Eerie Cemeteries Left to Nature (PHOTOS)

By: By Michele Berger
Published: October 16, 2013

Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia

Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia. (Matthew Christopher)

How does nature overtake a cemetery? Maybe the last living members of the group in charge die, or the families with relatives buried there move away. Perhaps a few people — or even one individual — cared for the site and then one day stopped showing up for who knows what reason, like in the case of Philadelphia’s B’nai Israel/Hebrew Mutual Cemetery. Then there are those cemeteries under the care of an organization whose age simply means its gravestones have weathered centuries of, well, weather.

Whatever the reason may be, cemeteries are a complicated business, Mary Lish, a family tree researcher and genealogist, told Cemeteries often have a trust fund whose interest they subsist on. Once bodies stop being buried there and there’s little or no money coming in, nature can take over — sometimes even causing its own mini ecosystem, like at Wardsend Cemetery in Sheffield, United Kingdom.

“Wardsend is an unusual cemetery in that it is on a steep hillside and is almost entirely surrounded by trees creating its own microclimate, a mixture of an unofficial nature reserve and a cemetery,” George Proctor of the Friends of Wardsend Cemetery told “Originally the cemetery area had no trees.” Today it’s overgrown, and one of the five cemeteries in the pages that follow. But first, Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia.

“This bucolic hallowed ground was once herald as the largest privately owned, non-sectarian cemetery in Pennsylvania,” writes photographer Matthew Christopher, whose images of the site can be seen above. In 1855, it started as 54 acres; it eventually expanded to 380 acres.

The cemetery no longer operates (though that could change in the future) and because the last known board member of the cemetery association passed away, there’s no one currently responsible for its upkeep either. “The cemetery has been poorly maintained for decades with many of its historic sections overgrown and wooded,” according to the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery.

About 80,000 people are buried in the cemetery, including the first mayor of Philadelphia, singer-songwriter John Whitehead and supposedly famed flag maker Betsy Ross (though Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery said she was moved in the 1970s).

NEXT: An overgrown mess in the U.K.

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