With the message of “bring your own flashlights,” Saturday night’s Soul Crawl at Laurel Hill took away the lights of the city as tour guide Dave Horwitz and co-workers guided parties through the steep graveyard overlooking the Schuylkill River. Through the dark and with the aid of cheap pharmacy flashlights, we walked to see the all the graves in the huge expanse of the premise. An uncountable amount of celebrities are housed there, like Ben Franklin’s family, mayors of the city of Philadelphia through 1920 and more. If you tour the place yourself, you will probably catch a familiar name in every section of the cemetery.
Everyone expects Harry Kalas’ grave to emphasize his career as a baseball announcer and the display at Laurel Hill Cemetery does not disappoint. Seats from Veteran Stadium stand next to his grave offering a resting spot from the hike to this peak high above Kelly Drive and a view towards the giant microphone atop Harry the K’s headstone. The memorial is huge and certainly shows the passerby the large impact he had as part of the Phillies until 2009. But what one does not expect is the shot glasses around the base of the microphone, an invitation to pay tribute to a city icon with a bottle of scotch. This was Kalas’ favorite drink, and in his death he invites others to have a sip with him.
Is this possibly inappropriate in a place of supposed solemnness? Sure. But life isn’t supposed to be a constant state of solemnity, and perhaps death is supposed to reflect that.
“Don’t be boring,” advised Horwitz. “Have a fun life, so you can have a fun funeral!” Not far from Kalas’ grave is Horowitz’s own, where his deceased cat currently waits for him to one day finally finish his tours of the graveyard.
The graveyard overlooking the river is larger than originally thought. Ten thousand graves are within the property, many of which are still available, as Horowitz tried giving his sales pitch for his tour party to invest in their futures. Not too soon however, because empty lots are only in ownership for a hundred years before passing onto the cemetery.
There has not been a funeral since 1996, but many are still quietly buried by the grave keepers yearly and maintenance goes on regularly. One mason is employed by Laurel Hill Cemetery, and he busily renovates the stone within the property, his job never finished; weather and groundhogs will forever be enemies of his work. The grass all around the headstones is soft, and the evidence of burrowing can be heard in the dark as you hear many a tourist twist their ankle in a concealed hole. The terrain in Laurel Hill is a trek, and if it’s hard to believe that the elderly woman who can barely keep up with her cane can make it through the tour, it’s hard to fathom how the cemetery hosted a 5K run a few weeks before.
Horowitz showed us that graves are not just text written on a stone. They hold the personality and impression of the deceased long after they have passed, through additions onto simple and elaborate graves. Symbols are adorned everywhere, because they are easily and instantly recognized. “Graveyards used to be places for family gatherings,” Horowitz informs his crowd during the tour. He explained that symbols were there for the children of families to learn the importance of a cemetery. Families in the nineteenth century would frequent them, taking great pride in how they buried the dead. Because it was either that, or be dumped in the river, not too far away.
Wandering Laurel Hill at night does not seem as spooky as one would think; in fact, wandering the tombstones and statues of famous men and faceless women is a great way to spend the beginning of a Saturday night. Laurel Hill Cemetery’s Soul Tour captured the spirit of Halloween that drew one in, and created a newfound appreciation for the city in which it is located. And while the tour of the graves that Horowitz gave only lasted two nights, Laurel Hill Cemetery offers different nighttime events all throughout the fall for the curious evening wanderer to enjoy