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Caskets, human remains unearthed at Philly elementary school playground

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The playground of an elementary school in North Philadelphia was built on the grounds of a former cemetery. The unusual aspect of this news is that Philadelphia City Water Department workers dug up graves and skulls while excavating the playground. NBC 10 reports that at least one grave unearthed was that of a child.

City water department workers were at the school, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, as part of a revitalization project. The discovery occurred shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday, 5 December.

The school, William Dicks Elementary School, is located at 2498 West Diamond Street. Both NBC10 and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported the cemetery as being the former Odd Fellows Cemetery. A 1953 topo map on HistoricalAerials.com confirms the site as an IOOF Cemetery. IOOF is the standard abbreviation for the International Order of Odd Fellows. The cemetery is not identified on the earlier topo maps.

The Odd Fellows Cemetery, according to Find A Grave, was established there on 24 March 1849. In 1951 the City’s Housing Authority acquired the property to build the Raymond Rosen Housing Development. The graves were supposed to have been moved to various other cemeteries owned also by the Odd Fellows Cemetery Company.

Philadelphia Police are securing the scene until the Historical Society examines the scene, according to NBC10.

The cemetery is also featured in Thomas H Keels book, “Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries.” He states that soldiers from Mower Hospital in Chestnut Hill and the McClellan Hospital in Nicetown were buried here during the Civil War. Author George Lippard was also buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in 1854. Lippard is also credited with founding one of the first labor unions in America.

The United American Mechanics Cemetery neighbored the Odd Fellows Cemetery.

According to Keels, the Raymond Rosen Housing Development was finally erected after several delays due to “bodies left there.” The housing complex was demolished in 1999, at which time, Keels writes, more remains were found.

A Genealogical Note:

Find A Grave does list 2,054 internments although few obviously have photos.

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