Allegheny Cemetery: Halloween Graves

Graves decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Spiderland: Halloween grave at Allegheny Cemetery

Every October people put great energy into making their homes look like graveyards. The ubiquitous R.I.P. curved-top cardboard or foam-core headstones dot America’s front yards like popped toasters at a diner. In city neighborhoods, sometimes you see these incongruously strapped to stoops and front railings as if somehow there were people buried under the porch.

So in real graveyards, what’s the motivation to add additional set dressing to the already universally-understood scariest of locales? Decorating a grave marker for Halloween strikes this spookworthy blogger as somewhere between questionable in the taste department and just plain redundant.

I’ve checked the dates, and none of the deceased were ever either born or died on the thirty-first of October, so that’s not it. One can only assume then that either the holiday had a special significance for the departed, or that the grave-tenders are so faithful they give the full redecoration treatment every season. I’ve certainly seen the other holidays represented throughout the year (but not at these specific graves).

Grave decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sauerwein grave, 2013

Graves decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sauerwein grave, 2014

grave decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sauerwein grave, 2015

Whatever the reason, the phenomenon of Halloween-decorated graves occurs every year in Allegheny Cemetery. There aren’t a ton of them, but enough that’s it’s definitely a thing.

Above are photos from the the same plot over the last three Octobers. You’ll see a number of repeated pieces–the big gray plastic gargoyle, the 2-D Jack-o-lanterns, the solar lights, the homemade ghost, the Trick-or-Treat grave and ghoul combo–but a lot of the decor either didn’t make it back or had to get re-generated. The park has a strict fall cleanup policy (more about that later) but they seem to leave the Halloween decorations alone, at least through November.

fresh grave with Halloween skeleton decoration, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Boo Blvd.

Google Maps tells us there’s a Boo Avenue in Kansas City, a Boo Street in Louisiana, and a couple Boo Roads in Mississippi and Indiana. There are apparently more Boo Lanes than any other type of Boo thoroughfare.

But Pittsburgh Orbit readers will be excited to learn that the nation’s one and only Boo Boulevard exists right at the end of this freshly-dug grave in Allegheny Cemetery’s section 61. A cloaked skeleton hangs on a old school gaslight to mark the entrance.

Grave decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Carl Walzer: bad to the bone

Grave decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA


Jennie Benford: Concierge to the Dead

Jennie Benford, Homewood Cemetery archivist, in front of Brown mausoleum

Jennie Benford at the Brown mausoleum, Homewood Cemetery

If you got rich in Pittsburgh’s first great golden age, chances are you wound up here. Walking through Homewood Cemetery‘s beautiful large-plot section 14, the names pop right out at you: Frick, Mellon, Heinz, Straub, Baum, Benedum, et cetera, et cetera. These may not be household names to the rest of the world, but in Pittsburgh they’ve all got streets and buildings and foundations and corporations named after them. And they all ended up in the same big section of the same cemetery*.

Mausoleum for Benedum family, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

From black gold to pink granite: the art deco Benedum mausoleum

Jennie Benford has been leading visitors through Homewood Cemetery for nearly twenty years, and let this amateur crypt fancier tell you: she gives good tour. As an archivist, historian, and major league taphophile (she was also married at Homewood Cemetery), Benford landed her dream job as Director of Programming for The Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund not too long ago.

Benford currently offers three different tours of Homewood: Taking It With You, the one we took concentrating on Section 14’s robber baron excesses; Angels and Obelisks, highlighting particular grave styles and details; and the newest tour, In The Beginning, which focuses on the first three sections of the cemetery that were open for business in 1878.

Bronze angel statuary at Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Aura the explorer: bronze statuary

Benford’s deep knowledge and communication of not just Homewood’s long-term residents, but American (cemetery) history is incredible. To this blogging layman, our older bone yards tend to look a lot alike. But we started with a great overview of American cemetery history and a terrific comparison between the tenor of the “rural cemetery” movement (ala Allegheny Cemetery, opened 1844) and how it compared to Homewood’s “lawn-park” model (1878).

Cenotaph for E.K. Bennett, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Dressed and recessed for success: the E.K. Bennett plot

Benford’s greatest gifts, though, are an encyclopedic knowledge of her subject and the deft craft of relating historical detail with the skill of a great storyteller. Architectural nuance, names and dates, period styles, and a rich volume of tales (some of them with appropriate verbal grain-of-salt asterisks) put the context with the casket, the undertone with the eulogy, and the diary on top of the dirt.

Theo F. Straub mausoleum, Homewood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

There stands the ‘taph: Theodore Straub, King of Beers

Benford’s tours of Homewood Cemetery are available by appointment and may be scheduled for “just about any day or time.” Those interested can call 412-260-6305 or message Benford through the Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund FaceBook page to set up a tour.

* They didn’t all end up in Homewood. Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville (for instance) also contains many prominent Pittsburgh figures, but Homewood definitely has the most marquee names, and they’re all clustered in one defined section.

Medium Cool: An Orbit Day Trip to Lily Dale Pet Cemetery

grave marker with a wooden duck and stone heart, Lily Dale, NY


Far Western New York is certainly outside of what can be reasonably considered “the Pittsburgh region,” but at two hours and change driving time (each way), it’s a doable up-and-back, so we’re going to include this one as An Orbit Day Trip.

Lily Dale (aka Lily Dale Assembly), New York is a picturesque Victorian village that sits on tiny Lake Cassadaga, between Fredonia, Jamestown, and Chautauqua. It bills itself as “the world’s largest center for the science, philosophy, and religion of spiritualization.” While this chakra-curious blogger would be hard pressed to name a larger center for such things, at just a handful of streets, maybe a couple hundred year-round residents, it’s still a little difficult to believe Lily Dale is the largest anything. But we’ll take their word for it.

Trees with prayer ribbons, Lily Dale, NY

Prayer ribbons in Lily Dale

That said, the ratio of psychics-to-ne’er-do-wells is extremely high. Seemingly every other one of Lily Dale’s cottage-houses has a shingle out advertising the services of one or more registered in-house mediums (media?). Lily Dale is also home to the National Spiritualist Association of Churches (NSAC).

The catalog for the June-September workshop programs is ample and either the lecturing-on or attending-of these courses, along with individual “readings” with the aforementioned mediums, seems to be what people do in Lily Dale. Instructors Michele Whitedove, Lee Two Hawks, Shadow Fox, and others with less spectacular names offer courses on subjects like Banshees, Curses, and Little People; Interdimensional Out-of-Body Travel; Orb Phenom–Orbs Are Among Us; Etheric Projection & The Human Energy Field; The Art of Using Pendulums, Dowsing Rods, Sticks & Stones; and Spoon Bending.

Forest Temple, Lily Dale, NY

Forest Temple

While The Orbit generally subscribes to a “when in Rome…” philosophy, we’re also too skeptical (and too cheap) to pay $45 (the going rate for a two-hour workshop) to get our Laugh-a-Yoga Leader Certification. Whether all this New Age stuff strikes your divining rod or seems like a bunch of hooey, Lily Dale is absolutely a lovely and magical little place to visit. The whole landscape is completely enmeshed in tall woods and seems bathed in the gauzy soft light of an Elfin dreamland. We skipped the lectures and stuck to nice walks of the town, lakefront, Forest Temple, Inspiration Stump, Fairy Trail, and pet cemetery–all recommended.

wooden cross grave marker for a pet named Mutlee, Lily Dale, NY

Mutlee, 1988

This was The Orbit‘s first trip to a legit pet cemetery, but hopefully not our last–we’re hooked! Lily Dale’s goes way back. The earliest dated stone we saw was from 1920, but I got the sense it was considerably older than that. There are hundreds of graves in the small forest clearing where the cemetery stands. The markers range from professional chiseled stones with names, dates, and epitaphs, to crumbling homemade crosses, sculptures, cast concrete, and painted rocks.

Here are some of our favorites:

stone grave marker for pet with disintegrating tile, Lily Dale, NY

(Su)nshine, (l)aughter & friends ar(e) always (welcome)

cement grave marker for pet, Lily Dale, NY

Beanie Pastor: Lily Dale’s barkingest & fightingest & cat chasingest mongrel

stone grave marker for a chipmunk, Lily Dale, NY

The cemetery’s newest marker: Friend and Teacher, 6-29-15

stone grave marker with pet's name "Fluffy", Lily Dale, NY


wooden cross grave marker for a pet named Pumpernickel, Lily Dale, NY


Getting there: As mentioned, it’s somewhere around two-and-a-half hours drive from Pittsburgh to Lily Dale. Likely a lot faster if you can travel interdimensionally out-of-body, but we’re old-fashioned. There are numerous inns, beds and breakfast, and one old hotel on the grounds. But really, if you’re not attending the seminars, you can probably see everything you need in a few hours–it’s just not that big. There are two non-fancy/grab-and-go restaurants, one coffee shop, and one general store in the town.

Also be warned that there is a steep ($12 per person per day) gate fee to get on the grounds. My advice to the casual visitor would be to park somewhere outside the gate and see if they’ll let you walk in for free.

Sundown at Lily Dale Assembly pet cemetery

Sundown at Lily Dale Assembly pet cemetery

A Visit with Jimmy The Greek

New Chapel, where Jimmy "The Greek" is entombed, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

New Chapel, where Jimmy “The Greek” is entombed, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

SPOILER ALERT:  There is no head stone to visit, no special directional signage like the “1812 Veteran” or the “Fighting McCooks” or the “Grandparents of Woodrow Wilson” get, and there’s not even a place to leave a tributary poker chip or tip sheet from the nearby Wheeling dog track. No, when you actually arrive at the final resting place for Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, it’s on the very top row, well above even this tall blogger’s head height, inside a sterile mausoleum called the New Chapel, marked with a simple brass nameplate that’s barely legible standing on the floor in full daylight. The photo I took inside was so uninteresting I decided we’d just go with the exterior shot.

The Greek died of some combination of diabetes and coronary failure in 1996, the year after New Chapel was built at Union Cemetery in Steubenville, Ohio–Jimmy’s home town and an easy jaunt from Pittsburgh.  Jimmy’s loved ones may have thought that having the latest and greatest in resting places for the family was practical (his sister Marika Berris died in 2009 and is entombed right next to Jimmy), but I’d guess that he was secluded high out of sight, out of mind, and–perhaps, most advantageously–out of reach from any malice that may have been directed his way in the afterlife.

Signed headshot of Jimmy The Greek

Jimmy The Greek in livelier times

Jimmy The Greek’s rise and (epic) fall is legend to a generation that was paying attention to such things in the 1980s.  He was a career sports bettor, television prognosticator, and outsize personality that injected street smart grit and spilled cigar ash on the sterile CBS studio where most of us first encountered him.  Jimmy brought sports betting out of the bar and into post-church middle class living rooms by way of his weekly picks on The NFL Today.

Snyder was fired by CBS in 1988 for “racially insensitive comments” he made on camera at a banquet dinner.  Whether Jimmy was actually a racist or just put his foot in his mouth on a topic he really didn’t have any business speaking on seems up for debate. Both his longtime NFL Today co-host Irv Cross (who is black) and Jessie Jackson defended Snyder and Jimmy famously spent the rest of his life apologizing for the incident, humbled and disgraced.  The world largely turned its back on him, which is perhaps how he ended up nearly un-locatable in Steubenville.

entrance gate, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

Union Cemetery entrance gate

The Greek’s surroundings in the New Chapel are particularly sad considering the phenomenal beauty of the rest of the park.  He’s going to spend eternity in a mausoleum that looks like a Denny’s while the rest of the of his neighbors are ensconced in the tree-filled, lush rolling hills of this gorgeous circa-1845 cemetery.

Union Cemetery has the characteristic design of others from this era: non-linear paths that work around the topography and ancient trees that grow between–and sometimes up and over–the graves.  The markers are notably more humble than those in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny or Homewood cemeteries, and have suffered a greater natural decay (cheaper material? harsher climate? less maintenance?).  But taken as a whole, it has a similar level of natural beauty, solace, history, and nature-without-man chaos.

statuary, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

Statuary, Union Cemetery

Union Cemetery takes extra pride in their veterans.  The (many) Civil War graves each have a special iron shield, many still painted red, white, and blue, marking them as “Union Soldier”. Veterans from Cuba, World Wars I and II, and Korea each got similar, if less ornate, treatment. Vietnam veterans have an entire section to themselves, sharing space with large mortar cannons.

I don’t know that I can recommend a trip to Steubenville just to visit Jimmy The Greek, but we found some other interesting things while we were there (more about that in some future dispatch). However, if you’re in the area, and it’s as beautiful a day as we got, The Orbit has its own tip for you: do yourself a favor and stop by to say hello to The Greek.

Union soldier grave marker, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

Union soldier grave marker, Union Cemetery, Steubenville, Ohio

Union army grave markers, Union Cemetery

Allegheny Cemetery: The Shark Grave

Shark grave marker, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Lester C. Madden: Korean War veteran, Jaws fanatic

Allegheny Cemetery is as vast as the largest of Pittsburgh’s city neighborhoods, occupying some three hundred acres.  There are well over a hundred thousand permanent residents on site, some going back to the French and Indian War.  These include titans of industry, mayors and congressmen, silent film actress Lillian Russell, baseball great Josh Gibson, and the father of popular music, Stephen Foster.  With any luck, The Orbit will get to all these folks at some point in future.

Possums, squirrels, field mice, and scores of deer scurry about when the rare visitor is encountered.  Thousands of blackbirds haunt its treetops, moving in coordinated squadrons.  Its steep hillsides, dramatic views, and gentle sweeping passes rival any of the city’s great parks, but it’s rare to encounter even a single other living human, making it unique for its solitude.

As one may imagine, it also has many curiosities.  One of the most interesting (and out-of-place) is “the Shark Grave” of one Lester C. Madden (1931-1983).  I won’t pretend that I did any more digging than a Google search, which merely turned up the two facts that Mr. Madden was a veteran of the Korean War, and that indeed, he was a great fan of the 1975 blockbuster shark thriller Jaws. So much so, apparently, that he chose to spend his post-mortal coil eternity under a headstone in that film’s most indelible, terrifying image.  For you, Lester C. Madden, in the words of Jaws‘ old sea dog character Quint, “And so never more shall we see you again,” but we’ll enjoy your marker for a very, very long time.

Movie poster for the 1975 shark thriller "Jaws"

Movie poster for the 1975 shark thriller “Jaws”

UPDATE (3/2/2015): Mere days after this post was originally published, a suspiciously similar image appeared spray-painted on the wall of a Bloomfield garage.  Coincidence?

Graffiti on garage wall similar to the "Jaws" movie poster

Jaws graffiti, Bloomfield

UPDATE (5/3/2015): Even more new(ish) Jaws graffiti, this time wheat-pasted in Garfield.  What’s going on around here?

wheat paste graffiti of Jaws

Jaws III: Garfield