Sunday, November 18, 2012

1910 advertisement for West Laurel Hill Cemetery (Wanamaker Diary)

This advertisement comes from the 1910 Wanamaker Diary that I've been blogging about throughout the year. It's for West Laurel Hill Cemetery, which is located in suburban Philadelphia.1

West Laurel Hill opened in 1869 to serve as a companion rural cemetery to Philadelphia's Laurel Hill, a famous necropolis that is the final resting place of Peter A.B. Widener, David Rittenhouse, Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, Declaration of Independence signer Thomas McKean and Gen. George Meade (the victorious general at the Battle of Gettysburg), among other notables.

West Laurel Hill doesn't have quite the name power that Laurel Hill does, but it still has its fair share of celebrities, including:
  • David Hayes Agnew (pictured at right), a noted surgeon who operated on President James Garfield's fatal gunshot wound
  • John Cromwell Bell, whose claim to fame was serving as governor of Pennsylvania for three weeks in 1947
  • Anna Jarvis, who "invented" Mother's Day and then spent the rest of her life fighting its commercialization

West Laurel Hill Cemetery was already doing pretty well by 1910. According to this advertisement, its fund for perpetual care was in excess of $174,000.

The prices for grave lots look like bargains by today's standards. But, make no mistake, this was a pricey cemetery. For $155, you could purchase 10 lots. That's the equivalent of a $3,600 price tag today.

You did get better bargains by bulking in bulk. If you bought 10 lots, you paid $15.50 per lot (the equivalent of about $370 per lot today). If you bought only three lots, you paid $19.33 per lot (the equivalent of about $460 today).

Today, single burial sites can cost anywhere from $400 to $10,000 per plot, according to And that's just a small part of the overall costs associated with a funeral. A “regular adult funeral” these days will cost at least $9,000, according to the aforementioned website, which breaks down all the options regarding burial clothes, caskets, flowers, the guest register book2, the hearse, the grave marker and more.

My personal thoughts about my eventual funeral and burial are that I want it, first and foremost, to be cheap. It shouldn't cost your relatives an arm and leg to dispose of your body.3 And, secondly, the focus should be on biodegradability. I think it's pretty dumb to stick a dead body inside something that's made of metal, fiberglass or treated hardwood and is hermetically sealed and designed to survive a nuclear strike. Give me something that will rot away as soon as possible — banana husks, wool, or (and wouldn't this be appropriate?) recycled paper.

So, there you go. I wasn't expecting this post to digress into a Mitford-esque discussion about modern funeral practices, but I guess it did.

1. The cemetery is located within Bala Cynwyd, an unincorporated community within the Welsh Tract of Lower Merion Township.
2. You can expect to be charged between $25 and $80 for the guest register book, according to
3. If you think about it, though, that's the one time you could afford to pay an arm and leg — or two arms and two legs. You're not going to miss them at that point.


  1. West Laurel Hill Cemetery has many more "famous"
    people interred in its grounds. The Wanamakers are there,as are the Strawbridges,Dave Garroway, late of the Today Show, and the Dorrances (Campbell's Soup).
    On another note, when Laurel Hill first opened, several Civil War generals and heroes were moved from other cemeteries and reinterred there to promote visitation and burial plot sales. It was a place where people took the trolley on weekends to get out of the city and to to walk and picnic.

  2. John Cromwell Bell, Jr. (the nineteen-day governor of Pennsylvania) is buried at St. Asaph's Church Cemetery. Source:

    Although close to one another, St. Asaph's Church Cemetery appears to be separate from the Laurel Hill Cemetery and the West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

    So is John Cromwell Bell, Jr. truly one of the celebrities interred at West Laurel Hill?