Philadelphia cemetery graveyard
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Hood Cemetery: Strolling through an Ancient Graveyard in Northwest Philadelphia

Post updated Oct. 2019 This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and choose to make a purchase I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. See our disclaimer for more information. Thank you! Inspired by “The Graveyard Book“ Hello October! It’s time to read scary books…

Philadelphia cemetery graveyard

Post updated Oct. 2019

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and choose to make a purchase I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you. See our disclaimer for more information. Thank you!

Inspired by “The Graveyard Book

Hello October! It’s time to read scary books and visit scary places! Is there a better way to celebrate this spooky month than by visiting a cemetery!? My book club’s book this month is, appropriately, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. The book is set in a very old graveyard.  So, I set out to find a real life ancient graveyard to explore.  As luck would have it, Philadelphia – being one of the United States’ most historic cities – has plenty of those! It’s a tapophiliac’s dream city! Today’s adventure was to investigate Hood Cemetery in Germantown, a neighborhood in Northwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Practically the most ancient cemetery in North America!

Hood Cemetery was started in 1693 – Sixteen …Ninety…Three! Hood Cemetery is one of the oldest remaining  in Pennsylvania, maybe even the United States. (The Old Swedes churchyard located in South Philly is slightly older). The oldest surviving gravestone in Hood Cemetery is from 1707.

The gate to the cemetery was financed by Mr. William Hood who donated $50,000 in in 1850 (That’s equal to about 1.5 million today!).  The gate was intriguingly designed with the sands of time hourglass at the top of the incoming side (the view of the living) and a skull and crossbones on the inside (the view of the deceased). Sadly, those artistic elements did not fare the test of time well.  Fortunately, the rest of the gate remains an intact magnificent presence on Germantown Avenue.

keyhole entrance to Hood Cemetery
Hood Cemetery in Germantown, Philadelphia

Hood Cemetery is the final resting place of forty-eight veterans of the American Revolution. The surrounding neighborhood is the site of an important Revolutionary War battle that took place when General George Washington launched a daring campaign to liberate Philadelphia on October 4, 1777.  Unfortunately, after hours of fighting, Washington’s troops were forced to retreat. More than 150 American soldiers were killed. Even though the battle was lost, every October, Germantown pays tribute to the heroic efforts of Washington and his troops by holding a festival that includes a re-enactment of the battle.

Revolutionary war gravestone with flag Hood Cemetery

History buffs with an interest in the French and Indian War will be delighted to find the tombstone of Christian Frederic Post.  Post was a missionary in Pennsylvania during the French and Indian war.  He originally came to Philadelphia in 1730 from Prussia.  His first and second wives were indigenous women. Because of Post’s ability to speak several native languages and his familiarity with the culture, he played a brief but significant role in Colonial diplomacy when he was called upon to convince the Indians not to side with the French. It was his skill as a diplomat that saved Pittsburgh from being lost to the French without even a shot being fired. Post died in 1785. If you are interested, you can read his journals.

Hood Cemetery gravestones

Unique Zince headstone at Hood Cemetery

The vast majority of the “residents” of Hood Cemetery lived in Germantown within five miles of the graveyard. Stroll through this ancient graveyard with a Germantown neighborhood map and you will find many names that match nearby streets. One notable exception, however, is  Harrowgate resident, Mary Ann Cross.  I was fortunate to be able to tour Hood Cemetery with Brendan McTear, a board member, who has done a lot of research regarding Hood Cemetery’s “residents.”  Brendan pointed out Mary Ann’s unique zinc “white bronze” headstone and told her tragic story. Eleven year old Mary Ann was killed just weeks after the close of the Centennial World’s Fair held in Philadelphia and two weeks before Christmas.

Hood Cemetery Mary Ann Cross

According to the Hood Cemetery Facebook page,

It was two weeks to the day before Christmas, December 11, 1876 on a Monday morning in Harrowgate, a neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia far from the gleam of the World’s Fair in Fairmount Park. Harrowgate was a crowded working class neighborhood full of many newly arriving immigrant families. Eleven year old Harrowgate resident Mary Ann Cross was on her way to school that Monday morning but she would never make it. The little girl was struck by a train from the Pennsylvania Railroad and killed. Hannah and Thomas, her mother and father must have been devastated to lose their girl, who they watched leave for school that morning, in the blink of an eye. She was killed on a railroad that had become synonymous with America’s industrial might.

Mary Ann is buried alone in the section of the cemetery with the sorrowful name, “The Strangers Ground.” This is the section where one could be buried without advance purchase of a family plot. No one really knows why she was buried in Germantown rather than in Harrowgate with her family.

Hood Cemetery Germantown PA unreadable gravestone

Hood Cemetery’s entrance is located on Germantown Avenue near Logan Street. On the Septa Route 23 bus take Germantown Avenue to E. Logan Street stop. This ancient cemetery is only open on the second Saturday of each month from April to October. However, the board is a pretty dedicated group and if you reach out to Brendan or one of the other board members on Hood Cemetery’s Facebook page, you can arrange a time to go that suits both of your schedules. I would recommend visiting Hood Cemetery and then taking my free self-guided walking mural tour of Germantown for a great (free!) day of exploring Northwest Philadelphia. If you really love cemeteries, you could also visit Laurel Hill Cemetery which is right nearby in East Falls.

Take alongs to explore Hood Cemetery

If you have a bad case of Tapophilia, be sure to bring supplies to do a gravestone rubbing of these old headstones. You can pick up The Original Old Stone Rubbing Kit or create your own to get a good impression from your tombstone finds. You’ll need:

Note that if you’re traveling, paper is harder to manage, and it tears and creases. Interfacing can be folded in your knapsack, it doesn’t tear, and you can iron it (to seal the impression) when you get home. Also, don’t forget to bring a camera (or your phone) to snap some hauntingly beautiful pictures.

Recommended Reading before Visiting a Cemetery:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Graveyard Book visit cemetary

 The Graveyard Book was the inspiration for my stroll through Hood Cemetery.  Everyone, except two people in book club, loved this book! It’s a Young Adult book, but it speaks to grown-ups, too.  The story features Nobody, a young boy who is raised by ghosts.  Sounds weird, I know. But, it isn’t, really. Nobody toddles out of his home after an evil person breaks in and kills his family. Gruesome, yes.  Fortunately, Nobody finds himself in a nearby graveyard and is “adopted” by the resident spirits.  They can see him and he (presumably based on his youth) can see them.

Gaiman weaves a fantasy tale with the real feelings of friendship, love, family and the struggles and unexpected sorrows of growing up and becoming independent. This is definitely a book that you don’t judge by its cover or by its designation as Young Adult book. It ranks high on many of my adult friends’ lists of favorite book ever.

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2 responses to “Hood Cemetery: Strolling through an Ancient Graveyard in Northwest Philadelphia”

  1. […] a prison, but found the idea too depressing. Ghosts play a central role in the story, but I’d had my share of them already.  And then, I thought about Pop/River’s responsibility with the tracking dogs at […]

  2. […] that this book has become one of their all time favorites!  It was also the inspiration for my stroll through an ancient graveyard in […]

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