelphia churchyard. He and other prominent citizens decided to create a rural garden cemetery five miles north of Philadelphia, a location that was viewed as a haven from urban expansion and a respite from the increasingly industrialized city center. The property was acquired from businessman Joseph Sims.[2]

From its inception, Laurel Hill was intended as a civic institution designed for public use. In an era before public parks and museums, it was a multi-purpose cultural attraction where the general public could experience the art and refinement previously known only to the wealthy.

Designed by Scottish-American architect John Notman,[2] Laurel Hill introduced new landscape ideas and burial concepts and became a model for the rural cemetery movement. The cemetery was developed and completed between 1836 and 1839.[2] To increase its cachet, the cemetery's organizers had the remains of several famous Revolutionary War figures moved there, including Continental Congress secretary Charles Thomson; Declaration of Independence signer Thomas McKean; Philadelphia war veteran and shipbuilder Jehu Eyre; Hugh Mercer, hero of the Battle of Princeton; and David Rittenhouse, first director of the U.S. Mint.

During and after the American Civil War, Laurel Hill became the final resting place of hundreds of military figures, including 42 Civil War-era generals. Laurel Hill also became the favored burial place for many of Philadelphia's most prominent political and business figures, including Matthias W. Baldwin, founder of the Baldwin Locomotive Works; Henry Disston, owner of the largest saw factory in the world (the Disston Saw Works); and financier Peter A. B. Widener.

The city later grew past Laurel Hill, but the cemetery retained its rural character.

Classical Revival, Gothic Revival, Egyptian Revival and other exotic styles are rendered in a wide palette of materials, including marble, granite, cast-iron and sandstone. Notable artists and architects, including Notman, Alexander Milne Calder and William Strickland contributed their designs. Laurel Hill became an immensely popular destination in its early years and required tickets for admission. Writer Andrew Jackson Downing reported "nearly 30,000 persons…entered the gates between April and December, 1848."

In 1978, the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was founded to support the cemetery. The mission of the Friends is to assist the Laurel Hill Cemetery Company in preserving and promoting the historical character of Laurel Hill. The Friends raise funds and seek contributed services; prepare educational and research materials emphasizing the historical, architectural and cultural importance of Laurel Hill Cemetery; and provide tour guides to educate the public.

In the 21st century, two pairs of seats from Veterans Stadium were installed at the grave of Harry Kalas, the Frick Award-winning announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies, so they could be used by fans paying their respects.

Today, Laurel Hill Cemetery stands as a rich repository of both art and historical artifacts. Its monuments embody the rich design, craftsmanship and iconography of 19th and 20th century American funerary art, from simple obelisks to elaborate mausoleums.

Notable burials

  • Robert Adams, Jr. (1849–1906), U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania[8]
  • Hilary Baker (1746–1798), mayor of Philadelphia[8]
  • Matthias W. Baldwin (1795–1866), businessman, Baldwin Locomotive Works[8]
  • Alexander Biddle (1819–1899), U.S. army officer[8]
  • Henry H. Bingham (1841-1912), Union Army officer in the American Civil War, recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of the Wilderness[8]
  • Robert Montgomery Bird (1803–1854), American novelist, playwright, and physician[8]
  • David Bispham (1857–1921), opera singer[8]
  • Charles E. Bohlen (1904–1974), U.S. diplomat[8]
  • Henry Bohlen (1810–1862), Civil War Union Brigadier General[8]
  • George Henry Boker (1823–1890), poet, playwright, and diplomat[8]
  • Joseph Bonnell (1802–1840), West Point graduate, hero of the Texas Revolution
  • Adolph E. Borie (1809–1880), Secretary of the Navy[8]
  • Charles Brown (1797–1883), U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania[8]
  • John Cassin (1813–1869), ornithologist
  • George William Childs (1829–1894), newspaper publisher[8]
  • William P. Clyde (1839–1923), American shipping magnate[8]
  • Walter Colton (1797–1851), Chaplain, Alcalde of Monterey, author, publisher of California's first newspaper
  • David Conner (1792–1856), U.S. naval officer[8]
  • Robert T. Conrad (1810–1858), mayor of Philadelphia[8]
  • Joel Cook (1842–1910), U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania[8]
  • Robert Cornelius (1809–1893), pioneering photographer
  • Martha Coston (1826–1904), inventor and businesswoman[8]
  • Samuel W. Crawford (1829–1892), Union army general[8]
  • Louisa Knapp Curtis (1851–1910), journalist and magazine publisher[8]
  • John A. Dahlgren (1809–1870), U.S. naval officer[8]
  • Ulric Dahlgren (1842-1864), U.S. Army Captain during Civil War, namesake of The Dahlgren Affair[8]
  • Richard Dale (1756–1826), Revolutionary naval officer[8]
  • Henry Deringer (1786–1868), gunsmith[8]
  • Hamilton Disston (1844-1896), industrialist and real-estate developer
  • Henry Disston (1819–1878), businessman, Disston Saw Works[8]
  • Ida Dixon (1854–1916), socialite and first female golf course architect in the United States[9]
  • George Meade Easby (1918–2005), great-grandson of General George Meade and a celebrity figure
  • George Nicholas Eckert (1802–1865), U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania[8]
  • James Elverson, Sr, owner, savior of Philadelphia Inquirer
  • James Elverson Jr, owner, editor of Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Eleanore Nellie Mayo Elverson, opera singer, daughter of actor Frank Mayo, wife of James Elverson Jr.
  • Alfred L. Elwyn (1804-1884), Physician and pioneer in the management of the mentally disabled
  • Monsignor Cyril Sigourny Webster Fay. model for Monsignor Thayer Darcy in This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Wilmot E. Fleming (1916-1978), Pennsylvania State Representative and Senator
  • Robert H. Foerderer (1860–1903), U.S. Congressman from Pennsylvania[8]
  • Adam Forepaugh (1831–1890), an entrepreneur, businessman, and circus owner[8]
  • Samuel Gibbs French (1818–1910), Confederate General[8] has a cenotaph in his family's plot in Laurel Hill.
  • Frank Furness (1839–1912), Medal of Honor recipient, architect[8]
  • Horace Howard Furness (1833-1912), American Shakespearean scholar
  • William Henry Furness (1802-1896), American clergyman, theologian, Transcendentalist, abolitionist, and reformer
  • Henry D. Gilpin (1801–1860), U.S. Attorney General[8]
  • Louis Antoine Godey (1804–1878) American editor and publisher[8]
  • Thomas Godfrey (1704–1749), optician and inventor[8]
  • Frederick Gutekunst (1831-1917), prominent photographer
  • Henry Schell Hagert (1826–1885), writer, poet, Philadelphia district attorney
  • Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879), writer, poet[8]
  • Frederick Halterman (1831–1907), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • James Harper (1780–1873), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler (1770–1843), first superintendent of the United States Coast Survey[8]
  • Joseph Hemphill (1770–1842), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Alexander Henry (1823–1883), Civil War mayor of Philadelphia
  • Henry Wilson Hodge (1865–1919), engineer
  • Isaac Hull (1773–1843), Commodore, USN, captained Constitution to victory over HMS Guerriere[8]
  • Owen Jones (1819–1878), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Harry Kalas (1936–2009), Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame broadcaster[8]
  • Elisha Kane (1820–1857), explorer
  • John K. Kane (1795-1858), U.S. District Judge, Attorney General of Pennsylvania[8]
  • William D. Kelley (1814–1890), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • William J. Kirkpatrick (1838–1921), composer
  • James Kitchenman (1825–1909), textile manufacturer
  • Lon Knight (1853-1932), professional baseball player
  • Elie A. F. La Vallette (1790-1862), U.S. Navy, one of first rear admirals appointed in 1862
  • Henry Charles Lea (1825–1909), historian, expert on The Spanish Inquisition[8]
  • Michael Leib (1760–1822), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Lewis Charles Levin (1808–1860), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Rachel Lloyd, first U.S. woman to receive Ph.D. in chemistry
  • George Horace Lorimer (1868–1937), journalist, author[8]
  • Charles Macalester (1798–1873), businessman, Presbyterian Church philanthropist, and namesake of Macalester College
  • Alexander Kelly McClure (1828-1909), Pennsylvania State Senator for the 18th district in 1861 and the 4th district in 1873
  • Thomas McKean (1734–1817), lawyer and politician, Signer of the Declaration of Independence[8]
  • Morton McMichael (1807-1879), editor The Saturday Evening Post, publisher The North American, veteran American Civil War. Mayor of Philadelphia (1866-1869)
  • George Gordon Meade (1815–1872), Union General, victor at the Battle of Gettysburg[8]
  • Hugh Mercer (1726–1777), Continental general in the American Revolution[8]
  • Helen Abbott Michael (1857–1904), plant chemist
  • William Millward (1822–1871), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • E. Coppée Mitchell (1836-1887), Professor and Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • John Moffet (1831–1884), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Edward Joy Morris (1815–1881), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • James St. Clair Morton (1829-1864), Union general in the Civil War[8]
  • Charles Naylor (1806–1872), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Matthew Newkirk (1794-1868), businessman, railroad president
  • John Notman (1810–1865), architect and designer of Laurel Hill
  • Francis E. Patterson (1821–1862), Union general in the Civil War
  • Titian Peale (1799–1885), artist[8]
  • John C. Pemberton (1814–1881), Confederate Civil War General[8]
  • Garrett J. Pendergrast (1802–1862), U.S. Civil War naval officer[8]
  • Boies Penrose (1860–1921), U.S. Senator[8]
  • Samuel J. Randall (1828–1890), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Thomas Buchanan Read (1822–1872), American poet, sculptor, portrait-painter[8]
  • Joseph Reed (1741–1785), Continental Congressman
  • John E. Reyburn (1845–1914), U.S. Congressman, mayor of Philadelphia[8]
  • William S. Reyburn (1882–1946), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • David Rittenhouse (1732–1796), astronomer, inventor, mathematician, surveyor[8]
  • John Robbins (1808–1880), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Richard Rush (1780–1859), U.S. Attorney General[8]
  • Lawrence Saint (1885–1961), stained glass artist
  • Jonathan Sergeant (1746–1793), Continental Congressman[8]
  • Charles Ferguson Smith (1807–1862), U.S. Army General[8]
  • John T. Smith (1801-1864), U.S. Congressman for Pennsylvania's 3rd congressional district from 1843-1845
  • Witmer Stone (1866–1939), ornithologist, botanist
  • Thomas Sully (1783–1872), portrait painter[8]
  • Alfred Sully (1820-1879), soldier, painter, actor[8]
  • Charles Thomson (1729–1824), secretary of the Continental Congress[8]
  • George Washington Toland (1796–1869), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Levi Twiggs (1793–1847), officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, killed at the Battle of Chapultepec[8]
  • Hector Tyndale (1821-1880), Union general during the American Civil War and protector of the wife of abolitionist John Brown
  • Job Roberts Tyson (1803–1858), U.S. Congressman[8]
  • Richard Vaux (1816–1895), U.S. Congressman, mayor of Philadelphia[8]
  • Thomas Ustick Walter (1804–1887), architect[8]
  • Joseph Wharton (1826-1909), American industrialist who founded the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, co-founded the Bethlehem Steel company, and was one of the founders of Swarthmore College
  • Jonathan Williams (1751–1815), U.S. Army officer and first superintendent of West Point
  • Eleanor Lukens Elkins Widener Rice, wife of George Widener, survivor of RMS Titanic sinking, responsible for Harry Elkins Widener Library at Harvard University
  • Peter A. B. Widener (1834–1915), business tycoon, philanthropist[8]
  • Harry Elkins Widener (1885-1912), businessman, bibliophile, victim of sinking of RMS Titanic[8]
  • Isaac J. Wistar (1827–1905), Union Army general and penologist[10]
  • Owen Wister (1860–1938), novelist, author of The Virginian[8]
  • Jacob Zeilin (1806–1880), 7th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Marine Corps' first general officer[8]

In late 1835, John Jay Smith, a Quaker and librarian, recorded in his diary: “The City of Philadelphia has been increasing so rapidly of late years that the living population has multiplied beyond the means of accommodation for the dead…on recently visiting Friends grave yard in Cherry Street I found it impossible to designate the resting place of a darling daughter, determined me to endeavor to procure for the citizens a suitable, neat and orderly location for a rural cemetery.”

Smith’s very personal experience ultimately had very public implications, as less than one year later, this grieving father founded Laurel Hill Cemetery with partners Nathan Dunn, Benjamin W. Richards and Frederick Brown. When Smith conceived of Laurel Hill, he envisioned something fundamentally different from the burial places that came before it, and the site has continued to hold an important place of distinction as one of the first cemeteries of its kind. Key concepts to Laurel Hill’s founding were that it had to be situated in a picturesque location well outside the city; that it had no religious affiliation; and that it provided a permanent burial space for the dead in a restful and tranquil setting.

In an era when the city suffered from crowding, disease and scarcity of public space, Laurel Hill offered an “alternative environment.” 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’s founding is deeply rooted in the cultural history of Philadelphia’s urbanization, and in the simultaneous development of crafted, suburban sanctuaries of nature and retreat just beyond the city’s limits. 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.

Selecting an appropriate site was one of the first challenges facing the cemetery’s founders. Several options fell through before a group of proprietors, led by Smith, were able to purchase a former estate known as Laurel Hill in 1836. From 1797 to 1824, the 32-acre property located north of the city overlooking the Schuylkill River had been the county seat of merchant Joseph Simms. The estate was later used as a farm, a tavern and a boarding school. Laurel Hill’s proximity to the River was perhaps the site’s most important selling point for its founders, in an effort to establish the Cemetery as “a place apart.” Following an afternoon leisure trip to Laurel Hill in 1838, one early Philadelphian noted in his diary, “Wandered about the cemetery for half an hour, looking at monuments & gravestones…and gazing at the beautiful view up and down the river.” Views of the Schuylkill River have always been an important component of the site’s visual character, and a central part of the Laurel Hill Cemetery experience for visitors of past and present.

After the land purchase, an informal competition was held to choose a designer for Laurel Hill, through which Scottish architect John Notman was selected. Notman conceived of the Cemetery as an estate garden, based in part on English ideas of planned landscapes as transitions between art and nature. Key features of Notman’s design for Laurel Hill were a three-tiered circulation system with the main carriage loop, secondary roads, and paths all converging near the center. Notman also added a Doric Roman Gatehouse, a superintendent’s house and a chapel. Notman designed the Cemetery to take advantage of the river, and his plan was ultimately chosen over those of his counterparts because it carved out the landscape into an amphitheatre-like formation that offered great river views. Many early visitors and funeral-goers traveled to Laurel Hill via steamboat, once the vehicles started plying the Schuylkill River on a regular basis in the 1840s. Steamboats Washington, Mount Vernon and Frederick Graff embarked hourly on a circuit between Fairmount and the Falls of Schuylkill, emptying a stream of lot-holders and sightseers at Laurel Hill.

Since the earliest days of Laurel Hill, the founders and managers of the Cemetery recognized the great potential for recreation that the rural, picturesque site held. Laurel Hill preceded New York’s Central Park by more than two decades, and was most certainly an inspiration for Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. Picnics, strolls, carriage rides and sightseeing were popular pastimes in Laurel Hill’s early days, when “nearly 30,000 persons…entered the gates between April and December, 1848.” The site continues to remain a favored retreat for tourists, joggers, bicyclists, nature lovers, sketch artists and amateur photographers.

Today, Laurel Hill is located in the North section of Philadelphia, comprising an estimated 78-acre tract of land that is divided into three sections—the North, Central and South portions of the Cemetery—that were each founded at different times in the site’s development. Every expansion continues to remain clearly etched upon the Cemetery’s landscape. Laurel Hill is one of the few cemeteries in the nation to be honored with the designation of National Historic Landmark, a title received in 1998. Numerous prominent people are buried at the Cemetery, including many of Philadelphia’s leading industrial magnates. Names such as Rittenhouse, Widener, and Elkins certainly pique local interests, but Laurel Hill also appeals to a national audience. General Meade and thirty-nine other Civil War-era generals reside here, in addition to six Titanic passengers. As in its earliest days, Laurel Hill’s natural beauty and serenity continue to render it a bucolic retreat nestled within the city’s limits overlooking the Schuylkill River. This beautiful green space is further complemented by the breathtaking art, sculpture and architecture that can be found here. These are just some of the many attributes that render Laurel Hill Cemetery a primary destination for local and national visitors to the City of Brotherly Love.