Love Note #113: Edith Mulhern writes to the beautiful, historic Woodlands Cemetery

Today Eyes on the Street continues our Philly Love Notes collaboration with this appreciation of the historic yet vital Woodlands Cemetery in West Philadelphia. And we want you to know that you can meet Love Note writers (among other folks who heart Philly) at a #whyilovephilly party on Friday evening at the Trestle Inn (339 N. 11th St.) starting at 6pm. It’s free, but donations will be accepted to benefit Mighty Writers.

Love Note #113: Edith Mulhern writes to the beautiful, historic Woodlands Cemetery

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  • Favorite SpotWoodlands Cemetery
  • Neighborhood: West Philadelphia
  • Address: 4000 Woodland Avenue
  • I am: Philly suburbs-born arts and culture non-profit worker and bilingual blogger. Came to West Philly for school, and love it more every day.
  • Years in Philly: 9
  • Current Home: Walnut Hill, West Philadelphia

Dear Woodlands Cemetery:

I’m so glad I found you. You were lurking behind those gates just across from the trolley portal, and I spent years wandering in less lovely spots.

The first time I saw you was for work. I had to locate the grave of John A. McAllister, a Philadelphia optician who left an enormous collection of Civil War era manuscripts and ephemera to the Library Company of Philadelphia. When I walked through your gates and up the hill to your run-down but beautiful mansion, I was blown away by your size.

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From some vantage points, I can’t even tell I’m in the city. Your trees screen out the Superblock high-rises, and most sounds, except for trains on the tracks over the back fence. And yet, you’re far from empty, and I’m not just thinking of the century and a half of graves.

You’re my favorite place to run. The path around your perimeter is so pleasant and well-maintained I’m able to swallow my ego as better runners overtake me. I like barreling down the driveway near the USP fields, turning a corner and feeling like I’m in another world.

Your stone outbuildings remind me of the colonial farm we visited when I was in third grade, and any minute I expect some lady in a stomacher and mob cap to cross my path, with a butter churn, or a wool carder, or some other 18th century implement under her arm. Instead it’s the grounds staff, or runners, or people walking well-behaved dogs, or a small child with wide eyes and a torrent of questions.

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Running my loops, I take in your variety of tombstones. Some are small and understated, while others are grandiose and maybe even a bit pretentious. Besides the famous names buried here, I notice some oddities, like a female doctor in the 1850s, or a Confederate flag, or a large monument to a man’s wife that says her name in letters a few inches tall, but his own in characters well over a foot.

Sometimes there’s a fresh-dug grave, or newly placed flowers, and I remember you’re an active cemetery, and not a ruin like Mount Moriah. I sympathize with those families’ loss, but you’re not a sad place; you’re full of life and community. When the Go West! Craft Fair is on your grounds, your urban oasis is filled with DIY treasures, strumming guitars, and the antics of a tiny circus. At other moments, there’s a foot race, or a doggie meet-up, or Edgar Allen Poe themed fright night.

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You’re fun, but you’ve got a brainy side. Scholars are using an excavation on your grounds to help them understand the role you played, long ago, as a center for botany. Your greenhouse contained thousand of specimens, and your proprietor, William Hamilton, corresponded with the budding scientists of his age.

I like you so much, because you’re a slice of Philly’s rich history, but you’re not behind glass, or locked away where only a select few can see you. When I’m within your walls, I feel so proud, not just of Philly’s past, but of our future and everything we can do together. Hang on, I’ll lace up my running shoes and see you in a few.

Love, Edith Mulhern

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Philly Love Notes is a collection of reminders. There is too much in the city that is forgotten or overlooked. Philly Love Notes seeks to rediscover those places — to remind the city, and us, that it is loved.  Want to share your favorite spot? Drop Philly Love Notes an email with your idea.

Eyes on the Street has teamed up with Philly Love Notes to feature especially plannerdly love notes about places in Philly on this blog. So far we’ve shared love notes about bikes at Rittenhouse Squarea walk through Ed Bacon’s greenways, a twofer about Penn Treaty ParkDrexel ParkWayne Millswhere the Reading Viaduct meets Noble Street, stoop culture, and the Parkway Central Branch of the Free Library.

This piece originally appeared on Philly Love Notes on November 28, 2012.

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