South Philly was once home to at least seven graveyards.
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:
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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