Saving Mount Moriah: Trying to bring back Philadelphia’s largest cemetery

June 12, 2014


Mount Moriah Cemetery. (Photos from The Friends of Mount Moriah Facebook page)

From Betsy Ross to former Philadelphia Mayor George Connell and famous local architect Samuel Sloan, the soil of Mount Moriah Cemetery in Southwest Philly is steeped in history.

In Mount Moriah’s heyday, the 380-acre estate with its elaborate Romanesque entrance and gatehouse, served as the burial grounds for Philadelphia’s elite. But now, the largest cemetery in Philadelphia is suffering from neglect, overrun by weeds and foliage as a result of years of failed management and confusion about ownership.

While the private group, The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery, is working to bring the cemetery back to a beautified state as legal issues over its ownership still go unresolved, the costs to maintain the grounds are steep. In an effort to help the West Philly Runners and the Fishtown Beer Runners have teamed up for a two-part fundraiser next week to support the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery’s work.

The two running groups will hold their respective fundraisers in tandem, with West Philly Runners’ hosting its event on Wed. June 18 at City Tap House Philly (3925 Walnut Street), from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The group is asking for a $10 donation, which will be pooled together and given to Friends of Mount Moriah.

MountMoriah2“The Mount Moriah Cemetery has the potential to be a great outdoor space, but right now it’s in limbo,” West Philly Runners member Stacey Ritzen, who co-organized the event, told West Philly Local. “We really want to clean up the space and make it nice, how it used to be back in the day. It used to be a cemetery for pretty wealthy West Philadelphia residents, and people would go and have picnics, just really enjoyed the space. It would be great to see it restored to what it was.”

During next Wednesday’s event, attendees can enjoy beer specials courtesy of Southern Tier Brewing Company and possibly win prizes from Honest Tom’s, Little Baby’s, Greensgrow West, Philadelphia Runner and other local businesses by taking part in the raffle. Fishtown Beer Runners will run a similar event the next day, Thurs. June 19, at Llama Tooth, with a portion of the proceeds received that night going to Friends of Mount Moriah.

West Philly Runners is also hosting a clean up day at the cemetery on Sat. June 22 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. “Hopefully through the efforts of these two fundraisers, we can get the word out and hopefully inspire people to come volunteer and put in the hours,” Ritzen said. “We really want to see it become a space everyone can use.”

Annamarya Scaccia

Editor’s Note: Here’s a recent video, “In Memoriam,” made by Temple University. The history and current state of this massive, formerly abandoned cemetery are examined through interviews. The dramatic efforts by hundreds of volunteers to revitalize it are also addressed in the video.

11 Comments For This Post

  1. Handsome Pete Says:

    I love Mt Moriah, overgrowth and all.

    I would love to see it get cleaned up. It’s a great space with access from the under-utilized Cobbs Creek bike trail.

  2. Pink Flag Says:

    Is there a website through which we can donate if we can’t make the fundraiser?

  3. WPL Says:

    Here’s a donation page on the Friends of Mount Moriah website:

  4. lin Says:

    A beautiful documentary. Has this been submitted for airing on public tv?

  5. bradley Says:

    I very much enjoy Mt. Moriah in it’s current state. It is still a very usable, if non-traditional, space; “restoring” it would change the character from something unique into just another cemetery. It’s an interesting monument to flux and decay, though sadly I know that most people don’t see it that way.

  6. Alon Says:

    Bradley, I actually do love the overgrowth and decay that has taken hold in Mount Moriah. Unfortunately, this kind of environment promotes dumping and other ills, especially in an urban setting. The cemetery can be a great community asset to the neighbors or it can be a blight on the neighborhood and I’d rather see it as the latter.

    And most importantly, Mount Moriah Cemetery has so much history that it will never be “just another” cemetery.

  7. Stacey Ritzen Says:

    Psst, Alon: I think you meant you’d rather see it as the former. 😉

  8. Alon Says:

    I’d definitely rather see it as a community asset, not a blighted wasteland! (thanks for the correction, Stacey!)

  9. Harry Curley Says:

    The cemetery was behind my house, it was beautiful. Betsy Ross grave was about 100 yrds away. On her birthday a firing squad would give a gun salute knocking me out of bed. They took care if it then and even had controlled fires. It looks as if a controlled fire may help.
    We had a nice array of wildlife; pheasant,raccoons,rabbit, hawks, possum, flocks of feeding birds and friends from S.Philly would visit. They thought we lived in the wilderness. My mother ,to keep us out o the cemetery would tell us watch out for the bears and wild animals. We had a great life living on Avondale street.

  10. susan Says:

    Just a reminder that Saturday is June 21 for
    anyone hoping to help with the clean-up.

  11. jes Says:

    Anyone have any idea what (if anything) has happened to the records that would normally be kept in the office?

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