DESPITE A chronically painful left knee, psychic Valerie Morrison inched her way down a steep 10-foot embankment to the slippery, algae-covered rocks and broken chunks of concrete that emerge at low tide along the Bridesburg shore of the Delaware River, near the Betsy Ross Bridge.
The longtime psychic, who used to advise Frank Sinatra, braved the treacherous footing using only a wooden broom handle for support, determined to visit the 19th century tombstones dumped along the shore during the '50s.
That's when Temple University bought Monument Cemetery at Broad and Berks streets to develop the land as a parking lot and athletic fields. About 26,500 graves were dug up and moved, but their 26,500 tombstones were dumped along the Delaware River to protect the foundation of the soon-to-be-constructed Betsy Ross Bridge from erosion.
As if rising up from their watery resting place, dozens of those tombstones eerily appear during low tide twice a day, scattered haphazardly along the muddy shore.
Morrison and her longtime manager, Frank DeAngelo, want the city to move the historic tombstones to a memorial plot of land - perhaps along one of the river greenway trails planned for Port Richmond and Bridesburg.
"The more I researched the gravestones that were dumped here," DeAngelo said, "the more I got to love the people they memorialize, and the more angry I became."
Said Morrison: "What if this was my grandfather? I don't want these people in the river."
She knelt in the mud beside the fallen gravestone of "William Henry Heilman. Late Captain. 15th U.S. Infantry. Born Philadelphia. April 16, 1843. Died January 5, 1909."
According to DeAngelo's research, Heilman enlisted at 18, and fought in the Civil War almost continuously until he was promoted to 2nd lieutenant during the Battle of Chickamauga, Ga. (24,645 casualties) two years later.
"After all he was put through, after all he did, and look at this," Morrison said, gently placing a hand on the gravestone lying amid the rubble. "Why is this in the river? Why can't I have this in my back yard?"
By the time Morrison had slowly and reflectively wandered down the shore, and stopped to kneel by the gravestone of Mary H. Irons - "1823-1917. Wife of Capt. Babel H. Irons," DeAngelo was eyeing the swiftly rising tide and urging the psychic to start back before the river reclaimed its dead.
Morrison patted Irons' headstone. "That's OK, hon," she said. "We're going to take care of you."