Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega writes about one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the U.S.: Allegheny Cemetery in Pennsylvania. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offers travelers various sights and activities, from the Duquesne incline railroad to catching a Pittsburgh Pirates or Steelers game. For genealogists and cemetery lovers, Pittsburgh also offers a beautiful historic rural cemetery to tour: Allegheny Cemetery.
First, let’s define a rural cemetery. Also referred to as a “garden cemetery,” rural cemeteries date to the 1830s and are a specific type of burial ground. “From the onset they were intentionally designed to respond to a new set of emerging needs and priorities in growing cities.” (1)
This new type of cemetery had a dual purpose. They were places to bury the dead, but they were also green spaces where families could visit, recreate, and spend a day away from the city in beautiful surroundings.
Unlike old burying grounds with overcrowded markers and overgrown grasses and weeds, these cemeteries had water features, lots of greenery, and served as an outdoor art museum with large monuments to the dead. When I think of beautiful cemeteries that provide natural scenery and peacefulness, Allegheny Cemetery fits the bill.
Allegheny Cemetery was inspired by other rural cemeteries created before its 1844 incorporation, including: Mount Auburn in Boston (1831), Laurel Hill in Philadelphia (1836), and Greenwood in New York (1838).
This article reported:
The citizens of Pittsburg[h] have also followed the example of other cities, and set apart grounds for a cemetery, which their good taste will no doubt render one of the most beautiful. They call it the “Allegheny Cemetery.” It is situated on the left bank of the Allegheny River, about two miles from the city, and comprises about one hundred and ten acres. The aspect of the grounds is beautifully diversified, comprising gentle hills and lovely dales, open lawns and thick woods, mounds, slopes, copses, and every variety of natural sylvan scenery. From the higher grounds may be had fine views of the cities of Pittsburg[h] and Allegheny, and of the surrounding country.
For those unable to visit the cemetery in person, much can be gleaned from the Allegheny Cemetery website. One of the benefits of the website is its inclusion of digitized historical materials such as Allegheny Cemetery: Its Origin and Early History, which provides information about sections of the cemetery that were donated to certain groups.
For example, the U.S. Soldiers Lot was donated by the cemetery “for the interment, free of expense, of such persons as have died, or may die, in defence [sic] of our country in the present war. June 11, 1862.” At the time of the history’s publication, it was noted that there were 236 interments. Near the U.S. Soldiers Lot is a section donated by the Grand Army of the Republic. (2)
Strolling around Allegheny Cemetery, as with other rural cemeteries, is like walking in an outdoor art museum. Consider the monument and mausoleum for the burials of Benjamin Franklin Jones and Lillian Russell Moore.
Benjamin Franklin Jones (1824-1903)
Benjamin Franklin Jones co-founded Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, a competitor of Carnegie Steel. “The firm officially became Jones and Laughlin in 1861 and began making steel in 1886, eventually expanding its operations to both sides of the Monongahela River with a bridge to connect the furnaces on one side of the river with the rolling mills on the other. The company also owned coal mines to fuel its furnaces.” (3)
Jones’ monument in Allegheny Cemetery includes two female allegorical figures. The woman on the left is holding an open book with the pages facing the viewer. The woman on the right is holding a closed book as well as a wreath and a palm frond. According to Douglas Keisters’ Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, the palm can be a Christian symbol of a believer’s triumph over death. A closed book can indicate a completed life. (4)
Lillian Russell Moore (1861-1922)
While not well-known today, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lillian Russell Moore was a famous actress and singer. A celebrity in her day, she engaged in other interests including supporting suffrage, writing a newspaper column, and being a special agent to the Department of Labor, which led her to have a part in the Immigration Law of 1922. (5)
Lillian, who was the wife of Pittsburgh Leader newspaper publisher Alexander P. Moore, was sent to Europe at the request of President Warren G. Harding to study “immigration problems.” After her investigation, her solution was that immigration to the United States should be stopped for five years.
Her recommendations, including a five year “holiday” from immigration and a 21-year U.S. residency requirement for naturalization, influenced the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act), which put a quota on immigrants and excluded Asian immigrants.
Lillian died shortly after giving her recommendations to Congress. Today her name is less associated with the problematic and exclusionary immigration act and instead by her mausoleum inscription: “The world is a better place for her having lived.”
Is Your Ancestor Buried in Allegheny Cemetery?
One of the benefits of Allegheny Cemetery is that researchers can find their ancestor’s burial in the Burial Record Search found on the cemetery’s website. A name can be searched on the website or you can download their mobile app. A genealogical request can also be made. To learn more and download the form, see their Genealogy Research Requests page.
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Note on the header image: Allegheny Cemetery entrance. Credit: Gena Philibert-Ortega.
(1) Smith, Jeffrey. The Rural Cemetery Movement. Places of Paradox in Nineteenth-Century America. MD: Lexington Books, 2017.
(2) The Allegheny Cemetery. Its Origin and Early History, Also a Report of Its Condition, Progress and Business during the Last Ten Years, June 1, 1900. May 31, 1910, pp. 16 and 17. Available on the Allegheny Cemetery website at https://alleghenycemetery.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/earlyhistory-1.pdf
(3) “Benjamin Franklin “BF” Jones (1824-1903),” National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/jofl/learn/historyculture/benjamin-franklin-jones.htm: accessed 21 September 2023)
(4) Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. New York. MJF Books.
(5) “Lillian Russell.” Allegheny Cemetery (http://alleghenycemetery.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/russell.pdf :accessed 26 September 2023).