Knowledge Vault

Sophomore Brianna Krejci investigates the cemeteries of historic Germantown.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

By Blake Cole

By the time spring semester had ended, Brianna Krejci had already decided what she was not going to do: spend the summer back home in Wisconsin. She turned instead to the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships in her search for a unique summer job that would have an impact on the Philadelphia community. She found it at the Historic Germantown Society.

“When the opportunity arose for me to work on creating plans for new cemetery tours, I just went with it,” says Krejci, whose point of contact, John Pollack of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, launched the internship. “It seemed like the perfect way to teach visitors about the people who lived during that time.”

Krejci’s research focused on multiple sites. Historic Fair Hill cemetery houses many notable abolitionists, including Robert Purvis and Lucretia Mott—also a pioneer of women’s rights. Other sites included the cemetery belonging to Germantown Mennonite Meetinghouse, North America’s first Mennonite church, formed in 1683; the cemetery of Concord School House, Germantown’s first English-language school; and Hood Cemetery, the resting place of many important Philadelphians and soldiers from across three wars.

Krejci says historic Germantown’s pivotal role in prominent movements and conflicts—it was the site of the Battle of Germantown during the American Revolutionary War, as well as home to an Underground Railroad station—created a fascinating tapestry of residents. Her research brought her full circle back to Penn’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, where she dug through records in order to learn more about the sites and those buried within.

At the Historic Fair Hill site, Krejci identified Edward Townsend, a Philadelphia dentist who went on to become the warden of Eastern State Penitentiary from 1870 to 1881, as well as two women listed in the Pennsylvania Veterans database from the Civil War. At Hood Cemetery, she identified Condy Raguet, founder of Philadelphia Savings Fund Society, the first savings bank to operate in the U.S.

“These were people not previously featured on tours,” says Krejci. “So this will be all new information.” And when it comes down to actually visiting the cemeteries, they might not be what you’d expect of centuries-old graveyards. “A lot of these are Quaker burial grounds,” says Krejci. “They are not run down but lush and green. It’s mostly grass—the headstones are only a few inches high.” 

In addition to planning the tours, Krejci also worked on summer activities for children and helped harness the power of social media to various historic sites, including a “This Week in History” feature tied to historical figures. Krejci says the tours shoud launch this fall, with more to follow in the spring. 

“We are trying to ensure historic Germantown remains relevant and draws the same people who are coming for the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall,” says Krejci. “To show them that these places out along Germantown Avenue are just as crucial to the telling of our country’s history.”