Allegheny Cemetery: History Above and Below
The Allegheny Cemetery, a sprawling cemetery in Pittsburgh, is a significant historical landmark. As the sixth oldest rural cemetery in the United States, it serves not only as a final resting place for the departed but also as a testament to the rich history of the city and its people.
A Glimpse into the Past
Incorporated in 1844, the Allegheny Cemetery has been a part of Pittsburgh’s history for over 170 years. It began as a project undertaken by 40 of the city’s most influential citizens, including merchants, manufacturers, professionals, and politicians. Their vision was to establish a non-profit cemetery that would serve as a tranquil sanctuary amid the industrial hustle of Pittsburgh.
The group acquired the first 100 acres of land for the cemetery at the cost of $50,000. Over the years, the cemetery expanded and now spreads across 300 acres. The cemetery’s overarching significance and its architectural beauty led to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places in December 1980.
A Sanctuary of Serenity and Natural Beauty
The Allegheny Cemetery is known for its vast green spaces, rolling hills, serene ponds, and diverse wildlife. It provides a peaceful retreat from the bustling city, offering visitors a chance to immerse themselves in nature while paying their respects to the departed.
The cemetery’s natural beauty makes it a popular destination not just for mourning, but also for contemplation, relaxation, and even recreational activities. It is not uncommon to find people strolling through its sprawling grounds, picnicking by the lakes, or simply sitting and enjoying the tranquility.
A Repository of History
The cemetery serves as the final resting place for more than 124,000 individuals. Among these are soldiers who fought in the French and Indian War, whose remains were reinterred at the cemetery from their original burial site at Trinity Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh.
It is also home to the graves of many notable personalities from Pittsburgh, including industrialists, musicians, and sports legends. Some of the most visited graves include those of songwriter Stephen C. Foster, Negro Leagues baseball star Josh Gibson, and coffee and sugar tycoon John Arbuckle.
The Soldiers’ Lot
An important part of the Allegheny Cemetery is the Soldiers’ Lot, located in Section 33, Lot 66. This plot consists of 303 individual interments, most of whom are Union Civil War soldiers. However, it also includes 15 Confederate soldiers and a small number of Spanish-American War veterans.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Allegheny County Ladies Memorial Association commissioned local artist Fred Mayer to sculpt a monument for the Soldiers’ Lot. Erected in 1876, this 16-foot-tall limestone monument serves as a memorial for those who died during the Civil War. The monument features a woman holding a wreath with her head bowed, with four sculpted cannons located on the monument’s base.
Events and Community Engagement
The Allegheny Cemetery is more than just a place for mourning. It is also a hub for community events and gatherings. One of the most significant events hosted by the cemetery is the Memorial Day Parade, where the community comes together to honor the nation’s war heroes.
Another popular event is “Doo Dah Days,” a celebration of Stephen C. Foster, the famed Pittsburgh composer interred at the cemetery. In addition to these annual events, the cemetery also provides guided walking tours, allowing visitors to learn more about its history and the notable personalities buried there.
Accessibility and Visitation
The Allegheny Cemetery is open to the public all year round, with visiting hours varying by season. Its location in the heart of Pittsburgh makes it easily accessible by bus, car, bike, or on foot. The cemetery is also handicap accessible, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to visit and pay their respects.
The Allegheny Cemetery is a testament to Pittsburgh’s rich history and a reflection of the city’s enduring respect for its departed residents. By serving as a sanctuary of peace and natural beauty within the bustling city, the cemetery provides solace and a sense of connection to the past for all who visit. Whether you are mourning a loved one, interested in local history, or simply seeking a tranquil retreat, the Allegheny Cemetery offers an experience unlike any other.
In the words of one visitor, “When I first walked into the Allegheny Cemetery, I was consumed with the surreal feeling of being in a rural countryside. Suddenly, gone were the city sirens and bustling streets; instead, these were replaced with an eerie silence and land beyond the eye could fathom.”
The Allegheny Cemetery is indeed a place where one can travel back in time to the 19th century, feel the existential tension between life and death, and witness the manifestations of memory in the monuments and tombstones that dot its landscape. It is a place where history, community spaces, and intended uses come together to create a unique tapestry of lived experiences and collective memories.
To quote another visitor, “The cemetery occupies an in-between space…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.” Through its multifaceted existence as a burial ground, a historical landmark, a natural sanctuary, and a community space, the Allegheny Cemetery is indeed a secret jewel in the heart of Pittsburgh.