black history

Dignity in Death: Two more Civil War heroes....

There are about 93,000 people buried at Eden, including re-interred remains from Lebanon Cemetery, the Stephen Smith Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored Person's Burial Ground, Olive Cemetery and the First African Baptist Church Burial Grounds, all Philadelphia cemeteries disrupted by urban construction

Sheppard Shay was a 59-year-old cook when he died in Philadelphia on Aug. 10, 1902. Military records indicate he was 21 when he enlisted in the Navy on Nov. 20, 1861, seven months after the start of the Civil War, but his recorded birth year of 1843 shows he probably was not much older than 18. His remains were removed from Olive Cemetery in Philadelphia and re-interred in Eden on May 26, 1903.

The Civil War was almost over when coachman John W. Esley enlisted in the Army Feb. 28, 1865 at age 27, but he managed to achieve the rank of sergeant with Company F of the 24th U.S. Colored Infantry before being discharged seven months and four days later. He died March 10, 1913 at the age of 77 and was buried at Eden three days later.

Eden's history goes further back than 1902....

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.