Get Lost: Homewood Cemetery
Taking a stroll through this gorgeous memorial is like wandering through a Pittsburgh history book.
Photos by Sean Collier
There are plenty of destination cities in the world where tourists flock to graveyards. In Paris, you can wander through Père Lachaise and find the graves of Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein. If you head to New Orleans, you can take a guided tour of the above-ground cemeteries in the 8th Ward. Los Angeles visitors make pilgrimages to the Hollywood Hills Cemetery to find the final resting places of Buster Keaton, Liberace and Bette Davis.
I’ve made trips like these myself, including a long visit to Père Lachaise that thoroughly infuriated my travel companions (they wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre for some reason). But cemeteries aren’t just for tourists and the dead. Until yesterday, I had never visited Pittsburgh’s own Homewood Cemetery in Point Breeze. I was missing out. It’s as remarkable as any graveyard I’ve ever seen — part memorial and part public park.
The Pittsburgh history that can be found there is staggering. I saw the Frick family plot, with a line of humble headstones — including that of Henry Clay himself — shadowed by a stark, massive marker. Oh, and the entire plot is surrounded by a large hedge; even in death, Henry Clay Frick doesn’t want you bothering him. (Too many sons of steelworkers wanting to dance on that particular grave, perhaps.)
The Heinz and Mellon family mausoleums, both ornate and beautiful, are nearby. Pie Traynor rests at the opposite end of the cemetery; Errol Garner’s grave isn’t far. Members of the Benedum, Bigelow and Wilkins families are interred here as well.
Even more striking than the mammoth, ornate memorials and tombs — some bigger than my house — is the size of the place itself. Homewood Cemetery is popular among walkers and joggers and for good reason; it seems to go on forever, winding calmly in all directions. The rolling, well-landscaped hills are their own attraction.
If you haven’t visited, tomorrow is an excellent opportunity. The cemetery is hosting its annual “Founders Day Celebration” outside near the main gate. In addition to a jazz trio, silent auction and food, an art show and sale will feature pieces made from trees that had to be removed from the grounds last year.
“Roaring Twenties” attire is encouraged, too — so if you dressed up to go see The Great Gatsby earlier this year, it’s time to dust off that flapper dress. Proceeds from the event benefit the Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund, which preserves the place and offers guided tours.
It’s a fine excuse to see the cemetery — but no excuse is needed, really. This is a true Pittsburgh treasure, one that many forget exists. We’re often reminded that Pittsburgh is rich in history, but Homewood Cemetery is one of the spots that makes that fact hit home. You can’t walk through the space without finding something remarkable.
(1599 S. Dallas Ave., Point Breeze; Saturday, 2-5 p.m.; thehomewoodcemetery.com)