The United Cemeteries burial plot where CTR is interred has featured on this blog on several occasions in the past. Back in 2014, after visiting the area in person, I was able to write a series of articles covering the cemetery’s history, the history of the pyramid monument (including the infamous break-in) and also the history of the people whose names are inscribed on the pyramid’s sides. Also the claim by conspiracy theorists that CTR was a freemason because - shock, horror – there is now a Masonic temple on the site has also been discussed in detail in the past by both me and others.
However, since finding a couple more photographs hidden away on a hard drive, this article will go over some of this history briefly again. And it may be of interest to new readers who have not delved back into this blog’s own past.
Using the United States Investment Company, the Society purchased farming land formerly belonging to a Margaret Wible in 1904, with the intention of forming a cemetery company. It would be a commercial venture, but a percentage of the profits would go towards their religious work. There was already a cemetery adjacent owned by the Roman Catholic St Philomena Church, so the change of use was logical. Plat maps of the 1890s show a farm and land belonging to Margaret Wible, with the St Philomena Cemetery to the south.
When CTR wrote his last will and testament in 1907 he asked to be buried here. A special area of the cemetery came to be known as the Bethel plot, and was to be reserved for full time workers, either in Bethel or as pilgrims or colporteurs.
Our first picture was taken in early November 1916 and shows a view down the hill across the special “Bethel” cemetery area.
Two small grave markers can be seen on the grass. These are for Mary Jane Whitehouse and Arabella Mann, who were both interred in June 1916. Their graves mark the end of the special Bethel plot. The land in front, while still belong to the cemetery company, was not part of the Bethel plot. Looking further down the hill you can see a large house. This was the original farmhouse, now occupied by J Adam Bohnet, who was cemetery manager in 1916. He’d lived there for some years, and had earlier used the surrounding farmland to grow “miracle wheat.”
In front of the house on the right of the picture you can see some substantial grave stones clustered together. You will not find these today because this was apparently a collection of monumental masonry for purchase from the cemetery company.
So in 1916 CTR died and arrangements were made for his funeral. The next picture shows the grave being dug.
You can just see the head of someone in the bottom of the grave. The group of men include J Adam Bohnet on the far right. Bohnet’s distinctive bald head is covered over by a hat. The small graves stones for Mary Whitehouse and Arabella Mann are shielded in the picture by the group. Below them is the house along with the sample grave markers.
Our next picture takes us forward to very early in 1920. The pyramid monument has been erected in the center of the Bethel plot. This is covered in some detail in the New Era Enterprise newspaper for February 20, 1920, which reproduces this photograph.
This photograph, taken near dusk, appears to have been taken from the location of CTR’s grave. Looking down the hill, you can still see the two small grave markers for Whitehouse and Mann. It looks like the lights are on in the house.
However, the house no longer belonged to the Society. In December 1917 the whole cemetery, with the exception of the Bethel plot and a couple of other small areas, was sold off to what was now called the North Side Catholic Cemetery Association. J Adam Bohnet no longer lived in this house. After a short spell in Brooklyn he would spend the next decade as a Pilgrim loyal to the IBSA travelling across the country.
Once the pyramid monument was installed, no further names were inscribed on it. Apart from two further burials – Charles Beuhler in 1925 and Margaretta Russell Land (CTR’s sister) in 1934 – the site fell into disuse until the Society started selling off plots in the 1940s.
Our next picture dates from November 1991.
The site looks a little neglected, although that might just have been the time of year when the picture was taken. You can see CTR’s grave, the pyramid monument, and assorted grave markers both inside and outside of the Bethel plot. The two little grave markers for Whitehouse and Mann have now disappeared. So has the farm house. The land opposite is just scrubland, with just a few possible graves near the path.
In 1994 the Catholics (rebranded as the Catholic Cemeteries Association of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Inc.) sold off this waste ground to the Masons. The documents from October 1994 show they sold 42.40 acres of land to the Masonic Fund Society for the County of Allegheny for $610,000. The Masons then built their shiny new Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center there.
Our final picture (taken in 2014) shows CTR’s grave, the pyramid and the Masonic buildings in the distance.
It must be stressed to any who persist in linking a Masonic conference center with CTR’s grave that the land was sold to the Catholics in December 1917. The Catholics appear to have done nothing with it until selling it on in 1994. So there is absolutely no connection with CTR and the Society’s burial area. But when did facts ever get in the way of conspiracy theorists?
There are numerous pictures of the area showing it as found today. The one reproduced above is my own, but had to be cropped because I appear in the original. Being of a naturally shy and retiring nature I decided to edit it accordingly.