Union and West End Cemetery

The Union and West End Cemetery is located in center city Allentown. The main entrance is on 10th Street at 10th and Chew Streets. The cemetery is mantained by a dedicated group of volunteers. Ten board members (also volunteers) serve the cemetery association and manage the finances, make application for grants, solicit donations and participate in the maintenance of the cemetery.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


"City of the Silent"

Allentown's Union & West End Cemetery is in the heart of the Old Allentown Preservation District. The cemetery consists of 19.6 acres. The cemetery is actually two adjacent 19th Century burial grounds. Union Cemetery opened in 1854 and the West End in 1874. They united as a single. non-profit cemetery organization on May 4, 1895, yet they retain distinct designs. Design differences are immediately visible, reflecting pre and post-Civil War concepts of death and eternity. Union is open, unadorned. It's 12,000 graves face east in straight rows, towards the dawn of Judgement Day. West End, designed as a Victorian Mourning Park, centers on a great circle once lined by benches. Despite the ravages of time, it is an excellent example of a 19th Century Victorian Mourning Park. Its tree-tree lined avenues are tranquil open space in the midst of a vibrant, multi-cultural Center City neighborhood. This "City of the Silent" is a refuge for urban wildlife and local residents and visitors come to walk, located ancestors, and study the past.

The Union and West End Cemetery is the final resting place of over 700 Civil War veterans as well as five Revolutionary War Soldiers, famous politicians, academics, and clergymen. Those buried in the cemetery include Medal of Honor recipient, Ignatz Gresser, a simple shoe maker that distinguished himself in battle; a United States Congressman; the first Allentown Mayor, Samuel MacHose; colorful Allentown mayors, Edward Young and Fred Lewis; the first Dean of Muhlenberg College, Henry Leh, Sr. (father of the Leh mercantile dynasty) and many other famous Victorian figures. A web site listing many of the Civil War veterans can be found here: Civil War Veterans

The cemetery's unique Pennsylvania German monuments reflect early 19th Century ideas of life, death, and eternity, engraved in early German script. The stones depict the lives of many famous and humble early Allentonians. The tombstone of a druggist bears his old-fashioned mortar and pestle; another is carved in the exact likeness of a departed couple's beloved residence.

Statues of angels with upraised arms lift heavenward a recently departed soul. Other angels, with their arms around a child, guide the child to heaven. Broken columns and severed tree trunks represent a life cut short. Small lambs and empty cradles mark the graves of children. An open book represented the book of life and the life that had been lived. A small number of graves bore highly polished brown marble balls, resting on bases. The use of a ball, a circle with no beginning and no end, represented the never-ending cycle of life. Tragically, several of the balls were stolen in recent decades. Likewise, many statues in the cemetery are headless, obviously the work of dastardly pranksters or vandals. Other graves bear fraternal symbols, such as Masonic and Odd Fellows, and military inscriptions. Some 'stones' are a dull grey color, and produce a hollow sound if tapped. They are made of stainless steel and are hollow.

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