Northeast Times

A new & improved rest stop

The Green­wood Es­tate at Rush Farm on Fri­day, June 10. Kev­in Cook / for Times

Betty John­son Ewart was at the Knights of Py­thi­as Green­wood Cemetery two weeks ago, re­call­ing her his­tory with the prop­erty at 930 Adams Ave. in North­wood.

As a new­born in 1919, she spent a year liv­ing in the prop­erty’s main house with her par­ents and grand­par­ents. Wil­lie Hamill, her grand­fath­er, was an im­mig­rant from County An­trim, North­ern Ire­land. In the 1880s, he be­came a gravedig­ger, walk­ing from Kens­ing­ton to North­wood to work.

Own­ers of the cemetery liked Hamill so much that they made him the su­per­in­tend­ent, a job he held for about a half-cen­tury, un­til his death in 1939.

Over the years, Ewart de­veloped many memor­ies of the cemetery, hav­ing spent sum­mers with her grand­par­ents.

Fam­ily wed­dings took place on-site. Me­mori­al Day was al­ways busy but somber be­cause so many sol­diers had been bur­ied there.

Vis­it­ors would sit on benches un­der trees, tak­ing in the solitude. Ewart re­called how her grand­fath­er would ring a bell to alert staff at the cemetery that a fu­ner­al pro­ces­sion was on its way. And she would at­tend some of the ser­vices.

Ewart’s aunt took over as su­per­in­tend­ent for a short time, con­tinu­ing to keep the site im­macu­late. However, man­age­ment changed fol­low­ing the death of the head of the cemetery’s board of dir­ect­ors.

In later years, Ewart would vis­it the cemetery, where mem­bers of her im­me­di­ate fam­ily are bur­ied. She be­came “very sad” dur­ing her vis­its, dis­mayed by the de­teri­or­at­ing con­di­tions around her.

The cemetery was littered with debris. Trees and weeds had grown so large that it was hard for fam­il­ies to vis­it the graves of loved ones. Head­stones were over­turned; the house she’d known so well was de­teri­or­at­ing. Some fu­ner­al dir­ect­ors re­fused to enter the cemetery, fear­ful of dam­age to their vehicles, she said.

ELATED BY CEMETERY’S RE­VIV­AL

Now 92, Ewart de­scribed her June 10 re­turn vis­it as emo­tion­al but happy. Thanks to an ef­fort spear­headed by Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica, the cemetery is in a lot bet­ter con­di­tion and the home — known as the Green­wood Es­tate at Rush Farm — is fully re­stored.

“I’m call­ing this a re­sur­rec­tion day,” Ewart said.

Ben­jamin Rush, a sign­er of the De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pend­ence, owned the cemetery site for sev­er­al years in the late 1700s. Rush died in 1813. The Phil­adelphia His­tor­ic­al Com­mis­sion has de­term­ined that the ex­ist­ing home was built between 1830 and 1850. The site be­came a cemetery in about 1869. It is lis­ted on the Phil­adelphia Re­gister of His­tor­ic Places.

The 44-acre cemetery was ac­quired in late 2008 by Green­wood Hold­ings, a sis­ter com­pany of Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica’s prop­erty man­ager, the In­ter­na­tion­al Cap­it­al & Man­age­ment Com­pany.

Work crews im­proved the en­trance and re­moved the over­growth and debris.

Ewart — who has con­trib­uted a bunch of old-time pho­tos that are dis­played on the In­ter­net at www.kp­green­wood­cemetery.org — also thanked ar­chae­olo­gists for the care they showed when mov­ing more than 2,400 graves from a de­cay­ing sec­tion of the prop­erty to a more suit­able loc­a­tion in the front, an area that will also fea­ture a monu­ment and con­tem­pla­tion space. The move en­abled Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica to ex­pand its fa­cil­ity at the rear of the cemetery prop­erty.

MO­MENTS OF HON­OR AND DIS­HON­OR

Among those bur­ied at Green­wood are the par­ents of W.C. Fields; Thomas Pren­der­gast, a U.S. Mar­ine who re­ceived the Medal of Hon­or in 1901 for his ser­vice dur­ing the Phil­ip­pine-Amer­ic­an War; and some of the chil­dren of Mar­ie Noe, the Kens­ing­ton wo­man who pleaded guilty in 1999 to killing eight of her young chil­dren dec­ades earli­er.

As for the house, one of the first steps was to re­move the win­dows and seal the build­ing to let it dry be­cause of years of ab­sorb­ing wa­ter. Work crews also dealt with broken glass, graf­fiti and rac­coons, along with a roof and doors that were in bad shape.

“The house was in pretty tough shape,” said John Good­child, dir­ect­or of mar­ket­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions for the Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica loc­a­tion at 1331 E. Wyom­ing Ave.

Long­time North­wood res­id­ent Robin Mell­bourne spoke up dur­ing the ce­re­mony to re­mind people that it was the late neigh­bor­hood act­iv­ist Len Wil­li­ams who, “way back in the be­gin­ning,” poin­ted out what a “cess­pool” the cemetery had be­come.

State Rep. John Taylor, who lives on Haworth Street in North­wood, re­called that wild ru­mors swirled of the pres­ence of were­wolves and zom­bies.

Joanne Clare, whose par­ents and grand­par­ents are bur­ied in the cemetery, re­called a 2003 meet­ing with Glor­ia Boyd, a Green­wood lot own­er who helped wage a leg­al battle against the site’s ac­quis­i­tion by a com­pany that wanted to build a fu­ner­al home and crem­at­ory.

Clare noted that cemetery re­cords were covered in mold and mil­dew, there was a hole in the ceil­ing of the house, and there was evid­ence of past vis­its by rats, drug ad­dicts and pros­ti­tutes.

“It looked like a scene from an Al­fred Hitch­cock movie,” said Clare, now chief dir­ect­or of the or­gan­iz­a­tion Friends of Green­wood Cemetery.

A WORTHY IN­VEST­MENT

More than $1 mil­lion in im­prove­ments, over­seen by Phil­adelphia Health­care Prop­er­ties, were made to the house. The build­ing was painted, dec­or­ated and fur­nished. There are new win­dows, floors, roof, ceil­ings, walls, fire­places, ceil­ing fans and cent­ral air con­di­tion­ing. The first floor serves as an of­fice for the cemetery and the Friends of Green­wood Cemetery and in­cludes a con­fer­ence room and re­cords room. The second floor is ren­ted to an in­di­vidu­al whose du­ties in­clude open­ing and clos­ing the cemetery gate. The third floor is used for the stor­age of old re­cords.

“It’s a won­der­ful, won­der­ful thing,” Taylor said.

Dur­ing the ce­re­mony, Ewart, Taylor, Can­cer Treat­ment Cen­ters of Amer­ica pres­id­ent and CEO John McNeil and Phil­adelphia Health­care Prop­er­ties man­ager Cor­nel Wil­li­ams cut the rib­bon to the re­stored house.

“Our work is not done,” said Wil­li­ams, ex­plain­ing that there would be ad­di­tion­al beau­ti­fic­a­tion and res­tor­a­tion ef­forts to be able to mar­ket Green­wood as an act­ive cemetery.

The ce­re­mony also fea­tured mil­it­ary an­thems and people dressed in 19th-cen­tury cloth­ing.

Howard Linde, a World War II vet­er­an and Friends of Green­wood Cemetery dir­ect­or in charge of com­pu­ter­iz­ing old re­cords, joined cemetery pres­id­ent Michelle Marden­bor­ough in un­veil­ing a monu­ment that reads, “In re­mem­brance and with grat­it­ude to all U.S. vet­er­ans who served and fought for our free­dom.” •• 

Knights of Py­thi­as Green­wood Cemetery is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The of­fice is open by ap­point­ment. To buy a lot, con­duct gene­a­lo­gic­al re­search or for more in­form­a­tion, call 215-533-2967.

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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