More than 60 people turned out Wednesday evening to visit the graves of about 20 Philadelphians - including military heroes, mayors, governors, business leaders, and signers of the Declaration of Independence.
"What's fascinating about Laurel Hill is that there are so many ways we can tell stories and understand history," said Hoskins, also president and CEO of West Laurel Hill Cemetery.
"This is just another way of illustrating the large number of leaders and founders of Philadelphia institutions who are here," he said. "With these names are countless stories."
About 40 people buried at Laurel Hill have streets or institutions named after them, along with at least 15 others at West Laurel Hill, Hoskins said. Wednesday's tour - costing $20 a person - is one of many programs intended to generate public financial support for the national historic landmark.
The cemetery will also host a Sept. 8 program of funerary music as part of the 16th annual Philly Fringe Festival, a Sept. 16 tour of graves of Philadelphians who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and a Sept. 22 visit to the interiors of magnificent mausoleums. It has also had programs focused on the Titanic and paranormal investigations.
On Wednesday, though, visitors came to learn the origins of names on Philadelphia street signs - and see the final resting places of those whose names appear on them. Hoskins held a similar tour last August.
"I had a book on street names and started correlating them with those in the cemetery," said Hoskins, a former director of the Fairmount Park Commission and former president and CEO of the Philadelphia Zoo. "I used that to start a tour."
One of the stops was the grave of Joseph Wharton, who founded the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1881 and cofounded Bethlehem Steel Corp.
He's one of 70 Whartons at Laurel Hill and a descendant of Thomas Wharton Jr., a businessman active during the Revolution and first Pennsylvania governor under the new state constitution. Wharton Street, probably named for Thomas, is in South Philadelphia.
"The people who come on these tours are interested in history," Hoskins said. "They love Philadelphia and they love cemeteries."
That was true of Bob Fogarty, 61, a teacher and Springfield, Delaware County, resident who came "to get a better sense of the city's geography and history."
"Many people see names on street signs and don't know the streets are named after people important to Philadelphia," said Fogarty, who has taught theology and history at Waldron Mercy Academy.
"I look at the streets and wonder, who could that person be?" said Fogarty's wife, Ann, 56.
The tour members also walked to the grave of Thomas Morris, who has streets named after him in Germantown and South Philadelphia. Morris became Pennsylvania's fourth governor, in 1828, and served as manager of Pennsylvania Hospital and a member of City Council.
Philadelphia's "original street names came from William Penn, but many of them were changed after 1854, when there was a consolidation of what became one city," Hoskins said. "Many street names had been duplicated, so there was a lot of renaming."
One hundred and fifty-eight members of the Morris family are buried at Laurel Hill, and others are at West Laurel Hill. Among the family notables is Anthony Morris, who founded one of Pennsylvania's leading breweries in the nation's early years.
"I thought this tour would be educational," said Joanne Smith, 67, of Glenside. "You know how some of the streets were named. but don't know how all of them got their names."
Tour participants also visited the grave of George Gordon Meade overlooking the Schuylkill. Meade, who has a street named after him in Chestnut Hill, was a hero of the Battle of Gettysburg, defeating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in fighting that many historians consider a turning point of the Civil War. The city gave him a house - at 19th Street and Delancey Place - in appreciation of his service.
At another stop, the tour gathered around the grave of David Rittenhouse, whose name was used to identify one of the city's public squares.
Rittenhouse was a veritable renaissance man whose contributions to Philadelphia and the country are renowned. He was a clockmaker, professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, president of the American Philosophical Society, first director of the U.S. Mint, and member of the General Assembly and state Constitutional Convention.
A street in Germantown was named after his grandfather William Rittenhouse, first bishop of the Mennonite Church, who immigrated to the area in 1686.
Nearby was the last resting place of Thomas McKean, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to sit in the Continental Congress from the beginning of the Revolution to the end. He was one of two congressmen who served in the Continental Army. There are two streets carrying his name, in South Philadelphia and Germantown.
Hoskins also discussed other names at the cemetery that are more likely known today as streets and institutions than past Philadelphia leaders: Bringhurst, Morton, Camac, Leiper, McMichael, Reed, Wister, Emlen, Bainbridge, Baldwin, Godfrey, Ashmead, and Fitler.
"Laurel Hill is an interesting place," said Helene Curley, 76, of Lumberton, who once worked as a data manager in Philadelphia. "I've been on a couple of tours here at Laurel Hill and was interested in the origin of street names. You pass the signs but don't know how the streets got their names."
Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.