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Touring the Tombstones in Your Town


Though his name might not ring a bell, buried outside of a Church in the Washington County town of Amity, Pennsylvania lays the man once thought to be the author of the most influential book in the history of the United States. But a visitor might just walk by his headstone without notice. It reveals only that Solomon Spaulding died on October 20, 1816 at the age of fifty-five. A taphophile, or someone who loves cemeteries, may recognize Spaulding as a man once thought to be the author of the Book of Mormon.

 

Cemeteries are the last place many people want to spend a vacation. Still, the numbers of tourists visiting cemeteries and searching for the graves of people like Spaulding continues to grow every year. Today many century-old cemeteries are still beautiful places. While some use them for a picnic or as a place to take wedding photographs, tombstone tourists go looking for the graves of interesting people.

Edgar Allan Poe tomb Baltimore, MD. © Eric Miller Efforts to promote the interesting burial grounds around the U.S. have increased tourism and even stimulated interest in local history.

Concerts in a Bronx, New York cemetery draw thousands of jazz fans to hear the sounds of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Visitors to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston can rent an audiocassette guide of the grounds and wander through the past at their leisure. Lawyers and Congressional aides regularly meet for coffee in Washington's Congressional Cemetery and last year more than 5,000 people toured Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery stopping by the graves of Elliot Ness, John Rockefeller and President James Garfield.

Cemeteries from New Orleans to Buffalo are like books with magnificent stories to tell and stories found in smaller community cemeteries like those in your town are no exception.

In the early 1800s, Solomon Spaulding set out to write a fanciful history of ancient races showing that American Indians were descended from one of the ten lost tribes. Though he never saw his book published, he called it "The Manuscript Found." Later Amity residents familiar with Spaulding’s tale were struck by the resemblance to the Book of Mormon. Believing the books were one in the same, Cephas Dod, a minister in Amity purchased a copy and inscribed inside "I fully believe that this Book of Mormon is mainly and wickedly copied from it." Years later the Mormon Church published Spaulding’s work to show the two were not related.

Another cemetery story began to unfold in the 1930s.

The site of a revolutionary massacre near the Pennsylvania town of Saxton had been known in 1929 when an American Legion Post decided to erect a monument to some of the areas earliest settlers. But in January of 1933 when the workers came to make improvements to the site, they began to unearth the remains of ten soldiers killed there on July 6, 1780.

The Revolutionary era patrol, led by Captain William Phillips, was headed for Fort Bedford when they sought refuge in an abandoned cabin. As the story goes, Captain Phillips awoke early to find the cabin surrounded by Indians. A battle ensued and the cabin was soon in flames. Private Philip Skelly fired a bullet which passed through the cheeks of Chief Bald Eagle, breaking several teeth. The patrol soon surrendered.

The captives were marched about a half-mile from the house when they were tied to trees and shot with arrows. Their bodies had already begun to decompose when they were found by a group of settlers and buried in shallow graves, only to be discovered again in 1933.

'Freedom is a Light' George Washington monument marking the scattered remains of unknown revolutionary-era soldiers from Washington's Army. © Eric Miller Some tombstone tourists look beyond cemeteries.

 

During certain months of the year on the western bank of the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh, a rock breaks through the water surface and reveals part of an inscription, most of which is buried below. When the water is still, the complete inscription is revealed, complete with spelling errors. "James Law was droned here 1898, 10 years old."

Records from a local cemetery confirm that James Law did drown in the river and was buried in a section known oddly as "Strangers’ Ground."

This could signify that Law did not live in the area. Further inspection revealing a month period between the boy’s death and his burial raises still more questions. Did his family travel for the burial? Or perhaps the family was visiting when the boy drowned and the body was lost for a time during which his name was carved in a rock and the body discovered and buried later.

Other stories involve less investigation, but are no less interesting.

In 1795, a Russian Prince came to Western Pennsylvania for the first time. Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin was ordained as a Catholic priest shortly before he was assigned as the first pastor of McGuire’s Settlement. Gallitzin changed the settlement’s name to Loretto and encouraged other Catholics to join him. Father Gallitzin and the Church brought together urban congregations and the mountain parishioners, helping to insure the future of the new nation by maintaining settlements in the Allegheny Mountains.

The remains of Father Gallitzin are housed in an attractive tomb on Saint Mary's Street in Loretto, Pennsylvania that already draws visitors each year. Although Gallitzin died in 1840, the present monument wasn't erected until 1891 when his remains were relocated from outside the chapel house where he had ministered.

Loretto wasn't the only area in Western Pennsylvania to be inhabited early on. A cemetery in the small town of Sinking Valley also dates to the eighteenth century. Peter McMullen, who founded Saint Luke's Cemetery, arrived in the summer of 1784. When McMullen died, he deeded part of his plantation as a burial ground for "Roman Catholics and no others." Revenue from McMullen's cemetery was sent to Father Gallitzin.

Many earlier settlers were to move again. The most recent tombstone in St. Luke's Cemetery was erected in 1903. Within a hundred years many of the families had either died off or moved elsewhere. A few of the next generation of grave markers missing from Sinking Valley and Loretto Cemeteries can be found in some of Altoona's cemeteries, including Saint John's.

The triad of cemeteries in the East End of Altoona: Saint John's, Saint Mary's and Oak Ridge, remain a reflection of the ethnic and religious diversity of the people who migrated to the city. No longer isolated on vast farms, cultures came together and ethnic enclaves formed in neighborhoods, as well as in cemeteries.

Hundreds of years from now, historians will be able to tell a lot about people in industrial America from the cemeteries. Just like neighborhoods known as home to a particular ethnicity, rather than being the exclusive home of one ethnic group, these areas were diverse, with one prevailing ethnic group, such as Italians, Germans or Jews. Many cemeteries reflect this pattern as well.

While people group in a neighborhood according to a racial or ethnic culture, they also group according to a religious culture. And so cemeteries remain divided in these terms, as well as by race, class and in rare instances, politics.

 

Saint John's and Saint Mary's served Catholics while Oak Ridge served Protestants. Likewise, Oak Ridge is adjacent to Eastern Light Cemetery, an area which custom holds was reserved for African-Americans. Some groups which never grew to a significant size in a particular area, such as the Chinese or Turks in Altoona, were not able to form ethnic neighborhoods; nor do they represent distinct areas in this region’s cemeteries.

Some even took measures to have racially pure cemeteries. The Harmonites, a religious group that founded several towns including Harmony and Economy in Western Pennsylvania, had imported Chinese workers to help run a mill. As the Chinese died they were buried in a hilltop cemetery and local historians point out that when the last had died their bodies were removed from Beaver Falls and "faithfully and religiously transported to far-off China." In terms of class, the Chinese and the African-Americans were on top of a hill for a reason. In these more rural burial areas they were given the least accessible plot of land.

Tombstone of Wing Fook Gee in the Chinese Section of Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh © Eric Miller Yet in more formal urban cemeteries such as Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh, the higher spaces were reserved for the mausoleums of industrialists, and the plots on steep hillsides and in valleys were left for often poor ethnic and racial minorities.

While a picnic, a jog or even a wedding in a cemetery might be less out of the ordinary than it was a few years ago, now isn't the first time cemeteries have been used by the living.

Before 1830, cemeteries were located almost exclusively on church grounds, which quickly reached capacity. The crowding combined with sanitary concerns lead to the establishment of formal burial grounds on the edges of cities.

As the industrial revolution progressed, cities like those in Western Pennsylvania grew around the once rural cemeteries. Cemeteries became an oasis of natural scenery in otherwise gloomy and congested cities.

Marketing cemeteries around the country in order to attract tourists can also provide a means for raising the money needed to preserve these historic treasures. Often the victim of neglect and vandalism, many have been forgotten and left to decay. Some have been surrounded by commercial development and are unable to provide the security and maintenance necessary to ward off vandals who steal stained glass, urns and figurines and sell them to restaurants and gardeners, unaware of, or ignorant, to their origins.

There's more than enough about what we might think of as ordinary cemeteries to make them a stop for tombstone tourists.

A granite tombstone in the shape of a tree, symbolizing a family tree in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. © Eric Miller

Beyond famous people, other burial grounds are filled with intrigue. A cemetery in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania is filled mainly with children who perhaps died in an epidemic. One Pittsburgh cemetery contains the grave of a famous gambler and people visit to place lottery tickets on the grave several times a year. At Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio people visit John Rockefeller's grave daily and leave behind dimes. Rockefeller had become known by his habit of giving dimes to children. And a visit to a Harmonite cemetery will seem curious, as the religion forbade the use of grave markers.

 

Cemeteries are a permanent museum dedicated to a past very near to us. If you are still leery of spending too many living hours this close to death, heed the words of Pittsburgh astronomer and lens cutter John Brashear. Inscribed near his tomb inside Allegheny Observatory in that city are the words "We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."

SOME FAMOUS AND NOTABLE PEOPLE RESTING IN WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA CEMETERIES

Joshua Barney, U.S Naval hero- Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Stephen Foster, Composer, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Edward Braddock, Major General, Farmington

Henry Clay Frick, Industrialist, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Errol Garner, Jazz Musician, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Josh Gibson, Baseball Hall of Fame, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Henry J. Heinz, Industrialist, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Hedda Hopper, Columnist, Rose Hill Cemetery, Altoona

David L. Lawrence, Pittsburgh Mayor, Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Galbaith Perry Rodgers, Aviation Pioneer, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Rosey Rosewell, Voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Lillian Russel, Actress, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Harry Thaw (Killed Stanford White), Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Pie Traynor , Baseball Player, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Honus Wagner, Baseball Player, Jefferson Memorial Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Joshua Barney, U.S. Navel Hero, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Charles Schwab, Steel Magnate, Schwab Mausoleum, Loretto

Lt. Col. Boyd "Buzz" Wagner, WWII Air Ace, Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown

John G. McCrory, Merchant, Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown

Father Demetrius Gallitzin, Catholic Priest, Loretto

John Brashear, Astronomer, Allegheny Observatory, Pittsburgh

Andy Warhol, Artist, St. John the Baptist Cemetery, Bethel Park

Contact Information:
Grandview Cemetery
801 Millcreek Rd
Johnstown, PA 15905
(814) 535-2652

Homewood Cemetery
1599 S Dallas Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 421-1822

Allegheny Cemetery
4734 Butler St
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
(412) 682-1624

Allegheny Observatory
Riverview Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15214
(412) 321-2400

Rose Hill Cemetery
1207 12th Ave # 207
Altoona, PA 16601
(814) 942-1152

St. Michael's Church
321 St Mary St
Loretto, PA 15940
(814) 472-8551

Jefferson Memorial Cemetery
401 Curry Hollow Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15236-4636
(412) 655-4500

Also visit: www.findagrave.com

Eric Miller is a native of Altoona and now lives in San Francisco. Ruth Miller contributed to this story.

'Freedom is a Light' George Washington monument marking the scattered remains of unknown revolutionary-era soldiers from Washington's Army. © Eric Miller Some tombstone tourists look beyond cemeteries.

During certain months of the year on the western bank of the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh, a rock breaks through the water surface and reveals part of an inscription, most of which is buried below. When the water is still, the complete inscription is revealed, complete with spelling errors. "James Law was droned here 1898, 10 years old."

Records from a local cemetery confirm that James Law did drown in the river and was buried in a section known oddly as "Strangers’ Ground."

This could signify that Law did not live in the area. Further inspection revealing a month period between the boy’s death and his burial raises still more questions. Did his family travel for the burial? Or perhaps the family was visiting when the boy drowned and the body was lost for a time during which his name was carved in a rock and the body discovered and buried later.

Other stories involve less investigation, but are no less interesting.

In 1795, a Russian Prince came to Western Pennsylvania for the first time. Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin was ordained as a Catholic priest shortly before he was assigned as the first pastor of McGuire’s Settlement. Gallitzin changed the settlement’s name to Loretto and encouraged other Catholics to join him. Father Gallitzin and the Church brought together urban congregations and the mountain parishioners, helping to insure the future of the new nation by maintaining settlements in the Allegheny Mountains.

The remains of Father Gallitzin are housed in an attractive tomb on Saint Mary's Street in Loretto, Pennsylvania that already draws visitors each year. Although Gallitzin died in 1840, the present monument wasn't erected until 1891 when his remains were relocated from outside the chapel house where he had ministered.

Loretto wasn't the only area in Western Pennsylvania to be inhabited early on. A cemetery in the small town of Sinking Valley also dates to the eighteenth century. Peter McMullen, who founded Saint Luke's Cemetery, arrived in the summer of 1784. When McMullen died, he deeded part of his plantation as a burial ground for "Roman Catholics and no others." Revenue from McMullen's cemetery was sent to Father Gallitzin.

Many earlier settlers were to move again. The most recent tombstone in St. Luke's Cemetery was erected in 1903. Within a hundred years many of the families had either died off or moved elsewhere. A few of the next generation of grave markers missing from Sinking Valley and Loretto Cemeteries can be found in some of Altoona's cemeteries, including Saint John's.

The triad of cemeteries in the East End of Altoona: Saint John's, Saint Mary's and Oak Ridge, remain a reflection of the ethnic and religious diversity of the people who migrated to the city. No longer isolated on vast farms, cultures came together and ethnic enclaves formed in neighborhoods, as well as in cemeteries.

Hundreds of years from now, historians will be able to tell a lot about people in industrial America from the cemeteries. Just like neighborhoods known as home to a particular ethnicity, rather than being the exclusive home of one ethnic group, these areas were diverse, with one prevailing ethnic group, such as Italians, Germans or Jews. Many cemeteries reflect this pattern as well.

While people group in a neighborhood according to a racial or ethnic culture, they also group according to a religious culture. And so cemeteries remain divided in these terms, as well as by race, class and in rare instances, politics.

Saint John's and Saint Mary's served Catholics while Oak Ridge served Protestants. Likewise, Oak Ridge is adjacent to Eastern Light Cemetery, an area which custom holds was reserved for African-Americans. Some groups which never grew to a significant size in a particular area, such as the Chinese or Turks in Altoona, were not able to form ethnic neighborhoods; nor do they represent distinct areas in this region’s cemeteries.

Some even took measures to have racially pure cemeteries. The Harmonites, a religious group that founded several towns including Harmony and Economy in Western Pennsylvania, had imported Chinese workers to help run a mill. As the Chinese died they were buried in a hilltop cemetery and local historians point out that when the last had died their bodies were removed from Beaver Falls and "faithfully and religiously transported to far-off China." In terms of class, the Chinese and the African-Americans were on top of a hill for a reason. In these more rural burial areas they were given the least accessible plot of land.

Tombstone of Wing Fook Gee in the Chinese Section of Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh © Eric Miller Yet in more formal urban cemeteries such as Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh, the higher spaces were reserved for the mausoleums of industrialists, and the plots on steep hillsides and in valleys were left for often poor ethnic and racial minorities.

While a picnic, a jog or even a wedding in a cemetery might be less out of the ordinary than it was a few years ago, now isn't the first time cemeteries have been used by the living.

Before 1830, cemeteries were located almost exclusively on church grounds, which quickly reached capacity. The crowding combined with sanitary concerns lead to the establishment of formal burial grounds on the edges of cities.

As the industrial revolution progressed, cities like those in Western Pennsylvania grew around the once rural cemeteries. Cemeteries became an oasis of natural scenery in otherwise gloomy and congested cities.

Marketing cemeteries around the country in order to attract tourists can also provide a means for raising the money needed to preserve these historic treasures. Often the victim of neglect and vandalism, many have been forgotten and left to decay. Some have been surrounded by commercial development and are unable to provide the security and maintenance necessary to ward off vandals who steal stained glass, urns and figurines and sell them to restaurants and gardeners, unaware of, or ignorant, to their origins.

There's more than enough about what we might think of as ordinary cemeteries to make them a stop for tombstone tourists.

A granite tombstone in the shape of a tree, symbolizing a family tree in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh. © Eric Miller

Beyond famous people, other burial grounds are filled with intrigue. A cemetery in Gallitzin, Pennsylvania is filled mainly with children who perhaps died in an epidemic. One Pittsburgh cemetery contains the grave of a famous gambler and people visit to place lottery tickets on the grave several times a year. At Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio people visit John Rockefeller's grave daily and leave behind dimes. Rockefeller had become known by his habit of giving dimes to children. And a visit to a Harmonite cemetery will seem curious, as the religion forbade the use of grave markers.

Cemeteries are a permanent museum dedicated to a past very near to us. If you are still leery of spending too many living hours this close to death, heed the words of Pittsburgh astronomer and lens cutter John Brashear. Inscribed near his tomb inside Allegheny Observatory in that city are the words "We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night."

SOME FAMOUS AND NOTABLE PEOPLE RESTING IN WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA CEMETERIES

Joshua Barney, U.S Naval hero- Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Stephen Foster, Composer, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Edward Braddock, Major General, Farmington

Henry Clay Frick, Industrialist, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Errol Garner, Jazz Musician, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Josh Gibson, Baseball Hall of Fame, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Henry J. Heinz, Industrialist, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Hedda Hopper, Columnist, Rose Hill Cemetery, Altoona

David L. Lawrence, Pittsburgh Mayor, Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Andrew Mellon, Secretary of the Treasury, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Galbaith Perry Rodgers, Aviation Pioneer, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Rosey Rosewell, Voice of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Lillian Russel, Actress, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Harry Thaw (Killed Stanford White), Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Pie Traynor , Baseball Player, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Honus Wagner, Baseball Player, Jefferson Memorial Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Joshua Barney, U.S. Navel Hero, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Charles Schwab, Steel Magnate, Schwab Mausoleum, Loretto

Lt. Col. Boyd "Buzz" Wagner, WWII Air Ace, Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown

John G. McCrory, Merchant, Grandview Cemetery, Johnstown

Father Demetrius Gallitzin, Catholic Priest, Loretto

John Brashear, Astronomer, Allegheny Observatory, Pittsburgh

Andy Warhol, Artist, St. John the Baptist Cemetery, Bethel Park

Contact Information:
Grandview Cemetery
801 Millcreek Rd
Johnstown, PA 15905
(814) 535-2652

Homewood Cemetery
1599 S Dallas Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
(412) 421-1822

Allegheny Cemetery
4734 Butler St
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
(412) 682-1624

Allegheny Observatory
Riverview Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15214
(412) 321-2400

Rose Hill Cemetery
1207 12th Ave # 207
Altoona, PA 16601
(814) 942-1152

St. Michael's Church
321 St Mary St
Loretto, PA 15940
(814) 472-8551

Jefferson Memorial Cemetery
401 Curry Hollow Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15236-4636
(412) 655-4500

Also visit: www.findagrave.com

Eric Miller is a native of Altoona and now lives in San Francisco. Ruth Miller contributed to this story.