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Allegheny Cemetery Celebrates Its 175th Birthday With A Graveyard Party

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh's East End includes the graves of baseball great Josh Gibson, activist Jane Swisshelm and victims of the 1862 Allegheny Arsenal explosion.

There’s a party at the graveyard this weekend. Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh’s oldest of its kind, turns 175 this year.

The cemetery was established in 1884 when the East End communities it touches were considered rural. On Saturday, the cemetery — bordered by Lawrenceville, Garfield, Bloomfield and Stanton Heights — will celebrate its birthday with historical reenactments, live music and walking tours.

“This place is a repository of stories spanning 175 years of Pittsburgh and its progress,” said Nancy Foley, Allegheny Cemetery Assistant to the President. “There are 140,000 people buried, each contributing a page to that story.”

Soldiers from the Revolutionary War to modern-day conflicts are buried in the cemetery. It was the sixth incorporated cemetery in the United States, Foley said.

“It’s really almost like a time capsule,” Foley said. “Even as the neighboring communities change, even as the world around us changes, this space will always be sacred and we will always be a place of remembrance and burial.”

The cemetery is the final resting place for many local history-makers, including 28 Pittsburgh mayors, jazz saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, actress-singer Lillian Russell Moore, abolitionist Dr. Charles Avery, and Negro League player Josh Gibson.

At Saturday’s party, there will be historical reenactments of Native American life, Renaissance and Medieval demonstrations and a Civil War artifacts showcase.

“It really is an outdoor living history museum,” Foley said. Visitors can also curate their own walking tours using a mobile app available through the cemetery’s website.

*This post was updated on Monday, Sept. 9 to reflect that Allegheny Cemetery is the oldest nonsectarian and once rural cemetery in the city.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community. kblackley@wesa.fm
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