Within the cemetery, beautiful statues and monuments can be found at every turn.
If a cemetery can be romantic, Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville is the ultimate setting.
Situated on the southern slope of the Allegheny River, its rolling hills, winding roads, ponds,
wildlife, and natural beauty provide a picturesque and contemplative backdrop in which to pay
respect to those who have gone before us.
In 1844, Pittsburgh, with a population of perhaps 30,000, was rowing. Though there was not a single
blast furnace in Allegheny County and Andrew Carnegie was but nine years old, Pittsburgh was already
known both as the “Smoky City” and the “Iron City.” It was manufacturing town,making glass, paper, steam
engines, and, principally, iron, and Pittsburgh’s small iron-making foundries and workshops—all fueled by
coal—were just the prelude to becoming the steel-making capital of the world over the next 60 years.
Growth had unexpected consequences, of course, one of which was that urban churchyards became overcrowded
with graves, and churches had nowhere to expand. Members of downtown Pittsburgh’s Trinity
Episcopal Church and the First Presbyterian Church thus explored the idea of creating a separate, interdenominational,
“The movement out of churchyards into decorative, ‘rural’ cemeteries gained momentum in the 1840s
and 50s,” says architect and Allegheny Cemetery board member Ellis Schmidlapp. “Americans quit burying
people in the churchyard and moved out to the suburbs for interment in a pastoral setting, and Allegheny
Cemetery’s claim to fame is that it is Pittsburgh’s first ‘rural’ cemetery.”
Allegheny Cemetery was incorporated in 1844, and the following year the search for suitable land led to
Colonel George A. Bayard’s 100-acre farm and homestead in Lawrenceville, which the 40 corporators purchased
for $50,000. The site was more than three miles upriver from the Point.
The cemetery’s first superintendent, John Chislett, an Englishman and foremost architect in Pittsburgh at
the time, was then instructed to survey and lay out the property, described by Pittsburgh historian James D.
Van Trump as being “in the fashionable Romantic landscape style.” Chislett also designed the cemetery’s
Butler Street gate and lodge.
With additional land purchases, the cemetery is now 300 acres—half the size of Frick Park—making it
the largest landmark in Lawrenceville.
Tom Roberts, president of Allegheny Cemetery, recognizes its significance to the neighborhood. “We are
the largest constant in Lawrenceville,” says Roberts. “We go back 165 years. Lawrenceville has changed in
many ways. It’s gotten bigger, it’s gotten smaller, but anyone who has been a part of Lawrenceville probably
played in the cemetery.We have walkers and joggers.The people of the community think of this as theirs, and
they have taken ownership of it. And over the years we have employed an awful lot of people from this area,
so I think it’s a large, large part of this community.”
The array of headstones, monuments, and mausoleums
within the cemetery include (top) a memorial to one man’s
passion for the film Jaws, (middle) many familiar Pittsburgh
names, (above) countless angels, and (top right) varying
architectural styles, like this Greek temple-like mausoleum.
(All photos on this page are by Charlie Stewart.)
As those walkers and joggers make their way
along the 15 miles of meandering roads on the
cemetery grounds, they glimpse thousands upon
thousands of unique markers, monuments, and
mausoleums reflecgting an inummberable array
of styles from Grecian Doric to Egyptian to
Gothic to Romanesque and to the unusual and
even the humorous. Lester C. Madden loved the
movie Jaws so much that the gaping mouth and
the sharp teeth of the Great White Shark are
engraved on his headstone.
A newly-completed website project,
www.webcemeteries.com, enables people to access
their relatives’ records online and shows the location
of all of Allegheny Cemetery’s 130,000 interments.
One of themost famous is Lawrenceville’s own
Stephen Collins Foster, born nearby on July 4,
1826. He composed numerous works, including
Oh! Susanna, Camptown Races, and My Old
Kentucky Home. As popular as his songs were, he
died in poverty in New York in 1864 after a severe
fall. The funeral cortege was met at the gate of
Allegheny Cemetery by a company of musicians
playing Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming and
Old Folks at Home.
Each year on January 13, the anniversary of his
death, Allegheny Cemetery invites the public to
attend a memorial service where Foster’s life and
songs are celebrated together.
“We tell the history of the people who are
here,” says Roberts. “So we are responsible for
maintaining the history of the families. That’s why
we do a lot of public service activities, tours, and events, and the Stephen Foster memorial service.
We have been doing that for 138 years, remembering
him on the day he died.”
And this summer, on July 11, in observance of
Foster’s birthday, there will be bands playing
Stephen Foster-era music, educational tours of
Allegheny Cemetery, costumed re-enactors, and
other outdoor activities.
Other notable names engraved intomonuments
read like the street signs of East End neighborhoods—
Negley, Howe, Frew,Wilkins, and Baum.
So much of the energy behind the story of
Pittsburgh rests here: Thomas Mellon (banking),
Joseph Horne (Pittsburgh’s first department store), “Rosey” Rowswell (the Pirates’ first full-time
announcer), Lillian Russell (popular 19th century
actress and singer), General Alexander Hays (Civil
War veteran), Josh Gibson (catcher for the
Pittsburgh Crawfords)….the list goes on.
And 22 of Pittsburgh’s mayors are interred in
Allegheny Cemetery, including Ebenezer Denny,
witness to the surrender of Cornwallis in the
American Revolutionary War and Pittsburgh’s first
mayor. “That’s my great-great-great-great-grandfather,”
says Harmar D. Denny IV, board member
and chairman of the Allegheny CemeteryHistorical
Association. He recalls the family “junkets” on holidays
when his mother brought birdseed to feed the
flocks at their ancestors’ 40-plus gravesites.
Now it’s his turn to look after them. “Usually
when I go to the cemetery for a meeting and can
get down there early, I’ll swing by the lot.” says
Denny. “Even if I don’t get out of the car, I’ll just drive by, checking on everybody there. I have to
be the caretaker.”
Not everyone buried in Allegheny Cemetery
is in Pittsburgh’s Who’s Who. “At one time people
thought this was for the carriage trade,” says
Roberts. “But even from the beginning we have
buried people of very modest means. We have
thousands of graves of people which were never
even marked because they had nothing to mark
The late Walter C. Kidney, historian for
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation,
wrote in 1990, “The [Allegheny] Cemetery that
you see today is thus a coming-together of several
different things: the nature of terrain, the fact of
human mortality, human ways of responding to the
fact, circumstances of economy and technology,
and the approaches of well-meaning people over a
century and a half to the reconciliation of all these
things in a beautiful place for honoring the dead.”
And the idyllic landscape, as well as the memories,
are to be tended to like a garden. “I believe,” says
Denny, “that one of the ways we live forever is we live
on through the next generation. We give a piece of
ourselves to our kids and to whomever we influence
in our lives.Then we live on in them. So there are all
those people at the cemetery, dead and gone, but
their markers are there reminding us that they have
preceded us andwe have a responsibility. I’ve got a little
piece of benezer, that’s six times removed coming
down, and I’m going to pass that on to my son.
So all of these people will live forever in what we do.”
Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all pass’d away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life’s busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
(Beautiful Dreamer, by Stephen Foster,
was published two months after his death.)