The Allegheny Cemetery

“Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep […]
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there; I did not die.”

– Mary Elizabeth Frye,  “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” 1932.


HOURS:

Gates:

January – April 7:00 am – 5:00 pm
May 7:00 am – 8:00 pm
June – August 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
September – December 7:00 am – 5:00 pm

Administration Office:

Monday – Friday 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
Saturday 8:30 am – 4:00 pm
Sunday Closed

Holidays:

New Years Day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Closed Closed
Palm Sunday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Closed 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Easter Sunday 8:00 am – 7:00 pm Closed 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Fourth of July 8:00 am – 7:00 pm Closed Closed
Veterans Day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Closed Closed
Thanksgiving 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Closed Closed
Christmas 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Closed Closed

*the above information is courtesy of the Allegheny Cemetery Website. For more detailed information about their hours, visit their website as listed below.

This location is OUTDOORS and HANDICAP ACCESSIBLE.

Admission: Open to the Public

Transportation: Bus accessible

Site Information: http://www.alleghenycemetery.com/

Laying quietly in wait just beyond the banks of the Allegheny River, and stretching 300 acres between the Pittsburgh Neighborhoods of Lawrenceville and Bloomfield are the sprawling grounds of the Allegheny Cemetery. Since its first interment in 1845, this expansive stretch of rolling hills, ponds and trees has become the dignified final resting place of over 124,000 individuals (“Welcome”).

It is true that the primary prescribed purpose for cemeteries such as the Allegheny is burial of and memorial to those who have passed, but it would be remiss to neglect the cemetery’s astonishing natural beauty. Though, it is true many may balk at the idea of visiting a cemetery for any purpose other than mourning, for fear of encroaching on the mourning of others or profaning such an important space in the lives of many; however, the Allegheny Cemetery is actually a National Historic Landmark, and one of a surprisingly calm and pastoral atmosphere on the outskirts of the bustling industrial city of Pittsburgh. The cemetery is rich in historical significance, and additionally plays host to a number of interesting events, including a Memorial Day Parade and “Doo Dah Days,” celebration of Stephen C. Foster, a famed Pittsburgh composer who was interred at the cemetery upon his death in 1864 (“Events”).

The cemetery is available for a gorgeous walking tour whatever the time; the atmosphere would be magnificent in the temperate sunshine of spring, the bright warmth of summer and in the fall’s cool, gentle breezes when the pathways are filled with fallen leaves. For the intrepid and adventurous visitor, there are self-guided tours are available from the cemetery’s website along with a number of other useful and informative materials. Alternatively, one can tour around the grounds and view the many notable monuments and tombstones with the aid of a guide for a suggested donation of ten dollars per person which contributes directly to the maintenance of the integrity of this historic site through the Allegheny Cemetery Historic Association.

So immense and expansive is the Allegheny Cemetery that it’s not unusual for tours to conclude with a number of the monuments unseen. Regardless of this, any abbreviated version of the tour is sure to be remarkable, informative and fascinating; it is not uncommon for visitors to find themselves drawn back to see more of the many the hidden mysteries which the labyrinthine realm has to offer. In fact, it is undoubtable that even an unguided and spontaneous walk through the cemetery could not fail to be a wonderful experience, allowing for peaceful meditation or delightful chatter and the observation of the many kinds of wildlife which likewise walk amongst the pathways.

Conceptions of Death, Existential Tension, and Manifestations of Memory

That there exists in the living mind a distinction between the experience of life and conceptions of death is undeniable – and nowhere are the resulting tensions from the interplay of these experiences and conceptions more apparent than in the human construct of the cemetery. The cemetery occupies an in-between space, what Edward Soja might term a “thirdspace”, and is comprised of an amalgamation of private plots collected into a semi-public space, where the deceased may be visited by their loved ones in their rest, yet can also be toured by strangers on whim. There is an existential tension manifest in the cemetery which is produced by the idea of death-as-space; that is, the idea of death as a space which is contingent only on its inaccessibility to the living. Interestingly, we choose to commemorate this existential tension through the denial of death at its very definition – we choose to commemorate it by creating a space for it in our world, the world of the living. This is the cemetery.
Beginning with the work of Edward Soja, we may better understand the way that the Allegheny Cemetery can function as both a unique site and medium for thinking about a number of interesting topics. For our purposes, the term “thirdspace” is the most critical, and can be defined in Soja’s own words as “a rejection of the either/or logic of binary thinking, wherein one is forced to choose between two opposing alternatives as if they were the only possible choices… an ‘other’ rather than simply another” (177-8). In practice, this notion of thirdspace allows for the full complexity of the cemetery to take shape; it allows for the manifestations of memory-as-memorial in terms of its existence as a unique intersection between grief, anxiety and creative expression. Not only does it allow for this full complexity, but it allows for this notion to break down the preconceived notions of public and private as they relate to the living and the dead.

Considering death as a definitionally inaccessible space, and as a space for which the living can have no context, it is unsurprising that most of our treatments of the dead are simply a mimicry of our lives. Since we’ve no means for which to comprehend our own demise and decay outside the strictly technical, and no correlative for this breakdown in life, we deny death those very functions which we know death to do; we do not bury our bodies in the ground in such a way as to allow them to return in contribution to the world of the living. Instead, we solidify the arbitrary boundary between human and nature through a physical barrier, a coffin, allowing us to maintain for a while longer our self-perceived notions of identity and self as inextricable from our bodily integrity. Through this temporary fracture of a greater cycle of life, humanity likewise makes reality the departure from the natural world as envisioned in many religions – at least temporarily. It is in the cemetery that we create for ourselves anew this kind of temporary, physical “death space,” wherein we may reside until our deconstruction; when we are merely the unnarrated components upon which, long ago, some consciousness once imposed order.

From these remnants, up through layers of concrete and dirt, sits one tombstone among many, bearing a sparse distillation of details. It is only in death that one becomes truly the reduction of their familial ordinations and the collection of letters which amount to an identity at its bare semantics. This reduction of self upon the tombstone mirrors the more utter reduction of self which is inherent in the idea of death – the idea of death as the departure, death as an absence of consciousness, and death as preemptive to the decay of the body. One must ask, when faced with such a legacy of the cemetery, if this space can operate as such as a literal necropolis, a city of the dead and for the dead. Or, is it instead a kind of communally curated museum of the past, created solely for the experience of those who wish to commemorate? For these people, can the cemetery be the “quiet refuge where the history of Pittsburgh lives on” as promised by the Allegheny Cemetery, in their historical tour guide (2)? It is, after all, a space wherein the loved ones of those who have passed may purchase in their honor small displays with their departed identities, which stand resolute in the annals of local history. Yet, that there is likewise an amalgamation of ‘residences’ similar to that of a lived residential area is also undeniable. It seems that in this and many other respects, the cemetery and the city are comparable.

There can sometimes be a disparity between the treatment of the dead by the living with regards to their actions in life, or the way in which they lost their lives. For example, those who have gained fame – such as Stephen C. Foster, notable for his influential musical compositions, may be visited more frequently by the living, and be more likely have his memory perpetuated into the future. Another example of this perpetuation can be seen in the renewal of the memorial for the victims of the Allegheny Arsenal Explosion, which claimed the largest number of civilian lives during the American Civil War of any civilian disaster. To commemorate the explosion and its victims, there have been two different monuments erected in succession over the course of the centuries, on land which also functions as a communal grave site for many of the unidentifiable victims. Both memorials acted in turn to perpetuate the memory of those lost more lengthily into the future, a kind of luxury others in the cemetery may not have – the cost of which is the absence of their names utterly from the face of their own resting. The renewal of the memorial in the twentieth century is itself evidence of the different status that these victims occupy in death, though it came at the excruciating cost of much of their lives (Pitz “Allegheny Arsenal Explosion”). The renewal of the monument speaks to the greater staying power of such a blinding communal loss, as opposed to the quiet fulfillment of the human promise of mortality with which every individual must ultimately face.

vi-ooDJ3WKUsyNL5UkKGsdGurg33NzM-dFXRlxueH9Y,sC5JVGaGZ5BezqIc4bo7JHWqyOtuOB0uZUU5IRqbeCM (2)
Image taken at the Allegheny Cemetery of the second Allegheny Arsenal Explosion Memorial.

This disparity aside, it seems that descriptions of the city and descriptions of the cemetery are interchangeable – in his treatise on walking in the city, Michael de Certeau describes a view from above which constitutes “a wave of verticals… [whose] agitation is momentarily arrested by vision…. [and] transformed into a texturology in which extremes coincide” (91). As notable by both the images below of the burial of civil war soldiers from the Allegheny Cemetery below, that the pattern of tombstones raising mute hands in a quiet askance of the viewer’s recognition is not unlike de Certeau’s description.

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Photograph taken at the Allegheny Cemetery, of both Union and Confederate soldiers lost during the American Civil War.

But so, too, it seems, is this pattern to be found in the experience of nature construed as ‘Other’ – amongst the trees, flowers and stalks of grass might one find a perpetual seeking of an upwards leaning, a reaching toward the sun, which demands from the esemplastic mind the imposition of meaning and narrative. These things appear not unlike the experience of written language which we have yet to learn, or agree upon (to quote Kahlil Gibran, “Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky,”).  Considering that the erroneous project of language can only be effective so far as it is agreed upon, the rows of tombstones, block upon block of city buildings, and stretches of unmolested forest all express a kind of inpenetrable communication for which we have yet the mutual agreement to understand.

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“Cemetery” from the Allegheny Observatory Records, ca. 1910-20. Image from the Historic Pittsburgh Archives. See here illustrated the upreaching relationship between humanity, human endavor in such constructions as the cemetery and humanity itself, all alike in an upright language.

In walking amidst the tombstones and atop the pathways of the Allegheny Cemetery, we can admire the layers of human complexity which color our endeavors at the conquering of time – we can admire the complexity of those who have passed, and the complexity of those who walked behind them, and erected monuments in their names. We can admire this complexity, all while simultaneously denying it. The blood rising in our veins, we marvel at the feeling of being alive in our own skin; we savor the feeling of the soft wind brushing past us, or the warmth of sun on our cheeks. We stand at the foot of the remains of those who have passed before, superimposing what they now lack upon them once again, and try to envision a time when they walked in our footsteps. We envision their complexity as encompassed in a series of small stones on display to us, marking their owner’s immutable inaccessibility, the stones themselves a vain attempt at the remembrance of the unfathomable depths of a human soul.

History, Community Spaces, and Intended Uses

By Rio Costa

The Allegheny Cemetery was incorporated in 1844 and is the sixth oldest rural cemetery in North America. It resides between the Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Bloomfield and Lawrenceville on the east side of the city. The cemetery currently sits on 300 acres of rolling hills, trees, wildlife and two ponds. Winding paths lead patrons through the final resting places of over 124,000 people in a way that doesn’t seem like the morbid cemeteries in pop culture.

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A network of peaceful, winding paths guides visitors through the hills of the cemetery.

The history of rural cemeteries can be traced back to Europe and didn’t take off in America until the 19th century. The idea of a rural cemetery is to create a place that memorializes the dead in a way that is not all squared-off gates and defined plots. Although these may be present in some sections, for the most part, the burial places are more informal. One thing that is very important about rural cemeteries is even though one religion may seem to be in the majority, it is for all denominations and is non-profit. Walking around, one can see that there are Jewish people buried next to Christians.

The essence of a rural cemetery is that it is, at least seemingly, away from the city and other urban development. The Allegheny Cemetery, especially closer to the date of its incorporation, was/is distanced from the noise and clutter of buildings and vehicles. Once in the midst of the hills of unique grave markers, one loses the sense that he or she is in a city: This is the point. When the cemetery was first incorporated, it was not even within the city of Pittsburgh. Now, it is less removed from the city but remains its own world.

This made the Allegheny Cemetery the perfect place for the community to use for recreation in addition to the traditional use as a site of memorializing the dead. Back when Pittsburgh was still a new and smaller city, it was hard to get out of it. It was as far west as one could easily reach and surrounded on all sides by rivers and mountains. Although at this time there were not yet expansive factories and mills, Pittsburgh had always had an industrial heart which could become overwhelming.

The Allegheny Cemetery was a place where community members could take a stroll and escape the emerging city and perpetual cloud of thick black smoke around them. Rural cemeteries began appearing before the widespread implementation of public parks and therefore were the perfect spot for city folk to get away without going away.

Today it’s even harder to get away from the concrete jungle. It seems at times that the citizens of Pittsburgh are trapped in a wavy blanket of bricks and steel. Even though there are tree-covered hills on all sides, those hills are also packed tightly with little box-shaped houses, remnants of the once booming steel industry. The Allegheny Cemetery provides a much needed green space, and plenty of it.

When visiting, one can choose from two entrances; Butler Street in Bloomfield or Penn Avenue in Lawrenceville. Neither is more grand or more inviting than the other and each have their own special features. Walking through the Butler Street entrance feels akin to walking up to a mini castle. The architecture of the Butler Street gatehouse is heavy and dark but fascinating. It is currently (as of December 2015) missing what was once one of its most striking features; a towering wrought-iron gate destroyed by a car accident earlier in the year.

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The Butler Street Gate House is an impressive first sight to visitors.

The Butler Gate House isn’t the only thing worth taking a look at while visiting the cemetery. Along one of the far pathways, alongside hundreds of traditional grave sites sits a headstone like no other. It belongs to Lester C. Madden and features the shark from the movie Jaws. No one knows exactly why this is, but legend has it that he was a shark lover and Jaws fanatic. One thing that’s for sure is that it will continue to be a favorite sight for many visitors for years and years. The location of the stone can be found on the cemetery map available at the Butler Street gate house.

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The shark headstone of Lester C. Madden.

Works Cited

Cemetery. ca. 1910-1920. Allegheny Observatory Records, 1850-1967, Oakmont, PA. Historic Pittsburgh. Web. 19 Dec. 2015.

de Certeau, Michael. “VIII: Walking in the City.”  The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1984. 91-110. Print.

Gibran, Kahlil. Sand and Foam. London: Heinemann, 1954. Print.

“Events.” Allegheny Cemetery, n.d. 19 December 2015.

“News.” Allegheny Cemetery, n.d. Web. 19 December 2015.

Sheldrake, Philip. “Placing the Sacred: Transcendence and the City.” Literature & Theology 21.3 (2007): 243-58. Print.

Soja, Edward W. My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanization. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 2 December 2015.

Pitz, Marylynne. “Allegheny Arsenal Explosion: Pittsburgh’s Worst Day During the Civil War.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 16 Sept. 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

“Welcome.” Allegheny Cemetery, n.d. Web. 19 December 2015.

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