As a child in the early 1960s my classmates and I gathered every Saturday afternoon after Greek language school in the courtyard of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral to play our favorite game, hide-and-seek. We yearned to locate the best hiding spots and there were plenty to choose from provided by an implicit agreement that no one would venture into the cathedral’s basement. We heard it was dark and cavernous, with loose clay bricks strewn about, like minefields, fortifying its ominous sole inhabitant, some dead guy named John Haviland.
Architect John Haviland was born December 15, 1792 in Gudenham, England and died in Philadelphia on March 28, 1852. We were convinced that his corpse sat in waiting, ready to stretch out his hand and grab a leg if we walked past his imaginary coffin. Who was he, why is he buried here, and why would Greeks allow a non-Greek to be buried beneath the church? Those who mustered the strength to ask received the same icy response: “Did you go into the basement?” injecting us with a needle filled with fear.
About 50 years would pass before I learned about John Haviland’s life, work, death, and final resting place. My research began as part of an ongoing project documenting Greek immigrants to Philadelphia at the turn of the 19th century. I set out to learn all that could be learned about St. George’s, originally consecrated as St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church—Haviland’s ecclesiastical gift to Philadelphia. It eventually became a monument to himself.
When I began my research I went to St. George’s and descended into the crypt in the church’s catacombs, but John Haviland was long gone. Yet, his presence envelops the city. Look hard enough and you may find him designing an addition onto the Old City Hall at 5th and Chestnut Streets or see him in deep contemplation inside the sanctuary at St. George’s. Listen hard enough and you may hear him shouting from the rooftop of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb (1825), now part of the University of the Arts at the northwest corner of Broad and Pine. He could be picnicking with friends at the Chinese Pagoda and Labyrinthine Garden (1828) at 24th and Fairmount devouring fresh Chincoteague oysters, or at his office at 26 North 5th Street hunched over his draughting table sketching with his favorite wooden sleeve surrounded by his vast collection of books by Vitruvius, Alberti, Palladio, and Gibbs with the latest engineering and science treatises stacked on his other desk ready to be devoured. In Philadelphia, John Haviland is everywhere.
Yet, no one could tell me where Haviland’s body had gone. His inexplicable removal from the basement of St. George’s gnawed at me. Thousands of research hours sitting in dusty, and dimly lighted, archives scrutinizing 18th century deeds, 19th century maps, a sesquicentennial’s worth of hand-written notes, 20th century publications, and 21st century aerial photos began to consume my scant free time.
The Journey Begins
I keystroked one letter at a time: J-O-H-N <space> H-A-V-I-L-A-N-D. Up popped links to Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia Architects and Buildings, and web pages filled with countless links. The common denominators were identical: he was born in England on or about 1792, travelled to Russia as a young man for employment, where he met John Quincy Adams (United States Minister to Russia from 1797 to 1801) who persuaded him to move to Philadelphia to further his career. Haviland arrived in 1816, after the War of 1812 ended. His satchel carried letters of introduction to President James Monroe authored by Adams and prominent military and government officials. The architect went immediately to work writing on the first of a three-volume book, in 1818. He married Mary Wright Sonntag Von Sonnerberg in 1819 and raised a family at 196 Spruce Street within the old Pine Ward.
Haviland went on to design the first Franklin Institute, now the Atwater Kent Museum, at 15 S. 7th Street. He built the Philadelphia Arcade at 615-19 Chestnut Street, the country’s first enclosed shopping mall. (The mall didn’t last long and was demolished in 1860.) He was a prolific architect and competed with his contemporaries by designing buildings outside of the proverbial box. The Egyptian revival Pennsylvania Fire Insurance building at 508 Walnut Street got people talking. He brought the arts to life with the Walnut Street Theater. Then his work crossed Philadelphia’s boundaries. Commissions poured in from New Jersey, New York, Arkansas, Missouri, Rhode Island, and Virginia. With a penchant for prisons, he eventually earned the nickname, “Jailor to the World.” He became a celebrity among prison reformers and is considered the father of the world’s first true penitentiary with his design of Philadelphia’s notorious Eastern State Penitentiary.
But my online research, while informative, yielded nothing regarding his final place of rest. Each site repeated the same general information. St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral) was identified as the site of his final resting place. Some said he was laid in a crypt there, while others claimed he was placed in a vault of his design. All were sort of correct, but mostly wrong.
At the Athenaeum of Philadelphia at 219 S. 6th Street I was assigned a desk where pre-selected stacks of books, articles and treatises awaited. One typewritten report by James M. Dickey, F.A.I.A. in 1983 identified architectural and historical elements remaining from the original St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church at St. George’s. Dickey’s evaluation revealed four potential clues. One: his body lies in the crypt, under the nave, or at least was there for many years, and the stone marker is still there. Two: there is no further mention of Haviland in the vestry minutes, and no discussion of his internment in the basement of the church in 1852. Three: Haviland was buried in the basement at his death in 1852, and, although it is said that his body was moved to the new St. Andrew’s Collegiate Chapel in West Philadelphia, his marker remains in St. George’s crypt. Four: Dickey frequently referred to Mathew Eli Baigell, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. candidate, and his 1965 dissertation, which would come in handy.
Dickey suggested that Haviland was buried in a crypt in the basement of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in 1852. However, he did not identify the source for Haviland’s burial or provide evidence that Haviland was moved to St. Andrew’s Chapel. And Dickey’s reference to the stone marker was not a revelation. It is the identical stone marker previously described as the marquee that once hung on the western wall of the church; before it was removed and stored in the basement on or about 1976. Why would St. George’s members create a new sign acknowledging that Haviland was buried in their church? This one frustrating issue continued to nag me.
It was time to regroup, recalculate, and rethink. Except for the stone marker, there was no corroborating evidence that Haviland was buried under St. George’s or was moved to St. Andrew’s Chapel in Spruce Hill. In hindsight, I now see that Dickey and I missed the obvious.
Back to the Keyboard
I got creative with my key searches and found a link to the website of Haviland Genealogical Organization. I sent the webmaster an email inquiring if they had any information on the architect and the Haviland Cemetery in Harrison, New York that lists two burial sites for a John Haviland.
I received a reply from Chris Haviland, 12th cousin to John Haviland’s third great grand-nephew, descended from the architect’s father, James Haviland, and mother, Anne Cobley.
Chris wrote: “Nicholas: The Haviland Cemetery is definitely the wrong place, as that’s in Harrison, N.Y. and is with reference to a completely different line of Havilands descended from a different immigrant, though they are distant cousins. My records did show St. Andrew’s Church in Philadelphia, so it sounds like your research is confirming that is an outdated reference. So now I’m also interested in where his remains ended up.”
I returned to Philadelphia from my home in Virginia and retrieved a copy of Baigell’s 1965 dissertation from the Fisher Fine Arts Library at Penn. Buried deep in his dissertation was a new lead:
“He was buried in the crypt of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, a church he designed in 1822 and of which he was a member. When the building was sold to a Greek Orthodox congregation in 1921, Haviland’s remains were among those exhumed and reburied in the courtyard of the Divinity School of the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A plaque in the courtyard lists his name, as well as those of others, whose remains were reinterred there.”
My next stop was the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Quavering with anticipation, I completed a call slip request. They brought me a small, palm-sized, brown hard cover book titled, Plan of St. Andrew’s Church / design’d and etch’d by John Haviland, architect, Philada. Charter & ByLaws of the Rector, Church Wardens & Vestrymen of St. Andrew’s Church in the City of Philadelphia. Tucked in the middle were Haviland’s plans, which folded out fourfold, the crease marks original. Haviland’s 1822 schematics provided for an outdoor cemetery and underground vaults. Unbelievable. All this time I and everyone else mistakenly believed that the architect was laid to rest in a crypt all alone.
I walked back to St. George’s with a copy of the plans. The burying grounds were east of the original structure, the current site of the church’s community hall, bordering on Darien Street and adjacent to where we played as kids. The vaults were under the building and bifurcated, one on the north side and the other on the south side. Once again, I descended those covered steps into the basement determined to find something, anything.
The basement is divided into three sections, well-lit, and with ample head room to walk about. In his report Dickey barely discussed the basement except to gripe about two bricked arcades that run longitudinally under the balcony columns which could potentially restrict air circulation beneath them. Had Dickey walked the length of the basement he would have discovered a hidden underground corridor that tunneled underneath a sidewalk leading to another set of steps that ascended into the annex’s conference room. The passageway appeared to be original to the church’s construction in 1822.
Why was there an underpass between the church and the annex when one could easily walk between the buildings outside? Could this tunnel be part of the vaults, and, if there was one tunnel, could there be more? I found other newly-constructed walls that, I believe, sealed other corridors and burial vaults. Were there bones behind those sealed walls? Was it possible that Haviland was never moved to West Philadelphia? These questions haunted me as I remained focused on finishing the puzzle and solving the ultimate question: Where on earth is John Haviland?
The University of Pennsylvania bought the Philadelphia Divinity School at 42nd and Locust subsequent to the PDS 1977 merger with the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Penn’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation issued a 100-plus page report in 2010 suggesting preservation plans for St. Andrew’s Chapel, yet it never mentioned Haviland. This report followed another Penn publication, Building America’s First University: An Historical and Architectural Guide to the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Press, 2000), by George E. Thomas and David B. Brownlee. When I can across the following passage I was ecstatic: “…the grave of John Haviland, Philadelphia’s great Greek Revivalist, lies south of the chapel, having been transported from the yard of the original Episcopal Church Haviland had designed on South Eight Street.” Eureka! The mystery was solved.
But Thomas and Brownlee were wrong. St. Andrew’s Chapel only extends to the sidewalk along Spruce Street, which is the southern boundary of the former divinity school. It is geographically impossible for the grave to lie south of the chapel. The researchers did not consider that Haviland may have been buried directly below St. Andrew’s Chapel. Or was Haviland transported to yet another new home leaving the grave markers behind?
I arranged to inspect the six boxes housing records from St. Andrew’s Church & PDS housed at the Episcopal Divinity School’s Sherrill Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They contained a hodgepodge of papers including records for the Governance of the Church, financial records, pew records, election records, miscellaneous records, and my favorite, the “unrelated records.” It appeared to be a wasted trip until I discovered a single page, type-written memo dated July 17, 1976 from John E. Lamb to David (no surname) buried in box five. Mr. Lamb (now deceased) wrote a short paper documenting St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church transition into a Greek Orthodox church during his sabbatical at the University of Pennsylvania.
“…there was a graveyard at St. Andrew’s and when the church was sold and the money given to PDS and the remains were placed in a crypt under the collegiate chapel at 42nd & Spruce in Philadelphia. They were disinterred from that crypt in the summer of 1974 when PDS and EDS merged with the idea that they would be placed in the graveyard of a church at which a recent graduate, John Woodcock, served, but the last I heard, a few months ago, the boxes of bones were still in the ambulatory of the chapel giving a start to whoever lifts up their lids and peaks inside…”
Buried in box six was a short, undated news article that read: “BODY PRESERVED 100 YEARS—Dug up in Old St. Andrew’s Church yard at 8th and Pine Streets. 1/120 bodies removed to Philadelphia Divinity School. Body easily identified-casket airtight.”
The article’s source was the Reverend Agapios Golamis of St. George’s, who served at the cathedral from 1937 to 1939 and spoke little English. Both the Lamb memo and the undated news article confirmed the corpse’s whereabouts. John Haviland was buried in West Philadelphia, but where?
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, now St. George’s, was sold to the Greek Community in 1921. The sale’s proceeds were earmarked to build a new seminary chapel on a portion of the West Philadelphia property gifted by the Divinity School. That portion of the land rests in the southwest corner of 42nd and Locust, the site of an old mansion that no longer exists.
I decided to visit the grounds after a phone call to the University of Pennsylvania went unreturned. I scrambled up the steps of St. Andrew’s Chapel hoping to find the door unlocked. It wasn’t. I walked along the landing to the western part of the chapel and found a gravestone near the west wall of the deanery bearing the name and date of a woman who died in 1894. The grave was not far from an old rusted door locked with crisscrossed metal chains, held together by a huge padlock. I continued to explore. Running along the east side of the property at 42nd Street was a retaining wall made of rough, grayish stone akin to Wissahickon schist. Near the southeast corner of the property at 42nd and Spruce the retaining wall was cut out for a stairway, which connected to a path. Further north, about two-thirds of the way to the corner of 42nd and Locust, there’s another doorway-like opening framed on its top and sides in finished stone with no inscriptions, which was sealed with blocks of brownstone, a stone very different from the rest of the wall. Westward from the framing going into the earth there is a short stretch of exposed brickwork. It’s probable that this could be a sealed entry to an enclosed vault.
Advice from the Inbox
My search for Haviland began circulating among locals. Unsolicited emails arrived in my inbox, each one providing evidence that he was buried at PDS. One unidentified University of Pennsylvania professor said that he recalled walking through the PDS campus sometime in the 1970s or the 1980s and seeing Haviland’s gravestone. He claimed it was right next to a walkway and that he had stood on it. Another email said that they knew someone who remembered seeing gravestones in the early 1980s and that they were located in a narrow east-west oriented space between buildings towards the center of the site. Each had similar, yet conflicting information. Another recalled in the mid-1970s seeing a marble slab on the ground at the northwestern end of St. Andrew’s Chapel. The source speculated that Haviland was likely buried in a crypt below the chapel, identified as a mortuary chapel on the original drawings. They said entry to the crypt from outside of the chapel was through a set of padlocked doors located below the landing of the front staircase. Adjacent to the landing was a grave from the 1890’s. They claimed that the gate and wall appeared to predate the divinity school by several decades. This information was critical as it confirmed my suspicion that the locked doors beneath the front steps of the chapel would serve as the entryway into the mortuary chapel and aligned with the chapel’s architectural plans. I was finally inching closer to Haviland.
I put in a request to Penn for access to the mortuary chapel and the immediate grounds. The school referred me to David Cooper Cornelius, a New York architect and Haviland expert who agreed to help secure permission to inspect the crypt. The process was laborious and included negotiations with the university, their tenant, and their insurance carrier. Alas, in the end I was shut out and no access was granted.
I began an exhaustive review of all the evidence to determine if something, anything, was overlooked. I went back to the 1976 Lamb memo and found that John (with no surname) was actually Reverend John Woodcock who had not been located or interviewed. I found Reverend Woodcock at his parish of 40 years, the Church of the Loving Shepherd, in West Chester. He said that he had agreed to move the bones to his church in West Chester when Philadelphia Divinity School and Episcopal Divinity School merged in 1974. He approached Westown Township that same year about the proposed relocation to his church, which required the parish to post a $100,000 cash surety bond to ensure the reinterment would be protected in perpetuity since his parish did not have a pre-existing cemetery. He subsequently approached Ed Harris, dean of PDS, and expressed concerns that the bones would be left behind should the real estate be sold. Dean Harris said that PDS had initiated discussions with an Episcopal church outside of Philadelphia in the hopes of relocating the bones there.
Reverend Woodcock recounted hearing, but never observing, three metal vaults containing 70 to 100 bodies at PDS at the time of the 1974 merger. His numerical testimony corroborated the number of bodies (120+) dug up and reported in the undated newspaper article.
Reverend Woodcock recalled the existence of a walk-in safe, approximately 10′ x 10′ hidden behind a secret panel to one side of the sanctuary. The room previously served as a storage facility for the Pennsylvania Episcopal Diocese and contained work stations. It was frequented by Bill Manross, fondly known as “The Mole” as he spent an exorbitant amount of time buried in this room reviewing historical records. Reverend Woodcock frequently visited Mandross and recalled seeing legal paperwork that served as written permission from families of the deceased linked to the bones’ original transfer from St. Andrew’s on 8th Street to PDS. Reverend Woodcock confirmed the existence of the mortuary chapel and recalled seeing a list of markers on an indoor wall. Upon entry through the doorway, he described how one could ascend a set of steps, pass by a small pile of stones, and enter into the underground chapel. There was a marker commemorating individuals, although he was not sure if those were names of the deceased or benefactors. His information was critical to confirming details, but without access to the crypt my goose chase continued.
Agitated in the Archives
The Pennsylvania Episcopal Diocese Archives are located in the basement of a building on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Chestnut Hill. The current archivist, Peter Moak, is a recent graduate of Drexel School of Law. When we sat down to discuss my project he said that the problem was that some of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church’s records were merged into the PDS records and subsequently merged into the EDS records. Some were also moved to EDS in Cambridge as part of the merger. Other parts were delivered to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and then HSP returned some, but not all, to the Episcopal Diocese archives. Some files may even have become part of the Greek Orthodox archives in New York. Finally, some records’ whereabouts, years critical to my research, were entirely unknown. St. Andrew’s records were never centralized when the building was sold to the Greek Orthodox Church. My worst fears were slowly sinking in.
Moak brought me ledgers, books, and boxes to inspect. Four hours later I made a glorious breakthrough in my exhausting investigation. Vestry members of the defunct seminary chapel met on May 30, 1974 and passed a resolution to arrange for the removal of the remains interred or kept beneath St. Andrew’s Chapel and to reinter the remains at Reverend Woodcock’s parish in West Chester, PA. The Trustees met again on September 25, 1975 at the Crystal Tea Room of Wanamaker’s department store where they enjoyed a convivial lunch while discussing the pesky ‘bones matter.’ The situation was problematic as it would halt any sale of PDS if the bodies were not relocated. The Trustees eventually found a third home to care for the remains in perpetuity. Within 18 months of their luncheon the infamous, well-traveled corpse of John Haviland, accompanied by his wife, three children, and approximately 200 fellow deceased St. Andrew’s Church congregants were moved to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Exton, Pennsylvania. There, a plaque is adhered to the base of a granite slab with special screws to prevent theft. The surname, Haviland, is etched into the plaque with 31 other surnames. A resolution to leave the grave markers at PDS was passed unanimously thereby transfiguring grave markers into cenotaphs.
If You Seek His Monument, Look Around
John Haviland died of apoplexy. His body was sealed into Vault #10 with clay bricks on April Fool’s Day, 1852 beneath St. Andrew’s Church. He joined his daughter, Mary, who died of congested lungs and his youngest son, James, who died of an accident one month short of his 14th birthday. The siblings were initially buried on the grounds of the cemetery, but later dug up and moved into Vault #10 after its purchase in 1838 by Haviland’s wife. Soon to follow was the architect’s wife, Mary Wright Sonntag Von Sonnerberg. She died in Burlington, New Jersey, ten years after her husband and was transported to Vault #10. Another son, Edward, entered Vault #10 in 1872 after being accidentally shot to death in a rifle gallery. John Haviland remained under St. Andrew’s Church for 85 years until he with his fellow-deceased moved to the former Philadelphia Divinity School in 1937. He remained in a metal box, commingled with other relics for nearly 40 years in the mortuary chapel of St. Andrew’s Chapel. Haviland was transported by the former Eugene Mauger Funeral Home to the new resting place at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on August 12, 1976. Upon arrival, the remains were lowered into the earth during a 5PM graveside service attended by a handful of invited guests.
The epitaph of architect Sir Christopher Wren at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London reads, “Si Monumentum Requirem, Circumspic,” (if you seek his monument, look around), aptly describes my search for Haviland for different reasons. Common sense dictates that one should first locate a grave marker because the deceased is likely to be within close proximity. However, common sense does not apply to a dead man with three markers. The first remains to this day in the basement of St. George’s Orthodox Cathedral, yet Haviland is not there. His second stone marker remains at St. Andrew’s Collegiate Chapel, but he is not there. The third marker is located in Exton, but is he truly there? The gravestone at St. Paul’s lists 32 names, including Haviland, but there may also be 200+ others in the same grave. No one seems to know with certainty.
It is entirely plausible that Haviland never left the old divinity school in West Philadelphia and remains crammed into a metal box inadvertently left behind in the chapel’s ambulatory section. It’s equally feasible that he is resting behind those locked doors in the mortuary chapel. It’s tenable that he was secreted into that small room behind the hidden panel to one side of the sanctuary. And maybe, just maybe, Haviland never departed St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in 1937 and resides underneath on Spruce Street concealed behind those sealed walls.
The Latin maxim does not apply to Haviland’s body. Rather, it is apropos to his spirit manifested through his architectural monuments that beam down in perpetuity onto Philadelphians every day. In the end, the mystery had already been solved. For me, it was merely revealed.
About the author
Nicholas A. Pappas was born and raised in Philadelphia before moving to Virginia where he is an attorney and serves as a deacon under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of N.J. His current projects include screenwriting the pending documentary, "The First Black Greek Priest in America" and authoring the book, "Haviland's Philadelphia: Friends, Foes & Family." He may be reached at Nick@LawPappas.com.
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