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Here: In Allegheny Cemetery

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Photo by Annie O'Neill ~ Story by Lillian Thomas

Click photo for larger image.

On May 31, 2002, the 125,000 buried here were joined by 700 newly dead. That day, when a macroburst slammed down, hundreds of trees perished when they were ripped up or knocked down.

The damage was still apparent when artist Ruth Stanford first visited the Lawrenceville cemetery in October, despite months of cleanup.

"There were still massive trees toppled over, uprooted like toothpicks. There were uprooted monuments and headstones. There were headstones tangled in the roots of trees in some places," she said.

"I started thinking about that: Cemeteries are generally such calm places, and here was a relic of this powerful event. A lot of those trees are pushing 100 years old. They came when the cemetery was created. It was also the passing of an era in that cemetery.

"I went back a couple of months later. An Amish logger had gone in and milled out a lot of that wood. The tree stumps struck me as monuments of the trees."

When a group of artists decided to create a temporary exhibit in the cemetery earlier this year, Stanford got a chance to carry out that idea as part of "Contemporary Art Celebrating Life."

"I went out with a botanist with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. She taught me how to identify trees and count the rings. I went through and labeled the tree stumps, using some of conventions on headstones. I cut stencils out of metal, then used a small butane-powered torch, so the words are burnt into the tree stumps."

The stumps of the dead trees are being taken out as part of the cleanup of the graveyard, said cemetery president Tom Roberts, but he's thinking of preserving some of the stumps from Stanford's "Fallen Timber" monuments to memorialize the fallen trees. Many people visiting the cemetery have told officials there that they love the monuments.

For Roberts, who has worked at Allegheny Cemetery for 30 years, the storm stole vistas, familiar places, cherished trees and monuments.

"Your orientation is disrupted."

Roberts, who had new equipment at the gate of the cemetery at 8 a.m. the morning after the storm to start the cleanup, said that although crews have been working nonstop for a year, the process is still far from over. Even when everything killed or broken is taken out or fixed, there will be years of replanting and restoration, then decades to wait for new plantings to reach maturity and re-create what was lost.

"I hope people will be patient. The planting we're doing -- I'll never see the results. I'll be dead. But 50 years from now, hopefully, people will say, they did right by it."

An index to Here, a weekly feature produced by Post-Gazette photographers and writers who roam the region to capture close-up slices of life here.

Lillian Thomas can be reached at or 412-263-3566. Annie O'Neill can be reached at

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