Delorean Time Machine: Capitolo Playground

If there’s any spot in Philadelphia that’s ripe for haunting, it’s the Capitolo Playground.

Rec center
Giant grassy field

As we mentioned a few weeks ago in our post on the Palumbo Recreation Center, Philadelphia has a long and inglorious history of loose interpretation where the term ‘final resting place’ is concerned.  The frequently used Capitolo Playground, bound by 9th, 10th, Federal, Wharton and Passyunk, is bathed in the tasteful neon glow of the Pat’s and Geno’s intersection.  However, as Samuel L. Smedley’s 1862 Philadelphia Atlas shows, the same plot was once called Lafayette Cemetery.

In 1862

According to Philadelphia Speaks, Lafayette Cemetery was established in 1839.  It would ultimately become a destination for 47,000 of the city’s deceased.  And there it remained through the next century plus, coming to be occupied by quite a few Civil War veterans.  However, Lafayette was left to neglect and disrepair before ultimately being condemned.  The photo below, taken from Ed Snyder’s blog, The Cemetery Traveler, shows Lafayette in 1946, just after the city closed on a deal that would make the land a part of Philly’s new playground initiative.

Still a cemetery in 1947

This is where things get sleazy.  The 1947 photo and the information which follow are also borrowed from the Cemetery Traveler site, where a more complete telling of events can be found.  This photo shows the land after it had just been cleared, the result of a real estate deal in which the city paid Thomas Morris, president of the Evergreen Memorial Park in Bensalem, a cool hundred grand to unearth Lafayette’s occupants and relocate them to his Bensalem cemetery.  There, the graves were to be marked and maintained.  Morris would also receive the title to the land in exchange for his services.

No longer, in 1948. Note the church in the background, since demolished.

Morris subsequently sold the land to a private developer for $105,000, at which point, the city bought it back at a price of $153,500.  Apparently, Morris was simply too swamped with paperwork from his various financial transactions to see to the proper reburial of those interred at Lafayette.  The geneaology site Roots Web tells that in 1988, as construction workers prepared to build a shopping strip in an area across from the Neshaminy Mall, they accidentally stumbled on the first of what would prove to be more than thirty unmarked trenches containing several hundred caskets each, all on the outskirts or beyond the boundaries of Evergreen’s property.  The memorial plaque here, also taken from Cemetery Traveler, was placed at the site of the unsavory discovery.

Such a shame

However, given that a full search for the sum total 47,000 bodies has never been attempted, there is literally no way of knowing how many are near Evergreen (today divided into Rosedale Memorial Park and King David Memorial Park), how many are in other mass graves and indeed, how many might yet remain under the grass fields of Capitolo Playground.

–David Tomar