Roaming with the Roxborough Runner: Mount Vernon Cemetery

Further afield with a long-distance runner who shares eerie, fascinating images of a mysterious giant pyramid at abandoned Mt. Vernon Cemetery. 

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A place lies across the street from Laurel Hill Cemetery, at Ridge and Lehigh Avenues, that can be described as invisible, mysterious, and forgotten.

Mount Vernon Cemetery opened in 1856, during the 19th Century, when rural garden cemeteries began to replace inner city and churchyard cemeteries. Mount Vernon is the final resting place of the thespian family Barrymore/Drewunmarked until 1998. Its front gatehouse and fencing was designed by  architect John Notman, who also designed Laurel Hill’s gatehouse.

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Today the cemetery is wrapped in an overgrowth of tendrils, thorns, and weeds. The vision is like something out of a gothic novel. Along Lehigh Avenue, you can go up to the fence, to get a good look into the cemetery. The view inside takes on a whole new dimension. Mount Vernon is a grey vision of uneven terrain, overgrown vegetation, with tilted and/or sunken grave stones.

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Mount Vernon is a fairly small cemetery compared to its neighbors Mount Peace and Laurel Hill. However, Mount Vernon looks vast from the inside.

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The reason that drew me to Mount Vernon was one object, a 25 foot high memorial, in the shape of a pyramid, the Gardel Monument. The Gardel Monument was something that I first read about, then viewed, for years, through the fence along Lehigh Avenue.

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Bertrand Gardel and his wife Julia Hawks Gardel were Philadelphia school teachers. In 1859 Julia died in Damascus, Syria while on a World Tour. With her death, Bertrand wanted to play tribute to his wife and her love of the world, so he commission noted Philadelphia architect Napoleon LeBrun and Belgian sculptor Guillaume Geefs, to create a  25 foot pyramid that contained mourning sculptures from around the world. The monument, made of brownstone and marble, was erected in 1865 at the cost of $30,000. In 1883, Bertrand Gardel died and was laid to rest, with his wife, at  pyramid monument, in Mount Vernon Cemetery.

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Today, Mount Vernon Cemetery is locked up tight. You can call the office number to make a request to visit, as long as you have a family plot in the cemetery and you know of its location. In the last few years, most of these requests have gone unanswered.

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If you are interested in learning about Mount Vernon Cemetery and supporting it, there is a Facebook Group,  Friends of Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Philadelphia PA . The Friends of Mount Vernon Cemetery is a group dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Mount Vernon Cemetery by honoring the memory of those interred within its gates.

Currently Friends of Mt. Vernon Cemetery members are working with the ownership to make the cemetery accessible to the public, eventually restoring the grounds, through historic research, education, and community engagement.

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The Roxborough Runner is a life long resident of Roxborough, who enjoys  running the roads, trails, and taking photos of our great Philly neighborhoods. The Roxborough Runner wants everyone to get out and explore your hood. You’ll be amazed at what you may find.

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Share your favorite sights, views, and cool hidden corners with your neighbors on East Falls Local. Submit text & pics or join us for one of our informal brainstorming meetings (email for dates/times). 

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