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Laurel Hill Cemetery

Laurel Hill Cemetery
William Warner memorial sculpted by Alexander Milne Calder
Laurel Hill Cemetery is located in Pennsylvania
Location 3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Built 1836-1839[1]
Architect John Notman[1]
Architectural style Exotic Revival, Gothic, Classical Revival
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 77001185[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 28, 1977
Designated PHMC May 20, 2000[3]

Laurel Hill Cemetery is a cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that was the second major garden or rural cemetery in the United States. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998, one of only a few cemeteries to receive the distinction.[4]

Located in Philadelphia's East Falls section, the 74-acre (300,000 m2) cemetery overlooks the Schuylkill River. Laurel Hill contains more than 33,000 monuments and more than 11,000 family lots. Its thousands of 19th- and 20th-century marble and granite funerary monuments include obelisks and elaborately sculpted hillside tombs and mausoleums.[5]


  • History 1
  • Notable burials 2
  • Fictional references 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Old Mortality, his Pony, and Sir Walter Scott, near the main gate

The cemetery was founded in 1836 by John Jay Smith, a librarian and editor with interests in horticulture and real estate who was distressed at the way his deceased daughter was interred in a Philadelphia churchyard. He and other prominent citizens decided to create a rural garden cemetery five miles north of Philadelphia, a location that was viewed as a haven from urban expansion and a respite from the increasingly industrialized city center. The property was acquired from businessman Joseph Sims.[1]

Designed by Scottish-American architect Revolutionary War figures moved there, including Continental Congress secretary Charles Thomson; Declaration of Independence signer Thomas McKean; Philadelphia war veteran and shipbuilder Jehu Eyre; Hugh Mercer, hero of the Battle of Princeton; and David Rittenhouse, first director of the U.S. Mint.

During and after the American Civil War, Laurel Hill became the final resting place of hundreds of military figures, including 42 Civil War-era generals. Laurel Hill also became the favored burial place for many of Philadelphia's most prominent political and business figures, including Matthias W. Baldwin, founder of the Baldwin Locomotive Works; Henry Disston, owner of the largest saw factory in the world (the Disston Saw Works); and financier Peter A. B. Widener.

Mother and Twins Monument

The city later grew past Laurel Hill, but the cemetery retained its rural character.

The sculpture Aspiration by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth and the Berwind tomb

From its inception, Laurel Hill was intended as a civic institution designed for public use. In an era before public parks and museums, it was a multi-purpose cultural attraction where the general public could experience the art and refinement previously known only to the wealthy. Classical Revival, Gothic Revival, Egyptian Revival and other exotic styles are rendered in a wide palette of materials, including marble, granite, cast-iron and sandstone. Notable artists and architects, including Notman, Alexander Milne Calder and William Strickland contributed their designs. Laurel Hill became an immensely popular destination in its early years and required tickets for admission. Writer Andrew Jackson Downing reported “nearly 30,000 persons…entered the gates between April and December, 1848.”

In 1978, the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was founded to support the cemetery. The mission of the Friends is to assist the Laurel Hill Cemetery Company in preserving and promoting the historical character of Laurel Hill. The Friends raise funds and seek contributed services; prepare educational and research materials emphasizing the historical, architectural and cultural importance of Laurel Hill Cemetery; and provide tour guides to educate the public.

In the 21st century, two pairs of seats from Veterans Stadium were installed at the grave of Harry Kalas, the Frick Award-winning announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies, so they could be used by fans paying their respects.

Today, Laurel Hill Cemetery stands as a rich repository of both art and historical artifacts. Its monuments embody the rich design, craftsmanship and iconography of 19th and 20th century American funerary art, from simple obelisks to elaborate mausoleums.

Notable burials

Gatehouse built in 1835
George Meade
William J. Mullen Tomb (1881) by Daniel Kornbau (incorrectly reported as E. Kornbau in some references).[6]

Burials in the cemetery include:

Fictional references

  • The young adult book Tombstone Tea[9] by Joanne Dahme takes place in Laurel Hill Cemetery and some of the well-known people buried there appear as characters.
  • A headstone marks the grave of the fictional Adrian Balboa. It was used as a prop in the 2006 motion picture Rocky Balboa which was filmed at the cemetery.[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "General View of Laurel Hill Cemetery".  
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  3. ^ "PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 10, 2013. 
  4. ^ Listing at the National Park Service
  5. ^ National Historic Landmark Nomination, Aaron V. Wunsch, National Park Service, 1998.
  6. ^ Mullen Tomb December 26, 1881 article from the New York Times.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt Laurel Hill Cemetery at Find-A-Grave
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Tombstone Tea Amazon listing Retrieved 5 October 2009.
  10. ^ Why does Rocky’s wife get a tombstone at Laurel Hill?, by Dotun Akintoye , 18 July 2013, Philadelphia City Paper


  • Warner, Ezra J. (1964). Generals in Blue: The Lives of the Union Commanders. Louisiana State University Press.  

External links

  • Official website
  • Historic American Buildings Survey, Laurel Hill Cemetery, HABS No. PA-1811 (Adobe .pdf format)
  • Our Burial Lot (Kennedy), North Laurel Hill Cemetery, June 14, 1875 by D.J. Kennedy, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
  • Laurel Hill Cemetery sculptures, Association for Public Art website
  • From the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia:
  • Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, 1840
  • General View of Laurel Hill Cemetery, ca. 1847
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