Ivy Hill Cemetery
1201 Easton Rd Philadelphia, PA
For the first two-thirds of the 1800s, the land that now makes up Ivy Hill Cemetery was 70 acres of rolling countryside. In 1867, the City dedicated the grounds, converting the farmland into a non-sectarian country cemetery. Citizens traveled from surrounding urban and rural areas to bury their dead on its grounds, and the living were responsible for tending the graves of their loved ones.
Ivy Hill is now the heart of the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Cedarbrook. It has served Philadelphia families for nearly 150 years, all the while upholding the non-profit and non-denominational tradition of its founding. Due to its long past, the cemetery has taken as its mission the protection of old memorials and inscriptions, in the aim of preserving the stories of the City’s past generations.
One such story is that of Melville Freas, a Germantown mail carrier buried at Ivy Hill in 1920. Freas was one of five Germantown men who enlisted in Company A, 150th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War. The Confederate Army took these five men prisoner during the Battle of Gettysburg, confining them in Andersonville Prison in Georgia. When he was paroled in March of 1864, Freas was the only one of the Germantown boys to survive. He returned home were he resumed his job as a letter carrier and become a prominent member in the community. He led a protest against the planned erection of a monument to Captain Henry Wirz, a commandant of Andersonville Prison. He also erected a monument on top of his own lot in Ivy Hill, inscribing in it the names of his four fallen friends. Every Memorial Day until his death, Freas donned his uniform and went to the cemetery to decorate the monument, which still stands today.
Not far from Melville Freas’ statue is a memorial to America’s Unknown Child. In 1957, a college student found the boy’s nude and malnourished body in a box on Susquehanna Road. The Philadelphia Police Department posted pictures of the boy on every gas bill in the City, but no-one has been able to discern his identity. Authorities also failed to identify the person responsible for his death. In recent years, the Vidocq Society, Philadelphia’s members-only crime solving club, reopened the case, but to no avail. The City originally buried the boy in a potter’s field, but forensic specialists dug up his body in 1998 in the hopes of extracting DNA. Ivy Hill donated a plot for his reburial. The funeral generated significant media coverage as well as a large turnout of mourners. Visitors to Ivy Hill still decorate the child’s grave with flowers and toys.
Other notable memorials in Ivy Hill include the tomb of World Champion boxer, Joe Frazier. Frazier lived out his last days in Philadelphia before liver cancer claimed his life in 2011. His tomb features a life-sized picture of him, with his 1964 Olympic gold medal hanging from his neck. The Cemetery is also the final resting place of the Russell Smith Family of Painters. The Smith Family emigrated to Philadelphia in 1819 and painted landscape and battles of the Civil War.
The graves of many of Philadelphia’s leading politicians, businesspersons, firefighters, police officers, and soldiers rest in Ivy Hill. The Cemetery’s dedication to preserving the stories of the deceased is integral in understanding Philadelphia’s history.