This monthly feature highlights recent and fascinating National Register listings and eligible properties, tax act projects, compliance review success stories, as well as outstanding local efforts in New Jerseys historic preservation.
Harleigh Cemetery and its Famous "Residents"
Nothing spooky here; move along. It may be October, the
Landscapes were "not for the dead, they are for the living." - Henry Bellows
Harleigh Cemetery does, however, boast a long list of impressive people who have chosen it as their final resting place. Topping the list is New Jersey poet, Walt Whitman. Others include members of some of the area's leading
With 150 acres and over 48,000 interments and entombments, the 130 year-old cemetery remains one of the most picturesque areas of the city. Built on the former estate of Isaac Cooper, the grounds were laid out in circular drives with pleasing names such as Shady Linden, Forest Dale and Magnolia. Visitors wound their way past open lawns, man-made lakes, gardens and diversified plantings. In addition, early cemetery regulations prohibited any duplication of monuments, resulting in a fascinating variety of marble or granite markers and statuary sculpture that are unique to the people who are memorialized.
No plans identifying the original cemetery designer have been located, but a pre-1890 rendering of the cemetery illustrates the design was part of the initial concept. An 1886 public vault, intended to hold caskets until the spring thaw facilitated interment, was built into the bank overlooking the lake, as were several private vaults. By 1893, three new lawns were laid out (Mt. Hope, Haddon and Spring Grove) and 700 people had been interred. In 1902, local Camden architect, Thomas Stephen designed and installed the handsome granite and wrought iron entrance gates on Haddon Avenue. By 1920, the cemetery association had acquired additional property to the east. The character of the eastern section is markedly different from the older western portion, however, with little or no landscape treatment. While plans reveal this area was intended for treatment, the plans were never implemented.
The unique and diverse funerary sculpture and monuments in Harleigh Cemetery span an intriguing spectrum of styles, subjects and craftsmanship. Created mainly in the late-19th and early-20th century, they spread throughout the 22 lawn areas, and encompass five public mausoleums and 21 private mausoleums and vaults. Highlights include:
Walt Whitman as Lure
The landscape architecture of Harleigh Cemetery clearly borrows from the plans of several of its predecessors Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Like these two earlier rural cemeteries (and their model, Pere-LaChaise in Paris, France) a prominent person was offered a free lot in order to attract other buyers. At Harleigh, that person was local poet and essayist, Walt Whitman. The publicity worked. After Whitman made his funeral arrangements to be buried here, business in this working class neighborhood's cemetery increased dramatically.
Whitman (1819-1892) enthusiastically embraced the idea, and designed his tomb himself. His sketch and handwritten notations appear in his collected correspondences. Whitman personally selected the site of the tomb on Christmas Day, 1890; one year after being offered a lot as a gift from the new Cemetery association.
A friend writes "I was once taken for a ride in Whitman's carriage. Walt said, 'Where should we go?' I had no preference. He then said, 'You have not been to the tomb!' and he called out, 'Same place, Warry' as though the tomb were his common resort. We drove through Camden, out to the green fields and finally to Harleigh Cemetery in which Walt had been building the massive granite mausoleum where he and his parents were to be interred. We drew up in a deep dell where the tomb was built into a hillside, and Walt told me to get out and look inside. The door was open. It was like a structure of the Druids and he said he had himself planned it. It united Blake and Ossian in its design.
I looked at the triangular pediment and I was startled to see carved in it the words, 'Walt Whitman May 31, 1890.' It had the appearance of being already occupied. It was explained that the cemetery people had with characteristic grim taste somehow got the idea that the tomb was presented to Walt by his friends at the last birthday party and they had introduced the date of his birthday in the place where should have stood the date of his decease. This was, of course, afterwards corrected."
— Harrison S. Morris, Whitman's friend
Placed into a hillside, there are only three granite sides to the tomb, each 18" thick. It is held together by the interlocking granite there are no rods or bolts to grip the immense pieces in place. Some stones are calculated to weigh as much as ten tons. The front of the structure alone, estimated at 70 tons, anchors the entire tomb to the ground without movement. The door of the vault weighs 2200 pounds of 6" thick granite, and swings on brass pivots.
There are eight crypts in the vault, containing the remains of members
The vault lies in close proximity to Whitman's house (a National Historic Landmark), as well as the Walt Whitman International Poetry Center in Camden. No other tombs have been erected in the area of Whitman's final resting place.
Bird Sanctuary / Conservation Area
Harleigh Cemetery as a parkland with several manmade lakes, serves as a bird sanctuary and conservation area in an urban environment. An inventory of the birds sighted in the cemetery over several years' time tallied 124 different species, 35 of which were nesting for at least one season.
Many species of trees including hardwoods and conifers are found throughout the cemetery, however very few are native species or original to the estate from which the property was originally acquired. Planted in general patterns are Norway Maple, Red Oak, Sycamore, Linden, Balsam Fir, Red Pine, Balsam and Cedar trees. Three significant specimen trees are the Copper Beech in the Terrace section. The only area of the cemetery that maintains a native character is Beechwood, where several American Beech and Overcup Oak of considerable age are found.
Harleigh Cemetery is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C based on the artistic merit of the cemetery funerary art, architecture and landscape
Additional Sources: US Department of the Interior, National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, "Harleigh Cemetery"; NJ Office of Historic Preservation Historic Sites Inventory Individual Structure Survey Form, "Walt Whitman Tomb" and "William Joyce Sewell Memorial Cross"; "Birds of Harleigh Cemetery," Jean A. Rodgers; "Harleigh Cemetery, A Study of Natural Landscape," Joan Batory, Director, Camden County Environmental Agency; "Harleigh Cemetery, Camden" Wikipedia.com.
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