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Dearly departed

South Philly was once home to at least seven graveyards.

By Lorraine Gennaro
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Oct. 13, 2005

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Given the number of cemeteries that once existed in South Philly, it's rather surprising the area isn't one of the most haunted places in America. During research through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, we dug up at least seven graveyards that have faded like specters into the pages of history.

Here's a look at the two largest and well-known burial grounds:

Lafayette Cemetery

Capitola Playground was built on Lafayette Cemetery, formerly located between Federal and Wharton streets and Ninth and 10th streets and Passyunk Avenue.

Founded Jan. 12, 1839, it is named after Gen. Lafayette. In 1777, Lafayette set sail from his native France with a crew bound for America to fight in the Revolution. Lafayette joined the ranks as a major general and was assigned to the staff of Gen. George Washington. (It is believed Federal Street was named as such because federal troops under Washington's leadership marched through what was, at one time, a main thoroughfare after landing on the eastern banks of the Delaware. It is also believed some of Washington's troops and the general himself were quartered in homes along Federal Street.)

Lafayette Cemetery started with about 1,382 plots, a caretaker's lodge and walkways. Around 1946, after the city condemned Lafayette Cemetery, as well as Franklin Cemetery in Kensington, as part of a multi-million-dollar playground-building project, 47,000 graves were relocated to Evergreen Memorial Park in Bensalem Township.

According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article from October 1988, in 1959 Evergreen's owner -- who was hired by the city to dig up the Lafayette graves -- filed for bankruptcy. In 1988, an investigation was launched into the reinterrment of those from Lafayette after Bensalem officials received word two unmarked graves were found at Evergreen.

The investigation revealed that Lafayette bodies were dumped in unmarked trenches on the Evergreen site, which Bensalem officials said bore little resemblance to a cemetery as most people know it, the article said. The final resting place of many of the original Lafayette inhabitants remains unknown to this day.

Joe Giunta, who grew up on the 1300 block of Passyunk Avenue, remembers when, around the time those interred were removed, "a processional with hundreds of men crying" came through the streets. He believes the ceremony was held to honor those who would find final resting places at Evergreen -- or so many thought.

The first to be interred at Lafayette was 4-year-old Robert F. Hill on Dec. 20, 1838, though there is no word on the cause of death.

One of the cemetery founders, William G. Alexander, was buried on the grounds, but his co-founder, Dr. Joel B. Sutherland, was laid to rest at Old Pine Street Church. Capt. Robert Dunlevey, who was in command of a packet ship sailing between the port of Philadelphia and Liverpool, was buried at Lafayette, as were other sea captains.

Charles Mansor, an 85-year-old World War II Air Force veteran who grew up on the 1100 block of South 10th Street, remembers the cemetery, and its caretaker, Mr. Shisler, and his wife. The couple had a big German shepherd, he recalled.

"They took good care of the cemetery. It had iron gates all around. Real fancy stuff," Mansor said.

Like most cemeteries of yore, Lafayette had some elaborate headstones and markers, as well as mausoleums. Although he can't remember Shisler's first name, Mansor does recall being chased out of the cemetery more than once by the caretaker when he and his cronies would jump the fence looking for a place to engage in a little harmless horseplay. Giunta also remembers the graveyard as a spot to play.

Along Ninth Street outside Lafayette Cemetery, Italian immigrants sold grapes for winemaking, Mansor said. He said he also remembers Memorial Day services being held inside the burial site.


St. Mary's Cemetery

St. Maria Goretti High School, now Ss. John Neumann-Maria Goretti High School, was built in the 1950s on St. Mary's Cemetery at 11th and Moore streets.

Founded in the 1840s, St. Mary's Cemetery was one of two burial grounds that were part of Old St. Mary's Catholic Church, 248 S. Fourth St. The cemetery at that location (St. Mary Burial Ground) contains the remains of Commodore John Barry, Gen. Moylan, an aide to George Washington, and Michael Bouvier, the great-great-grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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1. Terry Callen said... on Sep 28, 2008 at 10:58AM

“There have been so many cemeteries moved and destroyed since the turn of the last century. They moved the graves at Machpelah to a part of Mount Moriah (horribly kept place) that no longer exists. The playground located where Ronaldson's was is a dreary, ugly place. For that, they uprooted a 140 year old cemetery. The folks at Philanthropic were moved to Arlington Cemetery in Delaware County. The story about those buried in Lafayette and Franklin Cemeteries - what a disgrace!”

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2. Terry Callen said... on Oct 1, 2008 at 02:12AM

“Robert W. Hill died at the age of 4 on December 19, 1838 of convulsions from whooping cough. He was the son of Robert F. Hill. ”

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3. Jen said... on Oct 9, 2008 at 03:06PM

“I don't think they should be allowed to move graves. I think once a cemetery is establised it must remain that way! My Ggrandfather was interred in Franklin. Now who knows where his remains are. http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/PA-CEMETERIES/2003-01/1043603122”

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4. Terry C said... on Nov 1, 2008 at 07:59AM

“Jen: The prevailing opinion is that the Franklin folks were dumped with the people from Lafayette - in that pit. I've left instructions to be cremated. The dead should be left to rest in peace. Union Burial Ground Society: Sixth Street below Washington Avenue, was moved in 1971, not 1906. ”

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5. Jaume Rivell said... on Nov 1, 2008 at 08:43AM

“Both my 3rd & 4th grandfathers (Jasper Moylan 2nd & Jasper Moylan 3rd) were originally interred in Lafayette Cemetery. I find it very sad indeed that after they fought so galliantly for this country that their bones ended up in a mass grave under a super highway in Bensalem , Bucks County Pa. As a gravestone historian I cannot stress the need for respect and preservation enough. ”

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6. Linda S. said... on Jun 21, 2010 at 11:40PM

“My great-grandparents were buried at Lafayette, and when the cemetery was closed, their remains, along with the remains of 4 others in their plot, were moved to Lakeview Memorial Park in NJ, where my grandparents are buried.”

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7. Lorraine Gennaro said... on Sep 4, 2011 at 05:45PM

“Please send a note to this newspaper, if you would like a follow up article. Would you like to know how to find the names of those who were removed from their final resting place and moved to another cemetary?”

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8. The lost Sixth Street Union Cemetery (on Facebook) said... on Sep 6, 2011 at 04:07PM

“Union Burial Ground Society was not moved in 1906, but in the early 1970s. Moved to Philadelphia Memorial Park.”

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9. K May said... on Jan 27, 2012 at 04:35PM

“any info on cemetary ar 22nd and Snyder S Phila, occupied this site. moved in 1920 or 30/ Grandfather William Shaw buried there”

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10. Betty said... on Feb 9, 2013 at 12:06PM

“My family, Fultons, also had members buried here and tracing roots is so much harder due to the fact that records are lost.
Where were these people reburied, sometimes I wonder how people sleep at night knowing the trust that was put in them by the folks who suffered to form this city.”

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