Favorite Spot: Laurel Hill Cemetery
Neighborhood: East Falls. 3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19132.
I am: A law professor and lifelong travel junkie, with a special love for exploring cities.
Years in Philly: 24
Current Home: West Mt. Airy, Philadelphia.
My Love Note
An Appreciation of Laurel Hill Cemetery
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, we urban dwellers can lose touch with seasonal changes. When my daily rhythm of work, commute, sleep, and chores seems underwhelming, a visit to Laurel Hill Cemetery can wake me up to my city’s seasonal changes and jolt me into an appreciation of the here-and-now.
Laurel Hill Cemetery is a 78-acre sculpture garden at the top of the East Falls hill overlooking the Schuylkill River and Kelly Drive. Maybe you’ve seen it as you waited at a traffic light on Kelly Drive or seen it from the bike paths on either side of the river.
From the Laurel Hill cemetery, the panoramic view of the Schuylkill River is exhilarating. You can almost imagine what the gently winding river lined with trees might have looked like to the earliest settlers of Philadelphia.
As you walk through the cemetery garden, you see graves marked with gleaming white sculptures of angels balancing on the tips of high columns, and flat slabs nestled beneath the sheltering branches of a maple tree. A grave marked simply “My Mother” is startling both in its palpable heartbreak and stunning self-absorption. The grave of Philly sportscaster Harry Kalas is whimsical and funny, a stone microphone surrounded by four real bleacher seats.
Although Laurel Hill is a cemetery, and commands respect from its visitors, it is also a lively place. The paths are filled with walkers, photographers, and – in warm weather – picnicking couples and families. Dogs are welcome, if they follow the rules.
More good news: entrance to Laurel Hill is free.
Laurel Hill is a slice of history. Civil war generals, Titanic survivors, infants, and women who died in childbirth are buried there, all giving a glimpse into a different time. The cemetery offers guided tours every fourth Friday at 10 a.m., for a fee.
One day I’ll take a tour. But for now I’m content to wander haphazardly, stumbling upon gravestones whose white stone shapes stand out against the clear blue sky, noticing the changing leaves, and appreciating the view of the river below, thankful that this spiritual place is so close and accessible. And free!