From Goodbye to Hello: Cemeteries as Civic Spaces

Weekend Tour

While cemeteries can be cinematic fodder for ghosts, goblins, witches, zombies, and vampires, they are actually early precursors to the modern-day parks movement. On this tour, you’ll visit two cemeteries that are thriving as civic spaces with community programming: The Woodlands in West Philadelphia, and Laurel Hill Cemetery in East Fairmount Park. Learn about the history of these spaces and how visionary leadership is reimagining these final resting places as active and innovative public spaces. Both cemeteries have tens of thousands of visitors each year (and have since the Victorian Era!) and are leaders among the national historic cemetery community.

At The Woodlands, a 54-acre National Historic Landmark District, you’ll see a bustling community green space—the internationally famous Grave Gardens in bloom—and the thriving Philadelphia Orchard Project’s “Learning Orchard.” At Laurel Hill, you’ll enjoy a picnic lunch and experience stunning views of the Schuylkill River, unique gardens situated amongst the monuments, and 78 acres of historic trees and notable burials including David Rittenhouse (Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia is named for this famed colonial astronomer, mathematician, financier, clock-maker, surveyor and first director of the US Mint), Thomas McKeon (second governor of Pennsylvania and signer of the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation), and Sarah Josepha Hale (author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”).

Tour Leaders

Joe Lex

Former Professor, Emergency Medicine, Temple University

Thomas H. Keels

Author and Tour Guide, Laurel HIll Cemetery

Jessica Baumert

Executive Director, The Woodlands National Historic Landmark District