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Palmer Cemetery Fishtown

          Palmer Cemetery 

         is a Philadelphia Historic Commission Landmark

        Trusted to the Community of Kensington In 1765

               By the family of Anthony Palmer,The Founder of Kensington

 

                Memphis and Palmer Streets
                 Philadelphia, PA 19125

 

Recently, someone asked me why the cemetery needs funding now, when it never needed funding or donations in the past? The question came about when I was asking someone to buy a ticket to the upcoming comedy night fundraiser on January 10th, 2015. The person said that in all of the years that they lived in Fishtown, no one had ever asked them for a donation, and they never remember there ever being a "beef and beer" held to raise money for the care of the cemetery. This question leads me to believe that some people think that the cemetery receives some sort of public funding or has some type of "financial trust" that we draw from when we need to pay the bills. For the record, we get no support from the city and there is no trust that can be tapped when we need money to care for the cemetery. The people who were in charge prior to March, 2011 kept very poor financial records, so I cannot tell you what donations were made, or who made them. I can tell you that there was a small bank account with some money when the new trustees took over, but not enough to do the work that was needed. Two generous grants from the Penn Treaty Special Services District (on behalf of Sugarhouse Casino) enabled us to install new pavements on Palmer Street and Belgrade Street, and we were able to restore the interior of the Bier House office. Money from the grants was also used to maintain the grounds for the last 4 years. For example, the grass cutting at the cemetery has averaged about $13,000 per year over the last few years, and recent tree trimming totaled $27,400.00 in the spring of 2014. (While volunteers do a good deal of the cleaning inside and around the cemetery, contractors are necessary for grass cutting, since we cannot insure volunteers safety when using equipment at the cemetery. Also, cutting the grass in any cemetery is challenging, but even more so in Palmer.) 

The cemetery was given to the neighborhood as a free burial ground for the people who live here.  At one time, there were several houses that sat on the cemetery property and the rents from these houses helped support the cemetery. There has always been a small fee or donation made by the family of someone who was being buried here, and this money paid the grave digger for opening the ground for the burial. As everyone knows, there are no longer houses on the cemetery property, they were taken down long ago and the ground they sat on was used for burials. Of course there are still fee's for opening the ground, but there are so few burials at Palmer that we cannot count on burials to support the upkeep of the cemetery. While we do allow burials in a family occupied grave, most burials today are cremation remains. Casket burials are rare, and only in graves that have room to fit a casket. Most casket burials in the recent past were shallow burials, with no room left for another casket. And most of the "new graves" dug prior to 2011 were basically burials in space that was used a long time ago for burial. This practice was stopped in 2011 to preserve the older graves in the cemetery. It is a difficult job to tell someone that we cannot bury their loved one at Palmer, and I have had to do that a lot over the last few years.

So, the answer to the question "why does Palmer Cemetery need financial support" is simple. It is the community's responsibility to preserve it's history. Unfortuantely, no one ever set aside a "perpetual care fund" since it is a "free burial ground". When the ground was given to the community, it was a gift to be cared for by the community. And for the last 250+ years it has been maintained and cared for by people from the community. The trustees are volunteers and have given a great deal of time and energy to take care of the cemetery. While the Penn Treaty Special Services Group has been very helpful, we cannot rely on them as our sole support. They help fund so much in our neighborhood, and the PTSSD funds are not infinite.

In the 1960's, the cemetery was neglected and became an overgrown wasteland, until some local neighbors got together and decided they had enough of the trash and weeds inside and outside of the cemetery. When these people took over the care of the cemetery, they saved the cemetery from becoming another playground or parking lot. There was no money in the bank. They used their own money and equipment to improve the grounds. They volunteered and did what they had to do. During that time, there was a push for community funding and support. Politicians were contacted and may have helped some, but for the most part, the people of the neighborhood made the effort to keep the cemetery in one piece. The trustees today are doing the same things and asking for the same help. We are volunteer trustees. We make the decisions that need to be made, as it was spelled out in 1765. Without the support of the people of Fistown and those who have loved ones buried here, we will not be able to maintain the cemetery the way it deserves. The history of our community rests inside the fences of Palmer Cemetery. Please help support and preserve that history. 

     Thanks to All!

A great big Thank You to all who made the Comedy/Music fundraiser for Palmer Cemetery a GREAT SUCCESS! To all of the people who came out to see the entertainment on a cold night, it was greatly appreciated. Every dollar raised will be used to keep this historic burial ground in good shape. The volunteer trustees work hard to ensure that the history of our neighborhood is preserved, and without the support of the people of Fishtown, we could not do what we do.

Thank you to the hosts for the night...Nancy Bartelle and John Lonergan. Both worked hard to get the entertainment, the food and beer and to set up for the event. Nancy rounded up her crew to go out to canvass the neighborhood for donations and to sell tickets. This truly was a team effort.

 Thank you to all who donated...State Farm Insurance (Vince Ovecka), Farmers Insurance (Mike Primavera), Burns Funeral Home, McElvarr Funeral Home, Home Depot (Anthony Lemma), Les and Doreens Happy Tap, Starboardside Tavern, The Good Times Tavern, Anthonys Cafe, Philadelphia Beer on York Street, Teamsters Local 929 (Rocky and John Bryan) and to those who donated a basket for the drawings....Thank You! I am sure I missed the names of many...and I will update this list as I learn who they are...Please remember to patronize those who support our community.

Thanks to everyone who attended, made a small donation or just passed the word about the comedy night. A great neighborhood is made up of great people...and we have some great people in Fishtown! New Fishtowner's and Old timer's enjoyed the night side by side...And a good time was had by all. Thank You again!

The Trustees of Palmer Cemetery 

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Please Do Not bring your dog into the cemetery. Please be considerate and pick up after your dog if you walk it around the cemetery. Thanks!

Palmer Cemetery is NOT a Perpetual Care Cemetery. We do our best to maintain the grounds with the financial donations we receive, but a good deal of the work has to be done by volunteers to save money. We will do our best to straighten and reset headstones, but it is the responsibility of the family to maintain the grave site. We realize that most of oldest families have moved away and may not even know they have family buried here, so we do our best to straighten or lift a stone. Some of the larger stones need a small crane to lift, and a new foundation to set the stone on. The stones are sinking or falling mainly due to weather conditions (rain, snow and freezing temps ). We can only do so much and need help. Small donation from the community will go along way in getting things done here. Please consider making a financial donation to help us maintain our historic cemetery.

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Jim Kingsmill