Outrage over cemetery in shambles

April 14, 2009 5:23:48 PM PDT
A Southwest Philadelphia cemetery is known for its storied past. But, it's the cemetery's current state that is bringing attention to the landmark.Joe Lauber and his daughter Joanne return to the scene of what they consider a crime; The poor upkeep at Mt. Moriah, one of the area's most historic cemeteries.

Joe's wife was buried there in 1981. They came on Easter with flowers, only to be brought to tears by the conditions despite their perpetual care agreement.

"Nothing's cleaned up, it's not mowed, the stones are sinking," Joe Lauber said.

Despite its designation as a national landmark and its place on the Philadelphia register of historic places, Mt. Moriah cemetery is a mess.

"I had to dig with my fingernails and my hands to get my mother's stone out and clean it off," said Joanne Lauber.

The management and ownership of this cemetery refused comment, except to say it's an old place. They say it's full of grave sites that pre-date World War II, long before perpetual care policies ever existed.

Mt. Moriah was created in the 1850's. Luminaries like Betsy Ross are buried here, as are 5,000 civil war veterans on 400 acres that extend into Delaware County.

In the 1870's, it was a battleground for a landmark civil rights case, the funeral procession of Philadelphia business man Henry Jones. The procession was turned away at Mt. Moriah's gate because Jones was African-American. In 1876, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jones' right to burial there.

The landscaping and number of overturned headstones are shocking. Mt. Moriah has been a victim of neglect, vandalism, dumping and theft. Added to that the economics of perpetual care.

Alonda Owens' family has buried 8 relatives here since 2000, but they are contemplating moving at least two somewhere else.

"It just looks raggedy. The grass doesn't look as good, even in the summer and spring, it just looks raggedy," Owens said.

Burials continue at Mt. Moriah on a regular basis, even as it remains in limbo.

It's prominent on the state and city's preservation alliance list of endangered properties.

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