Mikveh Israel Cemetery
Mikveh Israel Cemetery
as seen from Pennsylvania Hospital
|NRHP Reference #||71000061|
|Added to NRHP||June 24, 1971|
Mikveh Israel Cemetery is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the oldest in the United States is the first cemetery of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York). The site, less than 0.2 acres (810 m2) in size, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and administered by Independence National Historical Park (even though the expense of maintaining the cemetery is borne by sponsoring Congregation Mikveh Israel). It is located in the center city section of Philadelphia, on the north-east corner of Spruce St. and S. Darien St. (between 8th and 9th St.), about 1⁄4 mi west and 1⁄4 mi south of Independence Hall.
Mikveh Israel Cemetery was originally a private burial ground for the family of Nathan Levy, whose ship, Myrtilla was long reputed to have transported the Liberty Bell from England to Philadelphia in 1752 (though the Hibernia, captained by William Child, is more likely to have transported the bell). In 1738, one of Levy's children died. Rather than bury the child in unsanctified ground, he applied to John Penn (chief of Pennsylvania's proprietary government at that time) for "a small piece of ground" with permission to make it a family cemetery. This property was at the corner of 9th and Walnut Streets, the present site of the Walnut Street Theatre. Two years later, Nathan Levy secured a larger plot from the Penn family at the present location of Mikveh Israel Cemetery. This was meant to be a permanent burial ground for the entire Jewish community of Philadelphia. Levy was buried there upon his death in 1753.
The cemetery in 1740 was a 30' x 30' plot. In 1752, Nathan Levy received an additional grant of land north of the first plot. In 1765, John Penn granted Mathias Bush an adjacent piece of ground for burial purposes. By that time, the burial place was managed by the Sephardic synagogue Congregation Mikveh Israel (official name: קהל קדוש מקוה ישראל, Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel, or "Holy Congregation Hope of Israel"), founded in 1740 and still active in the 21st century.
Many distinguished Americans are buried in Mikveh Israel Cemetery. They include:
- Nathan Levy (1704–1753)
- Haym Solomon (1740–1785), Polish-born patriot and financier of the American Revolution, arrived in New York in 1772, joined the Sons of Liberty, one of George Washington's personal friends, captured and sentenced to death by the British in 1776, used his knowledge of German (he spoke eight languages) to convince his Hessian jailer to escape with him to Philadelphia, where he arrived penniless
- Michael Gratz (1740–1811), signed the Non-Importation Resolutions of 1765 to protest the Stamp Act, encouraged the opening of the West to settlement
- Jacob Gratz (1790–1856), son of Michael Gratz, served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and State Senate
- Rebecca Gratz (1781–1869), daughter of Michael Gratz, noted for her philanthropy, regarded as the model for the character Rebecca in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, and the first Jewish female college student in the United States (at Franklin College, later part of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
- Aaron Levy, founder of Aaronsburg, Centre County, Pennsylvania in 1786. Named for him, Aaronsburg is the first town in Pennsylvania (and probably in the entire United States) that was planned by and named after a Jew. A pioneer and fur trader, he was a close friend and financial supporter of Haym Salomon.
- Benjamin Nones (1757–1826), born in France, he served on the staffs of both General Washington and General Lafayette. While still a private under Count Pulaski, he received a letter of commendation in 1779 written by Captain Verdier, a splendid testimonial to his courage. He fought in almost every action in the Carolinas. Nones became a Major of the Hebrew Legion of 400 men attached to Johann de Kalb’s command. Several years after the war, he was appointed an interpreter of Spanish and French for the United States government.
- Phillip Moses Russell, surgeon’s mate to General Washington
- At least 21 Jewish soldiers of the Revolutionary War, and others from the War of 1812 and the Civil War, are interred in the burial grounds.
- Isaac Djerassi (1925–2011), member of the first graduating class of Hebrew University[which?] and oncologist from the Philadelphia area who advanced cancer therapy
The cemetery ceased to be a regular place of burial in 1886 except for the interment of Josephine Etting in 1913, Fanny Polano Elmaleh, wife of Reverend Leon H. Elmaleh, in 1966, and Reverend Leon H. Elmaleh in 1972.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
- "Liberty Bell Timeline". The Independence Hall Association. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
- Bulletin Almanac: 1976. Philadelphia: Bulletin Co., 1976. (p 292).
- Elmaleh, L.H., and J. Bunford Samuel. The Jewish Cemetery: Ninth and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia. (1906, revised 1962).
- "Gratz Family". The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia. 1941, Volume V.
- Wolf, Edwin, II, and Maxwell Whiteman. The History of the Jews of Philadelphia from Colonial Times to the Age of Jackson. (1957).
- Wolf, Edwin, II, and Maxwell Whiteman. Haym Salomon: The Patriotic Money Manipulator. Philadelphia Inquirer (1976).
- Mary M. Cohen, An Old Philadelphia Cemetery: The Resting Place of Rebecca Gratz, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Philadelphia, PA: City History Soc. of Philadelphia, 1920).
- Aerial photo - This aerial perspective photo barely shows tiny Mikveh Israel cemetery surrounded by taller buildings. The view looks eastward.
- Congregation Mikveh Israel's Web page about the cemetery
- Cemeteries of Congregation Shearith Israel