17 July 2006 by Published in: General News 5 comments

I visited Ully Dahlgren’s grave in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery today. I was struck by just how small the marker on his grave is, particularly as compared to the huge marker for his father that’s quite literally next to Ully’s grave.

Laurel Hill was THE cemetery for Victorian-era Philadelphians. It was designed to be like a park, overlooking the Schuylkill River, and is very different from modern cemeteries. Although it was 100+ degrees out while I was at Laurel Hill, I still did a little bit of wandering around and shot photos of some of the graves of some of the famous folks buried there, but I got to only a small portion of them. It was too hot, I had too little time, and I also was having difficulty finding graves. Tomorrow, once I’ve had a chance to download the digital camera, I will post a few of the notable graves here.

Laurel Hill is one of several cemeteries of its ilk I have visited. I’ve spent time in the city cemetery in Lexington, KY, and in Spring Hill Cemetery in Cincinnati, which is even more park-like than Laurel Hill. There’s also Charles Evans Cemetery in my home town of Reading, PA, which is the final resting place for several Civil War generals, including Bvt. Maj. Gen. David M. Gregg, Brig. Gen. Daniel Keim, and Brig. Gen. Alexander Schimmelfennig, who lies under a nifty marker that’s topped by a marble pickelhaube, and which is marked in German. Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond is another of this variety, but I have yet to visit Hollywood (that, however, will change next week).

These cemeteries are pretty remarkable places. Unlike the memorial park near my house, which is not conducive to folks visiting, these cemeteries were designed to be treated like parks. In fact, Victorians thought nothing of having picnics and outings there. It was sort of like having a picnic in the park, only with lots of dead folks there. To our modern mentality, it seems kind of creepy, and I can certainly understand that. However, Victorians had a different take on death, and they really didn’t give it a second thought.

The other thing that strikes me when I visit these cemeteries is the complexity and beauty of the monuments. There are so many tall obelisks in Laurel Hill that it seems like needles reaching for the sky at times. There are also some amazing examples of sculpture atop some of the graves–I saw one today that was a bronze sculpture of the occupant of the graves seated in a chair, obviously lost in deep thought. The cost of such monuments today would be so astronomical as to be completely offputting. The Victorians, however, thought absolutely nothing of it, which is why you see some of the remarkable structures you see in these Victorian cemeteries.

I also was amazed at the number of fancy mausoleums that fill the center part of Laurel Hill. Some of these structures are incredibly ornate–my wife calls them high rise condos of death, and it’s really not that far from being an accurate description.

As I said, I hope to post some photos of some of the notable graves tomorrow night. Stay tuned.

Scridb filter


  1. Lanny
    Mon 17th Jul 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Dear Eric,

    You never cease to amaze me. So, on top of being a successful legal eagle, a supportive and tender spouse, a recorder of honorable and valiant deeds upon fields of conflict, and a protector, provider and lover of good dogs, you are also a crypt-kicker! (So am I–especially Presidential graves.)

    When you visit Hollywood Cementery you will want to see the three Presidents (Davis, Monroe and Tyler) and Stuart’s and Pickett’s graves among others. The one I missed, regretfully, is Douglas Southall Freeman’s. As one historian’s tribute to another, you might like to include his marker to your collection. When I was there in 1980 the front office, located by the front gate had a free map of all the interesting markers in the place–it saves alot of time to get one.

    By the way, did you hear about the crossword puzzle fanantic? She said that when she died she wanted to be buried six down and three across.

    Best wishes always,

  2. Mon 17th Jul 2006 at 9:53 pm


    Yep, I love prowling cemeteries. Some think it morbid, but I get a kick out of it.

    I’m really looking forward to Hollywood–it’s one of those must-see places, and I’m almost embarrassed that I’ve never been there. I will pay your–and my–respects to Freeman.


  3. Ray Todd Knight
    Mon 17th Jul 2006 at 11:07 pm

    If you’ve never been there you should visit Mount Olivet Cemetery on your next visit to the Nashville area. It is the burial site of seven Confederate generals… Frank Cheatham, WB Bate, William Hicks Jackson, George Maney, WNR Beall, James E Rains and Thomas Benton Smith. They even let one Union general in, Alvan C Gillum. A couple of Forrests boys are there too, John Morton and David C Kelley. They have a good size monument there in the Confederate Cirlce, final resting place of 1500 Confederate soldiers reburied there in 1869 from various cemeteries and battlefields throughout Middle Tennessee. It is a very impressive place and is on the Battle of Nashville driving tour.


  4. John D. Mackintosh
    Tue 18th Jul 2006 at 8:45 am

    That is intersting about Dahlgren’s grave, I imagine you took a number of photographs. A number of years back, I was in Cheraw, South Carolina for a meeting on their records that the S.C. Archives was interested in microfilming. I showed up early and went into the St. David’s Episcopal Church cemetery that claims to have the oldest monument erected to Confederate dead, it being placed there in 1867; all the early ones (there aren’t that many from the 60s) were supposedly placed in cemeteries, out of the way of Reconstruction troops who supposedly would have disputed their presence on a courthouse lawn. Most of the men remembered there were wounded Confederates who later died, having been left behind by Hardee as he withdrew prior to the arrival of Sherman’s army.

    What was jsut as interesting as that actually were some graves I came upon by chance–a husband and wife who had lost at least five children to childhood diseases in the late 18th century, the children buried near them and none of them making it past age five. One hopes that they had other offspring who made it to adulthood, lived to ripe old ages and are buried elsewhere but it was, by the modern developed world’s standards of low childhood mortality rates, a shocking reminder of the highly transitory nature of young life in those times.

  5. Randy Sauls
    Tue 18th Jul 2006 at 10:06 am


    If you think about it there are few places more packed with history than cemeteries. It may be considered morbid by some, but I’ve always enjoyed visiting them for that reason. The incredible variety of mounuments alone is reason enough to visit…I think the style, theme and size of each monument says a little bit about the time (and family circumstances) of the deceased, giving the visitor a snapshot of many different periods of time in one place. Cemeteries are full of mystery as well: why are 800 Confederate soldiers buried in a mass grave here in Goldsboro, NC? You’ll enjoy Hollywood. Be sure to check out the Gettysburg section near Pickett’s grave (also near Raleigh Colston’s grave as I recall). When you visit Monroe and Tyler’s graves be sure to walk a few yards towards the James River. The view is spectacular from the bluff. There is another good view from Jefferson Davis’s and Fitzhugh Lee’s graves as well. Enjoy your trip.


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