Union Dale Cemetery: The Lamb Lies Down on Baahway

iron grave marker of a lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

(unknown)

Union Dale Cemetery‘s Division Three, Section b (yes: that’s a lower-case b) lies waaay in the back, at a high point in the park, bordered by treelined fencing that separates the property from nearby Presley Ridge School. Section b is so far removed that it doesn’t even appear on the cemetery’s online maps*.

But if you can make it out to Union Dale’s far northeast outpost, the tell-tale shapes of lambs popping up on gravestones and laying down in the grass will tell you you’ve reached the right spot. The creatures will be calmly resting, their little lamb ears pointing out at the sides. Each one of them will face the same direction.

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Wm. B. Henderson

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Jane Lee Blumfeldt

Listen here: when we shoot the sheep, we’re not talking about any jive-ass 2-D cutaways or bas relief lambs, either–though there’s plenty of those loitering on newer stones in the same neighborhood. No, this is full-on, worn-to-nubs marble and granite lambitude.

Two of the specimens (Kirk and Klein, photos below) seem to be the same general make and model, but otherwise each gravestone is unique. That’s not to say the lambs don’t look alike–they do–but there’s enough variance here to suggest these weren’t simply off-the-shelf lamb-on-a-box markers.

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Kirk

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Ralph A. Klein

Jennie Benford, our Concierge to the Dead, says “The lambs were very popular but almost exclusively for children’s markers.” The Internet backs her up on this claim, as does the anecdotal evidence of the dates we can see on the (still-legible) stones here. The deceased were all between months and just a few years old when they arrived at Union Dale and given the concentration in this one small area, we have to wonder if Section b was earmarked as plot for children.

The association of lambs with the death of children has a number of explanations, but the most common seems to this passage from the Bible:

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.  — John 1:29

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

(unknown)

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

June Ann Reese

There are other similarities. Every one of the markers (that we’re able to read) is dated from the same decade. Jennie assures us “The lamb stones are not strictly 1920s–I’ve seen them used much earlier than that and for some time after,” but it’s an interesting data point.

The lamb is always sculpted alone and awake, but in a resting position with its legs folded underneath. I imagine there is a practical aspect to this–sculpting those spindly legs from delicate marble is likely very expensive and accident-prone. That said, one has to accept that the feeling of innocence is even more pronounced with the gentle creature in repose. What could be more harmless and vulnerable than a kneeling fluffy white lamb?

Perhaps most curious, every single lamb faces to the left (as the visitor faces the stone)**. Now, that may just be a coincidence in our small sample, but if so, it’s equal to flipping “heads” ten times in a row. Still, reading any dramatic symbolism into facing left vs. right seems like a major stretch. Left, in this case, is also north, since all the stones face the same direction–west, or downhill and towards the only small access road. Again: likely not a planned coordination.

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

(unknown)

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Catherine Achey

Union Dale Cemetery is an intimidating place to explore. It covers a huge area–likely equal to the size of Allegheny Cemetery or many (larger) city neighborhoods. The full plot is divided by Brighton Road and Marshall Avenue/Rt. 19, which effectively turns the park into three separate cemeteries. [Union Dale labels each of these a division.]

It’s hard to imagine there’s any best or worst way to take in Union Dale for the newcomer. That said, like so many things in life–or, it seems, in death–there’s nothing wrong with ending up at Plan b.

weathered gravestone with lamb, Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

John Buckalynn


* Section b should not be confused with Section B, right by the entrance. Also, it looks like Union Dale’s PDF maps may have a page 2 that just didn’t make it to the web site.
** Two of the markers photographed are simply freestanding sculptures without an engraved headstone, so there is no left or right.

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