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.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Red-Tailed Hawk in Residence

Yes, the cemetery has a red-tailed hawk in residence. Actually, I am told that there are two, a male and female. You couldn't prove it by me; I have only seen one hawk at any given time and could not begin to tell you that one is larger than the other. Although, again, I am told that the female is 1/3 larger than the male. Again, you couldn't prove that by me.

I have always had a fascination for hawks and red-tailed hawks in particular. I could sit and watch them as they soar high above in ever widening circles trying to catch an up-draft. They seemingly soar, effortless for hours when winds are favorable.

Red-tailed hawk - "Buteo jamaicensis". The Red-tailed Hawk ranges throughout North America to central Alaska and northern Canada, and south as far as the mountains of Panama. Although not truly migratory, they do adjust seasonally to areas of the most abundant prey . In winter many of the northern birds move south.

A red-tailed hawk weighs between 2-4 pounds and is between 17 and 22 inches in length with a wing span up to 56 inches. A red-tailed hawk reaches sexual maturity at 3 years of age. Mating season is early spring and the female lays from 1 to 3 eggs with an incubation period of 28-32 days.

The life span of a red-tailed hawk is from 10-21 years. Hawks are carnivores (meat eaters) and belong to the category of birds known as raptors. Their diet usually consists of small rodents and snakes. They are attracted to the cemetery because of the abundance of rabbits and squirrels. The eye sight of a red-tailed hawk is eight times as powerful as that of a human.

The Red-tailed Hawk is usually found in grasslands or marsh-shrub habitats, but is very adaptable bird, being equally at home in center city Allentown. It is not known where the red-tailed hawk or hawks that frequent the cemetery have their nest, but they are almost daily visitors to the cemetery, particularly when one of the volunteers are in the cemetery cutting grass. They wait in the trees for the riding mower to scare up a rabbit and then swoop down and invariably snag a meal. Gross? Perhaps, but it is the law of the land, the nature of things and we must accept them as such. Besides, we couldn't do anything about it, even if we wanted to. Isn't "Google" wonderful? You can find such interesting and informative information just by inputting words like "Red-Tailed Hawk".

I have observed, what I believe to be, a male hawk on a number of occasions in the cemetery. At times I was totally unaware of his presence in the trees that parallel my section of the cemetery until, much to my surprise, I inadvertently scared up a rabbit as I mowed the grass. The rabbit skittering out from between stones was enough to scare the life out of me, but then to have a red-tailed hawk swoop down across in front of me was a double shock. Only on a rare occasion has the red-tailed hawk failed to capture his prey.

On one occasion, a hawk flew into a dead tree and perched on a limb in full view as I cut grass along Liberty Street. As I worked my way, row by row from east to west toward twelfth Street, it sat patiently in the tree, just waiting and watching. Ultimately, I was cutting the rows directly underneath the limb upon which the hawk was perched. The only movement was the head as it observed my movements. It sat in that tree without moving for a full 45 minutes. When I finished that section and moved on to another section, it also moved to a tree closer to my new position. Smart? You bet! The hawk or hawks, as the case may be, position themselves in nearby trees when they hear the lawn mowers. They instinctively know that the lawn mower might scare up some small rodent if they are patient.

Unfortunately, I usually do not carry a camera with me when cutting grass and, as a result, miss numerous opportunities to photograph the red-tailed hawk(s) that inhabits our cemetery. Just this past Monday, September 18, I was cutting a section of cemetery when a hawk swooped down and perched on a nearby monument. It was not very far away from my position and it would have been a wonderful photograph. But I did not have a camera. I rapidly departed to go to my truck to get my camera, but alas, the hawk did not wait for my return.

Today, Tuesday, September 19, 2006, I had finished cutting grass and was driving through the cemetery intent on taking photographs of unusual tombstones for a future post, and as I looked up beyond the tombstone I was photographing, there it was, majestically sitting on the top of a stone not far away. It was if he or she realized that I had missed an opportunity and now it was being accommodating, allowing me to approach to get a decent shot of the red-tailed hawk that inhabits our cemetery.

Why did the hawk show up in that section of the cemetery where I had parked my truck? There was no one else in the cemetery. There were no lawn mowers with their incessant noise. What possessed the hawk to perch on a monument not too distant from where I stood, camera in hand. Did he feel bad that I had not gotten the shot a day earlier?

This stone is in Section E' of the cemetery and as you can see, the stone shows the name THUMM. Not long ago, another director/volunteer saw the hawk on a large stone with the surname 'HAWK', and while he is an amateur photographer, like myself, he did not have a camera with him and missed the shot of a lifetime.

I could be wrong, but it seems that the red-tailed hawk is trying to inform me that I might be getting a little too close for comfort and that unless I am looking to get some very sharp talons in my torso, I might want to back off.

This hawk is very secure, secure enough to turn his back on me. Granted, it does allow him to fly away from me (if he chooses) but he does not seem to be particularly alarmed. I like to think that he chose to turn so that I could get a good shot of his colorful red tail. But, alas, he tired of the game and probably thinking that he had posed sufficiently, he flew away.

Look close and you will see the hawk in full flight, tail feathers flared in bright red color. This photo session ended thus, but I bet there will be others to come. The story of the Red-Tailed Hawk that inhabits the Union and West End Cemetery is far from over.

The next post will include numerous photographs of the many varied tombstones in the Union and West End Cemetery. Most of us do not ordinarily think about cemeteries and we visit them rarely, if ever. But cemeteries, particularly those as old as the Union and West End Cemetery, are truly treasures of historical significance. The stones are truly works of art and they give us an impression of how people of a different era thought and reacted to death and dying. There are so many unusual and unique tombstones in the cemetery and it will require many, many photographs.

Although the cemetery is located in center city Allentown, surrounded by residential neighborhoods, it is a quite place; a place where one can find peace, quite and surprisingly, solitude. Yes, the peace and quite is sometimes interrupted by the shrill sounds of a siren, an ambulance, police patrol car or fire engine, but these sounds can break the solitude of any area at any given time. The cemetery is not unique in that sense. The Union and West End Cemetery is not a park, it is not a place for a picnic, or a family gathering, nor is it a place where the homeless should seek refuge. The cemetery, as is the case with all cemteries, is a sacred burial ground and must be treated as such by all that enter. A cemetery can be a place for quite contemplation, a place to visit with long dead ancestors and a place where one can look back in time and wonder and speculate about the lives of those that are buried there. What were they like? What did they do for a living? What were their hopes, wishes and dreams for the future? They lived in a different time, a time perhaps much harsher in many respects than our time, but also less complicated, less harrowed. Were their desires so much different than ours? Perhaps future post can explore their lives and times in more detail. Thanks for visiting the Union and West End blog and maybe, just maybe it will inspire you to visit the cemetery sometime.

Great site!

I can't wait to see the tombstone photos.

I have several relatives buried here, including Mayor Samuel McHose (I'm descended from his brother Isaac).

Keep up the good work!
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