Mount Vernon Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.
A landscape in Mount Vernon Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.
Finding beauty (and genealogical gems) in the overgrowth.
Historic Mount Vernon Cemetery is located at the intersection of Ridge and West Lehigh Ave. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, across from equally significant (and beautifully maintained) Laurel Hill Cemetery. Both cemeteries were shining examples of the popular Victorian era garden cemetery, with rolling hills, winding paths and striking architecture amidst beautiful flowering trees, and Mount Laurel has recently been restored to its former glory.
Mount Vernon, however, has fallen into a state of benevolent neglect. The groundskeepers can be seen mowing regularly in the spring and summer months, but they seem to have very little in the way of funds. The paved roads are in poor condition, and some have become impassible. Downed tree limbs can sometimes be found blocking the paths, and the odd fox can be seen loping along in the high grass between the stones. Over the years I've been visiting there, it seems that it's no longer an issue of simply beautifying the place--it seems to be a struggle just to keep the grass mowed and the roads clear. The gate and gatehouse are also in a terrible state, with collapsed roofs and crumbling stonework making the entrance far less imposing than it appears as you approach.
One of the issues that some people have with Mount Vernon is that they require visitors to make an appointment at least a couple days in advance if you wish to visit the cemetery, and they ask you what plot(s) you are going to view. When you arrive, you will be asked to sign in with your name, address, and the plot you are visiting. If you do not know where the plot is, the groundskeeper who signs you in will most likely be able to direct you, but you must know the name that the plot is registered under or it is unlikely that he will be able to look it up for you.
Ostensibly due to protecting the privacy of the interred and their families (some of whom are local notables and celebrities from days gone by), wandering and photography are quietly discouraged. Although I have never been told to leave or to stop taking pictures, it was obvious that the groundskeeping staff were eager for me to be on my way. To that end, I left a generous donation when I signed out. (Donations are gratefully accepted, and tipping the gentleman who makes time to facilitate your visit does not go unappreciated. I have often had the impression that the employee is making a special trip to open the place for each visitor, and that the place would not be staffed at all most days if a guest has not made arrangements to visit.)
Some notable interments include the cremains of actor John Barrymore (as well as other members of the Barrymore family), the impressive pyramidal monument to Bertrand Gardel, and several others, listed here at Find-A-Grave.
Bertrand Gardel monument.
Gardel monument inscription.
Advice for visitors.
Some practical advice: Wear boots and long pants if you plan to go into the unmowed areas. (Or anywhere, really.) While the staff will make sure that the plot you requested to visit is accessible, the areas around it might not be as well groomed. I saw poison ivy in several places, and it gets a strong foothold during the summer months.
It is fair to point out that I've heard from people who have called in advance but were *still* denied access. I don't have an answer for this. The groundskeepers have generally seemed a *bit* put off when we prolong our visits and they follow me around for the first ten minutes or so of my meanderings, but they are ultimately helpful and pleasant and leave me to my own devices once it becomes obvious that I'm simply having a wander on a lovely spring day. Again, a generous tip for their extra time is always a nice gesture.
The street address is listed as:
3499 W Lehigh Ave, Philadelphia, PA, 19132.
The map at the bottom of this article will provide you with driving directions to the intersection where the entrance gate is located.
Appointments can be made by calling 215-229-6038 during reasonable business hours.
Beauty in the overgrowth.
Mount Vernon Cemetery
Mount Vernon's future.
A Friends Of group might be all that is needed to save Mount Vernon from further neglect and obscurity, using the success of now-thriving Laurel Hill Cemetery as a model. Restoring Mount Vernon would take time, money, and tremendous physical effort, but the resulting benefit to the community and its historic significance would make it all worthwhile. Currently a haven for wildlife, birders and nature-lovers would certainly enjoy Mount Vernon in its present state. This impressive example of Victorian mourning culture is a gem in the rough just waiting for the right people to step up and give it a chance to shine again. Please take the opportunity to make an appointment and visit, and give the staff who meet you all the consideration they deserve for undertaking a tremendously difficult task. You will not be disappointed.
To see more of Mount Vernon, please look at the Online Resources section directly below this window. I have included a link to my own photos of the cemetery, taken in May of 2007.
- Photos of Mt. Vernon Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.
These are my photos of Mount Vernon, taken in May 2007.
- Find A Grave's Mount Vernon Cemetery home page.
- Stereoview of the Gardel memorial, via Wikiemdia Commons.
Mount Vernon Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA
Mount Vernon's entrance sits at an odd angle at the intersection of Ridge & West Lehigh Avenues. Use caution when making the turn from the north.