Historic Eden Cemetery is the final resting place for a number Philadelphia area residents who died long before Eden’s establishment in 1902.
In 1849, Jacob C. White, one of Philadelphia's black elite, founded Lebanon Cemetery, one of only two private burial grounds for the city’s African American dead. The rural patch at 19th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia served the free black community’s wealthy and dignified, as well as some black soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The cemetery was fronted by an iron gate; a tall wooden spire loomed over the five-acre lot, where graves were laid out in haphazard rows.
By 1882, the land was coveted by factory owners looking to expand their industries. By now the cemetery was overcrowded and had fallen into disrepair. The decline happened to coincide with a booming underground market for grave robbers. It was learned that Lebanon Cemetery’s graves had been habitually robbed of bodies that were then sold to Philadelphia medical schools, most notably Jefferson Medical College. A sensational trial took place when a local journalist acting on a hunch staked out Lebanon Cemetery one night and caught the grave robbers red-handed, stacking black bodies onto a horse cart like trunks of fallen trees.
In 1902, the organizers of Lebanon Cemetery could no longer fight the city and industry’s demand for the property. The city condemned Lebanon Cemetery and forced its closing. Lebanon’s organizers then entered into contract to have the remaining bodies moved to Eden, whereby Eden became home to people who had died in the mid-19th century.