Views from St. Michael’s Cemetery


Walker Evans - Bethlehem Graveyard and Steel Mill. Pennsylvania
Evans, Walker, Bethlehem Graveyard and Steel Mill. Pennsylvania (Saint Michael’s Cemetery) 1935 (1982 LCR), Gelatin silver print from nitrate negative

Did you know that Lehigh University is only blocks away from the site where acclaimed photographer Walker Evans took the iconic photograph, “Bethlehem Graveyard and Steel Mill. Pennsylvania” in 1935? A few blocks east of Lehigh’s campus sits St. Michael’s Cemetery. Here, Evans framed a large, stone cross with the industrial steel stacks of Bethlehem Steel and neighboring houses in a photograph that was part of a project for the Resettlement Administration.

The government’s Resettlement Administration hired Evans to photograph images that exemplified the successes of the recovery efforts in rural America during the Depression as well as Roosevelt’s Administration’s ascent to power. At this time Evans was very well-known for his talent, and so during him employment the administration lent him artistic leniency and independence. For Evans the job guaranteed both his financial stability during the Depression and the support he needed to indulge in his artistic endeavors.

A visit to St. Michael’s Cemetery will reveal astounding views of Bethlehem – its Southside, Northside and Steel Mill. It is easy to see why Evans would choose such a location for documenting Bethlehem’s industry and lifestyle. Since his visit, the cemetery has seen good days and bad days. As Bethlehem Steel steadily declined, so did the state of the cemetery. Around 30 years ago the community recognized the cemetery as an important landmark and created “Friends of Saint Michael’s Cemetery, Bethlehem, PA”, a group of volunteers who dedicate time to its upkeep.


Older couple sitting on bench in St. Micheal's Cementery
True, Shirley, Robert Frank and June Leaf, 2013/2014, Digital print (Taken in St. Micheal’s Cemetery)

Today, photographers from around the world visit St. Michael’s Cemetery. Some even attempt to replicate Evans’ famous photograph of the cross, but one important element remains missing – the stone cross.  Much mystery shrouds its location, and no one has been able to locate it for many years.  There are conflicting theories as to where it may be today. There is hope that one day this missing piece of history will be discovered, and we will be that much closer to recreating and better understanding Evans’ perspective from many years ago.

Both photographs are included in LUAG’s exhibition Revisiting South Bethlehem, Dubois Gallery in Maginnes Hall, 9 W. Packer Avenue, Bethlehem, PA 18015 located on Lehigh University’s Asa Packer Campus. Gallery hours are: Mon-Fri, 9 a.m.-10p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-noon. 

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