Still processing last week’s afternoon at Mt Moriah Cemetery, here in West Philadelphia where this post is being composed, more thoughts are stirring. I put together 5 photographs from lasts week’s adventure.
Cemeteries are interesting on so many levels, so many of us have some kind of relationship with them. Currently, as the global political climate is rapidly changing, there is a turbulent atmosphere of historical re-invention, where history is dangerously being buried and hidden away, dismissed and outright denied. A Society, having buried its mistakes and atrocities is doomed to repeat them, as the common wisdom demonstrates. However many lies (and secrets) are buried in a cemetery, the intact and preserved cemetery still holds them truthfully. We as a society can go to the old cemetery and question and observe what has been saved.
In this photo, the tension between the needs and desire for order in things and places and the uncertainty, disorder and chaos of current American life are in a grotesque contrast. Many of the plants that are covering these elegantly carved tombs are invasives imported from Asia that have outcompeted the native vegetation and have made the ruins of Mt Moriah Cemetery very difficult to stabilize.
The very geometrical tombs stand in contrast to the wild and uninhibited overgrowth. Here, the unmistakable tension between the “natural world” and human expectations and aspirations of order and beauty are on full display unintentionally. Epic ruins such as Mt Moriah Cemetery challenge our perceived relationship with the “natural world”, and in this case, other species, mostly plants, and interestingly enough, plants imported from other global regions that have grown outside our society’s own expectations of them.
The Romantic era from the Mid 1800s understood the beauty and mystique of ruins. These stones were made to evoke a ruined stone wall. Quite the irony here I must point out: a grave created to celebrate a romantic vision of ruins, to stir that innate sense of eternity and the transcendence of the spiritual world in favor of the built realm, is relegated into ruin, here at Mt Moriah Cemetery . It could be interestingly argued that perhaps Mt Moriah would be more beautiful if left completely alone, in the most Romantic sensibility. However, I would argue it is worth stabilizing because the invasive vegetation and trees are destroying the beautiful architecture and integrity of the cemetery. The trees and vines are pulling down the monuments, destroying the beauty of the cemetery. Pulling down the history, the aesthetic intention.
What is striking here is how quickly in time the older generations are forgotten in our society. Who they were and what they went through has been lost in the histories of so many American families. We get so caught up in our current worries, anxieties and day to day existence that our ancestors are forgotten. Immediately upon inspection, it is duly noted that their history and struggles are doomed to be repeated if we blithely disregard and ignore our own blood relative’s and ancestor’s struggles!
This picture says it all. This could be any of us down the long hard cold cruel world of history and the future. Who knows, perhaps whoever was buried here would laugh at this and accept this fate because they had a life contemplating the understanding of the decrepit nature of our built and ordered world. I would most certainly hope so, because this is where we are all going, and let’s hope for it, because it is so romantically beautiful.