Ask Jennie Benford, Director of Programming for the Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund about the cemetery, and she describes it as a “very family-friendly place”. As a matter of fact, her son learned math in the cemetery by subtracting dates on the tombstones to discover the ages of people when they died.
She says that not only do families come to pay their respects to their loved ones, but people also come to observe the wildlife, including deer, snakes, turtles and hawks.
One of the nicer aspects of walking through is the ability to allow children to wander off on their own. It’s safe enough to allow them to independently sightsee and wide open enough to be able to keep an eye on them while they explore.
There are also beautiful statues and mausoleums to admire as you stroll along. Anyone interested in architecture, stained glass, and the Gilded Age will find a visit worthwhile. There are very few places that cover so much ground of history.
Ahead of its time, the Homewood Cemetery, a private, nonprofit institution has been non-denominational and non-discriminatory since its founding in 1878. Because of this, a significant portion of the story of Pittsburgh’s 20th century African-American community can be found in the cemetery.
Expected to operate for the next 100-200 years, the cemetery was also designed to be an urban green space, and it still functions that way. People can be seen jogging, riding bikes, or just meditating in tranquility.
In preparation for the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, they have been doing a lot of research on people who were involved in the drive to get women the right to vote. They are currently offering a tour called “Audacious Pioneers: The Ladies of Section 14”. This walking tour focuses for the first time on women in the high society sector, allowing a tour that crosses lines of class and race.
Ladies featured on this tour include:
- A world famous opera singer.
- A palm reading Countess from Coshocton, Ohio.
- A politically minded widow with a fondness for cars.
- The proprietor of a successful African American “Tourist House”.
In addition to this tour, the cemetery also offers preprinted self-guided tour booklets. Drop by the office and pick one up along with a map, and do as much or as little exploring as you like. For a more unique experience, contact Jennie, and for a fee, she will customize a program to your specific area of interest. The custom tours are $10 per person and the funds go to the Cemetery Historical Fund.
No Halloween tours are allowed, so don’t come in costume. After all, they are an active cemetery and they need to be respectful of families and their loved one’s final resting place.
Jennie says working at the cemetery she has her dream job – indeed, she has volunteered there since 1992. She says that there are 78,000 people at rest throughout the cemetery. With that many burial sites, there is a wealth of knowledge and history in the infrastructure of data that goes well beyond the physical presence and beauty of the area. She will continue to enjoy each day she spends here and encourages others to experience it as well.
The Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund is a 501(c)(3) charitable trust established to preserve the cultural, historical and natural resources of Pittsburgh’s Homewood Cemetery. HCHF also offers tours, talks, exhibitions and other educational programs for both students and adults.
Plan Your Trip…
For more information, keep tabs on the Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund Facebook page, or visit thehomewoodcemetery.com