I'm planning a research to trip to Princeton this summer (I know, who doesn't want to go to New Jersey in June?!?) and flying into Philadelphia, so I was trying to figure out if there was anything I needed to look at in Philly in my few hours there.
Irene Woodward, if you recall, died in Philadelphia in 1915, so I thought that perhaps I could visit the local historical society and scare up some details about her last few days. Well, they have city directories, but I then discovered that Ancestry.com has them as well, so that was out. I did look for death records there, called "cemetery returns," which the Archives states this:
The Cemetery Returns were indexed by the W.P.A. and have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah. All death registers from 1860 - 1903 are available on microfilm. The Genealogical Society of Utah finished microfilming all actual death returns 1860 - 1915 in 1997.
So... I searched for the death records microfilm, which leads me to the Penn. Dept. of Vital Records Genealogy page, which gives me this information:
Death Certificates, 1906-1962
Beginning February 13, 2012, original birth certificates for 1906 and death certificates for 1906-1961 will be available at the State Archives... An index will be available on the website of the Division of Vital Records as well as in the Archives research room... Copies of these birth and death certificates may be requested by mail using the Mail Reference Order Form. If the name of the person and the date of birth or death are known, the fee is $15.00 per name for requests from Pennsylvania residents, $25.00 per name for requests from outside Pennsylvania. The birth or death certificate number also will be useful in research. The research charge is $50.00 per name per hour if only the name is provided.
So, I then click on the link for the Division of Vital Records to find the death records index, and there it is (the death indices link.) You have to know the year, which in this case is 1915, and then you have to know the last name, so I opened the W-X-Y-Z.pdf and started paging through to find Woodward, vaguely half expecting not to find her (since so many of these records hunts lead to nothing.)
But there she was!
Now, interestingly, the information I previously had about Irene's death was this:
In the Trenton Evening Times on Sept. 21, 1915, a report that Irene was dying in a Philadelphia hospital, "The poison of the tattoo marks she had worn all over her body from the age of 8 years began its deadly work."
Billboard picks it up on Oct. 2, 1915: "TATTOOED WOMEN DYING... Mrs. Irene Woodward, famous tattooed women, is at the local hospital, dying of what physicians say is cancer of the stomach. An operation, it is said, would be futile. She is fifty-seven years old."
Then in Dec., 1915, three articles stating that she had died.
So, she gets sick in Sept., dies in Dec., right?
Imagine my surprise when I see an entry in the death records index for Irene Woodward with a death date of Oct. 9, 1915.
So, I immediately send away for a copy of her death record, and then I then plug this date into Ancestry, and I get a hit on a record for her death and burial from Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records, records from Monument Cemetery in Philly.
This document is amazingly detailed:
She died Oct. 9, 1915, and was buried Oct. 15, 1915, and now I have her age at death (58), her last known address, and a reference to her being Mrs. Chas Smith, as well as the lot, section, and grave number, as well as the price and size/shape of her coffin. When I got the death certificate in the mail, it confirms all this, plus more (includes her parents' names), mentioning that she entered the hospital early in Sept., and died of uterine cancer. Her hospital stay was brief, only 25 days. Hopefully for Irene, it was 25 days of morphine-induced peace, because I can't imagine how awful dying of uterine cancer was in 1915.
So now, I have all this great information, and potentially a place to visit in Philly, Irene's grave in Monument Cemetery. Great, right?
I look up Monument Cemetery, and what I find induces rage and tears.
The first hit is a eloquent post by The Cemetery Traveler called The Watery Remains of Monument Cemetery. I learn that Monument Cemetery is no longer. I can't visit Irene's last resting place because in the 1950s, Temple University acquired the cemetery and turned it into a parking lot. About 300 individual graves were relocated to Lawnview Cemetery in Rockledge after a feeble attempt by the owners of the cemetery to contact relatives of the 28,000 people buried there, the rest were removed and placed in a mass grave at Lawnview. The headstones were scrapped and used to build the base of the Betsy Ross Bridge over the Delaware River. Many headstones are visible from the shore of the river.
How on earth did this happen?
Again, Cemetery Traveler gives some great insight in a second post, How Monument Cemetery Was Destroyed. In short, it was the 1950s, this was an aging Victorian cemetery in a prime location, and not enough people cared. The 1950s was famous for its sense of "progress," i.e., let's wipe out the old musty Victorian past. This could never happen today.
I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it Lawnview to see Irene's final final resting spot, along with all the other unclaimed folks from Monument, but I will try. If anyone is wandering by the shores of the Delaware and happens to see her headstone, I'd love a picture.
In one last weird twist, Lawnview is run by the Odd Fellows, which is a group that Irene was affiliated with- one of her tattoos was the symbol of the Rebekahs, which is the women's auxiliary of the Odd Fellows. Irene's left arm tattoos included images of a hive of worker bees and the phrases “Never Despair” and “Nothing Without Labor.” The beehive is one of the symbols that the Rebekahs used in the 19th century, as a representation of cooperative industry teaching the advantages of united efforts in all the noble ministries of the Order. They still use the beehive, as well as the Moon and Seven Stars, the Dove, and the Lily. As a commemoration of my research, I have a version of Irene's tattoo on my right arm (my left arm was already covered with other artwork):
Perhaps that's why I feel so connected to her, but I'm still left with sadness that an entire cemetery was destroyed to make a parking lot, and the graves were handled so callously. Whatever you feel about the usefulness of cemeteries, they are still places of peace where we commemorate our dead, and they should be treated with respect and care.