Peculiar Pittsburgh

Celebs, Frick’s postmortem paranoia, and more fascinating Pittsburgh history at Homewood Cemetery

Asked and answered: Why is it called “Homewood” if it’s not in Homewood? Who are the famous people buried there? And so much more.

Inside Homewood Cemetery

Inside Homewood Cemetery

The homewood cemetery Historical Fund / Facebook

Since its founding more than a century ago, the Homewood Cemetery has been a place for solace in times of grief. The park-like setting has also been an object of fascination for just as long.

As reader questions about the cemetery poured in for our Peculiar Pittsburgh series, we decided to host a walking tour at the site with the expert Jennie Benford, the cemetery’s director of programming, to answer some of your queries.

This weekend, about 20 Incline readers joined us for a tour. Here are five things we learned. Have questions of your own? Ask us.

Stopping to learn in front of the Wilkins monument.

Stopping to learn in front of the Wilkins monument.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Why is it called Homewood if it’s not in Homewood?

The land was originally part of Judge William Wilkins’ estate called “Homewood.” Wilkins built a Georgian mansion on the grounds, which were then bucolic forest land.

The Homewood Cemetery was founded in 1878 to provide a cemetery for residents of Pittsburgh’s East End. By this time, the Wilkins estate was up for sale and the Cemetery Association purchased 178 acres of it.

The name “Homewood Cemetery” is a nod to the Wilkins estate and not the neighborhood, which Wilkins himself founded in 1832.

Find the Homewood Cemetery at 1599 South Dallas Ave. in Point Breeze on the Squirrel Hill border.

Jennie Benford explains Homewood Cemetery history.

Jennie Benford explains Homewood Cemetery history.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

What makes Homewood Cemetery special?

Homewood Cemetery opened as part of America’s rural cemetery movement. The land was originally an oak forest, which was cleared to add nine miles of road and to make space for headstones.

It’s called a “lawn park cemetery,” designed so that “wherever you stand, you can see into the distance,” Benford explained.

Back then, the idea was to buy one family marker with matching headstones beneath. A 1905 book recommended, “Buy as large a lot as you can possibly afford,” Benford said, adding “you don’t want your neighbors crowding you.”

Mausoleums cover a variety of styles, from Victorian to Art Deco to Egyptian. Crosses, sculptures, and angels were seen as tacky in that era, and families preferred headstones with more restraint, Benford said. Epitaphs are rare here, too, as people thought “your name should speak for you.” Marble headstones were also discouraged because, as it turned out, they were often rendered illegible by Pittsburgh’s industrial pollution.

Over the decades, Homewood Cemetery stayed true to its rural roots, as even today deer and groundhogs relax in the grass and people stroll and bike the trails.

Who are the famous residents of Homewood Cemetery?

There are a lot. The Mellons, Fricks, Heinzes, Benedums, Teenie Harris, Erroll Garner, Mac Miller, Chuck Cooper and Pie Traynor, to name a few.

Touring Homewood Cemetery on a spring afternoon.

Touring Homewood Cemetery on a spring afternoon.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Are there Muslim and Chinese sections at the cemetery?

Yes to both, and there’s also a Jewish section called the Star of David section, an Orthodox Jewish section, and a Hindu section.

The Chinese section was recently restored. When many people were buried there, the burials were intended to be temporary until the remains could be sent back to China. But many of those burials ended up being permanent because, as Benford explained, “either there was no money to make that last trip back or there was no family to oversee it.”

It is believed to be the earliest example of a Chinese cemetery in the eastern United States, Benford added.

Is Henry Clay Frick buried in Homewood Cemetery behind a brass fence?

Let’s debunk this myth once and for all: Henry Clay Frick *is* buried at Homewood Cemetery, but there’s no brass fence — only a hedge. His vault is buried under a layer of concrete, per his wishes.

“When Frick died in 1919, he specifically requested that the vault that his casket was put in be covered with cement because he was worried that people were going to abuse his remains,” Benford said. “Both he and his wife have that setup.”

Benford said this may have contributed to or reinforced stories about Frick’s gravesite being fenced off from the public.

It’s worth noting that the cemetery doesn’t allow fences or hedges, for that matter. But the Fricks managed to get around the restriction, likely with help from a well-placed ally.

“Apparently, one of the Frick relatives was on our board when it was placed,” Benford added of the hedge surrounding the Frick plot. “And the quote was, ‘What cousin Helen wants, cousin Helen gets.'”

What else do you want to know about Homewood Cemetery — or about Pittsburgh in general? Ask us your questions about Pittsburgh and our region: