This graveyard joke is dead serious.

To fight the dumping of construction debris and other litter at Philadelphia's historic Mount Moriah Cemetery, volunteers who tend to the grounds have placed tongue-in-cheek signs around the graveyard that inform would-be litterbugs that they will be both "prosecuted" and "haunted by the interred."

Alas, the threat of being harassed by the ghosts of Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers — who are among the estimated 140,000 people buried at the cemetery — has done little to deter contractors from unloading their construction garbage on the hallowed grounds, said Ken Smith, a volunteer and board member with the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery. He described combating the constant dumping at Mount Moriah, which spans across sections of Southwest Philadelphia and Yeadon, Delaware County, as a longstanding battle.

Construction debris, including chunks of concrete, left by illegal dumpers has been a persistent problem at Mount Moriah Cemetery.
KEN SMITH
Construction debris, including chunks of concrete, left by illegal dumpers has been a persistent problem at Mount Moriah Cemetery.

"I think the signs are just kind of whimsical for the rest of us to drive by," he said. "It kind of makes the battle we're facing against the dumpers a little more tolerable."

The graveyard, which opened in 1855, is still owned by the original organization that founded it, the Mount Moriah Cemetery Association, even the association has no living members today. The Mount Moriah Cemetery Preservation Corporation, composed of officials and citizens from Philadelphia and Yeadon, became the court-appointed receiver of the property in 2014. Receivership allows the corporation to handle the cemetery's business affairs, even though it is not the owner of the property.

But since 2011, the boots-on-the-ground work of pruning, cleaning and overseeing the more than 200-acre graveyard has been done by volunteers with Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery. When the group took on the task, the cemetery was already teeming with dumped construction debris.

A pile of tires that litterbugs left at Mount Moriah Cemetery.
Ken Smith
A pile of tires that litterbugs left at Mount Moriah Cemetery.

"When we came in 2011, we were filling up 40-cubic-yard dumpsters and pulling out sofas," Smith said. "The first year we pulled well over 1,000 tires from the cemetery."

The small but dedicated group has watched brazen litterbugs come into the cemetery and dump piles of trash while they were working to clean the space.

"It's really a kick in the teeth whenever you see someone disrespecting the grounds and the people who are interred there," Smith said. "Unfortunately, it's just a battle we have to continue to fight."

Ken Smith and other Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery members are in a constant battle to prevent illegal dumping of construction equipment.
Jose Moreno / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Ken Smith and other Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery members are in a constant battle to prevent illegal dumping of construction equipment.

The group was so fed up with the dumpers that one of the volunteers who owns a Havertown print shop made the signs and the group placed them around the cemetery several months ago, Smith said. A recent Instagram post of the sign sparked our interest, so we decided to find out the story behind it.

While the sign's joke may not knock 'em dead, there's always a chance the dead might come knocking if these trash litterbugs don't take heed.

Notable burials at Mount Moriah

According to Friends of Mount Moriah historian Sam Ricks, among the Revolutionary War notables buried at Mount Moriah are:

  • Major Benjamin Loxley (1720-1801): A friend of Benjamin Franklin. It was Loxley's house key that Franklin used in his kite experiment in 1752. Loxley also commanded the 1st Company of Artillery, the Associators of Philadelphia, during the Revolutionary War.
  • Brigadier General Samuel Miles (1739-1805): Served as mayor of Philadelphia in 1790 and was a trustee for the University of Pennsylvania. He served in the French and Indian War and commanded the Pennsylvania Rifles during the Revolutionary War.
  • Capt. John Ashmead (1738-1818): Served in the French and Indian War and was commissioned in the Continental Navy in the Revolutionary War.
  • Captain James Josiah (1751-1820): Was commissioned in the Continental Navy and also served as a privateer during the Revolutionary War.

Columnist Helen Ubinas contributed to this grave report.