Fighting to save a historic cemetery

April 11, 2008 4:19:20 PM PDT
An historic cemetery in the city's East Falls section is in need of some t-l-c. The trouble is, there isn't a lot of money to make that happen, but there is a plan in place to bring in more tourists. Where there are more visitors, there's more revenue.

Laurel Hill cemetery made history from the time it was built in 1836. It is the first architecturally-designed cemetery in the entire country, but this East Falls burial ground is better known for the people buried here.

Beneath the stone monuments lie some of the most famous people in Philadelphia's history.

"We have a signer of the Declaration of Independence is here. The secretary of the Continental Congress is here," said Ross Mitchell of Friends of Laurel Hill.

Over the course of decades, the ground has settled and shifted. Many of the grave markers have cracked or tipped over.

"Due to the topography and the age of the cemetery. There's always going to be something that's going to fall over," said Frank Rausch.

These headstones and monuments are expensive to repair, and there aren't enough new burials here to foot the bill.

Executive director Ross Mitchell wants to preserve Laurel Hill's beauty, and history for generations to come.

"Making it into a heritage tourism destination site. We're doing that through programs, tours and outreach," said Mitchell.

History buffs would love a tour of Laurel Hill cemetery because so many historical figures are here, such as Joseph Reed, who is one of the signers of the Articles of Confederation.

The grave markers are being restored for their history and beauty.

"Just looking at the architecture, most of it was put up late 19th century and early 20th century, so it's interesting to see Victorian, all the statues," said Rob Herb of Medford, New Jersey.