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National History Club News

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August 2012

Transcending Darkness: A Girl’s Journey Out of the Holocaust

University of Florida

Laurel Hill Cemetery, America’s First National Historic Landmark Cemetery

Late in the year 1835, Quaker librarian John Jay Smith recorded in his diary: “The City of Philadelphia has been increasing so rapidly of late years that the living population has multiplied beyond the means of accommodation for the dead. On recently visiting Friends grave yard in Cherry Street I found it impossible to designate the resting place of a darling daughter, determined me to endeavor to procure for the citizens a suitable, neat and orderly location for a rural cemetery.” Smith’s very personal experience ultimately had very public implications, as less than one year later, this grieving father established Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. When Smith conceived of Laurel Hill, he envisioned something fundamentally different from the burial places that came before it.

In an era when cities along America’s eastern seaboard suffered from crowding, disease and scarcity of public space, Laurel Hill offered an alternative environment. Previously, churchyards were the only places available to bury the dead, and they were often as crowded and unsanitary as the streets that bordered them. Furthermore, rapid industrialization and population growth commonly led to the disinterment of burial grounds to make way for roads and buildings. Laurel Hill’s founding is deeply rooted in the cultural history of our nation’s urbanization, and in the simultaneous development of crafted sanctuaries of nature and retreat just beyond the city’s limits. Laurel Hill Cemetery was not only established as a burial place for the dead, but equally as a scenic, riverside sanctuary for the living. Indeed, picnics, strolls, carriage rides and sightseeing were popular pastimes in Laurel Hill’s early days, when over 140,000 visitors passed through the site in a single season.

In 1998, Laurel Hill became the first cemetery in the United States to be honored with the designation of National Historic Landmark. With abundant public tours and programs, the site is now leading the way in the creative interpretation of burial grounds around the world. In continuing to redefine all that a cemetery can be to the living 176 years after its founding, Laurel Hill makes history every day.

Visit Laurel Hill Cemetery!

Explore other History Opportunities

  • ·  Transcending Darkness: A Girl’s Journey Out of the Holocaust
In Estelle Glaser Laughlin’s memoir,Transcending Darkness: A Girl’s Journey Out of the Holocaust, readers meet two young sisters-Estelle and Fredka-coming of age during the Holocaust; their extraordinary mother, fiercely determined to keep them alive and together; and righteous individuals who inspired them all with courage and faith in love. From her blissful childhood in Warsaw before the Nazi invasion, Laughlin describes life in the ghetto; her family’s deportation to Majdanek extermination camp during the uprising of April 1943; their subsequent imprisonment in two other concentration camps, Skarzysko and Chestoschowa; and, at last, liberation.Her story, published sixty-four years after her liberation from the Nazis, is a narrative of fear and hope and the resiliency of the human spirit. While it is a harrowing tale of destruction and loss, it is also a story of the goodness that still exists in a dark world, of survival and renewal. In a society still facing the dangers of hatred, genocide, and indifference, Laughlin’s triumph proves greatly relevant.
Purchase Transcending Darkness!
  • ·  University of Florida
The University of Florida History Department fosters a learning experience that stands apart from many of recent modes of instruction at large universities. Amid the shift to huge classes, televised lectures, and machine-gradable exams, our faculty chooses to follow a more traditional path. The department’s emphasis on small courses, analytical reading, lively debate, and interpretative writing offers committed students unique rewards. It also comes with high expectations. Thus all our majors begin their training with a special practicum course focusing on the tools and skills needed to excel in upper-division courses as well as later the writing of a senior seminar paper and, for those interested in our honors program, a senior thesis. Throughout, the department offers a great range of courses focused on our research strengths in American, European, Latin American, African, Global, Asian and Middle Eastern history.History majors at UF are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the multitude of opportunities to study abroad. Learning “on site” can be one of the most valuable experiences of a major. Touring the Taj Mahal and other monuments of the Mogul empire, wandering the medieval alleys of Paris and Prague or trekking to the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu gives a perspective on the past that cannot be replicated in the classroom. History department faculty members are involved in a number of UF-sponsored programs that students might consider: a summer in Cambridge, thanksgiving in Munich, or even a short-term archaeological project. In similar spirit, we also invite our students to consider a number of internship possibilities that provide hands-on experience in history-related endeavors – such as those at the UF library’s special collections, the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, campus and local museums, the university press, and local historical societies – for which students can earn course credit.

Our honors program focuses primarily on the writing of a thesis based on original historical research over the course of a student’s senior year. We have designed a special workshop for thesis writers to give direction and advice as honors students pursue their research. The department also offers a number of awards and scholarships in support of summer research and in recognition of achievement by outstanding history majors.

University of Florida History Department!
Courtesy Joey Wiseman, WVDE SS Coordinator