“This is outrageous, so much for perpetual care. If my grandmother could come back to life, she’d be on a warpath,” said Wayne Stumpf of Tuckerton. His grandparents and an aunt are buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery.
The historic Southwest Philly burial ground, the final resting place for an estimated 85,000 people, has been unkempt and in disarray for decades.
The City of Philadelphia brought a property maintenance violation against the Mount Moriah Cemetery Association in 2011. Today, a court hearing took place in City Hall to update family members and the public on the status of the violation.
"I heard it was in such bad repair. I talked to City Hall and suggested why don’t we get prisoners and clean it up and clean out the trash," said Stumpf. He was advised by the funeral home not to go visit his family's gravesites.
Vines and thorns are found among the tombstones that grace the rolling hillside. There are visible natural sink holes on the approximate 200 acre property. Betsy Ross and singer John Whitehead are buried there.
Brian Abernathy, chief of staff to the managing director, said because there are no living board members of the Mount Moriah Cemetery Association, it’s not possible to further serve the association with the court proceeding. The last known board member was Horatio Jones Jr. who passed away in 2004.
Carolyn Jackson hasn’t visited the gravesite of her father or nephew in three years. “The weeds are almost as tall as me,” the Philadelphia native said.
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She purchased a plot for herself and said her intentions are to use it. “Now, I don’t know,” she said. “I feel bad and I want answers.”
The city has partnered with Yeadon Borough to create the Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation.
“The joint board will figure out the next steps because the city has no cemetery resources or expertise. Mayor Nutter has made it clear we have to figure out a long-term solution so something like this doesn’t happen again,” said Abernathy. "The situation is now too big to ignore. Our goal is to turn Mount Moriah around."
Rob Hobdell started researching his genealogy two years ago and has uncovered he has 120 relatives buried at Mount Moriah. "The response has been overwhelming and the community is deeply appreciative that there are people out here who care," said Hobdell.
Paulette Rhone's husband was buried at Mount Moriah in 1993. She saw the lack of care over the years and joined the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery Association. She now serves as president.
"Sometimes things have to get really, really bad before they get better. The cemetery has been in decline for so many years and now we can move forward. It's going to take years to totally preserve it," said Rhone.
The Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery Association will hold cleanup days on March 9 and 23. Volunteers and the public are welcome.