Resurrection Cemetery

Dorothy Day’s grave at Resurrection Cemetery, 2017 (Dorothy Day Guild)

When Pope Francis made history in 2015 by becoming the first pontiff to speak before a joint session of the United States Congress, he lauded four Americans as examples of dignity, justice, and service to God: President Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Catholic monk Thomas Merton, and Catholic social activist Dorothy Day, the last of whom is buried in Resurrection Cemetery on Staten Island. Day was laid to rest in this Roman Catholic burial ground in 1980, just a few months after it opened on the Island’s south shore. 

Resurrection Cemetery is noteworthy as the last major cemetery developed in the city’s five boroughs, created by the Archdiocese of New York as the supply of new graves in Staten Island’s older Catholic cemeteries diminished. Responding to this need for more burial space, in 1977 the Archdiocese acquired 127 acres of land from the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin of Mount Loretto in the Pleasant Plains section. The New York City Council, which for decades had prohibited the creation of new cemeteries within its limits, approved the Archdiocese’s plans in this case because the land was already tax-exempt. Resurrection Cemetery is divided into two parcels on either side of Sharrott Avenue, with 84 acres remaining to be developed for future gravesites.

Obituary of firefighter Carl Molinaro, one of many 9/11 victims buried at Resurrection Cemetery

Since its opening, more than 42,000 Catholics have been interred in graves, mausoleum crypts, and cremation niches at Resurrection Cemetery. Among them are at least two dozen victims who died in the September 11 terror attacks at the World Trade Center site and hundreds of infants laid to rest in the Garden of Angels section for children. Also at Resurrection Cemetery is mobster William Cutolo, Sr., whose headstone marked an empty grave in Section 37 until his body was found in 2008—nine years after his murder. Resurrection Cemetery currently averages over 1,000 interments per year, making it one of the city’s busiest burial places.

Stillborn infants are buried in the Garden of Angels section at Resurrection Cemetery, Dec 2020 (SI Advance)

Dorothy Day is interred in Section 10 of the east parcel of Resurrection Cemetery. A native New Yorker raised in the Episcopal Church, her conversion to Catholicism came in the 1920s after she moved to a beach cottage on Staten Island, not far from her burial place. After her conversion, Day co-founded the Catholic Worker movement and helped establish “houses of hospitality” in New York City and farms to house the poor. The movement quickly spread, and today there are nearly 200 Catholic Worker communities worldwide.

Following her death on November 29, 1980, Catholic Church historian David J. O’Brien called Dorothy Day “the most important, interesting, and influential figure in the history of American Catholicism.” In 2000, Cardinal John O’Connor formally requested the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome consider Day’s canonization and she was declared a Servant of God, the first step towards sainthood. And just this year a new Staten Island Ferry boat was named in her honor; it is scheduled to be ready for passenger service on November 8, 2022, the 125th anniversary of Day’s birth.

A view of Resurrection Cemetery, May 2017 (Mary French)
A 2018 aerial view of the two parcels of Resurrection Cemetery on Sharrott Avenue in Pleasant Plains, Staten Island (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Resurrection Cemetery; Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “Catholics Eye a Site on S.I. as Place for New Cemetery,” New York Daily News, Oct 16, 1977; “Catholic Cemetery on S.I. Approved,” New York Times, Nov 29, 1977; “Cooke Names New Cemetery,” New York Daily News, Dec 31, 1978;  “Death Notices,” New York Daily News, Oct 10, 2001;“Awaiting a Burial, This Time an Actual One,” New York Times, Oct 8, 2008; “S.I. Public Administrator Provides Dignified Burial for 9 Stillborn Infants,” Staten Island Advance, Dec 22, 2020; “The Pilgrimage of Dorothy Day,” Commonweal, Dec 19, 1980; “A Pilgrimage to Dorothy Day’s New York,” Aleteia, Nov 19, 2021; “Meet the Dorothy Day, the Latest Addition to New York’s Staten Island Ferry Fleet,” American Magazine, Sep 20, 2022; The Dorothy Day Guild

First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery

This detail from an 1873 map of Newtown shows the First Presbyterian Church and Cemetery on the north side of what is now Queens Boulevard. The church property shown on the south side of the street is the site of the congregation’s present church building.

The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown descends from the earliest church established by the English colonists who settled the village of Newtown in 1652. Officially chartered by the Presbytery in 1715, that same year the congregation built a house of worship on the north side of what is now Queens Boulevard and 54th Avenue in Elmhurst, Queens. After the British destroyed that building during Revolutionary War, in 1787 the congregation erected a new edifice that stood on that same site until it was demolished in 1929. The present First Presbyterian Church of Newtown was constructed in 1895 on the south side of Queens Boulevard, directly across the street from the 18th-century church.

A 1927 view of the old First Presbyterian Church of Newtown building (erected in 1787 and demolished in 1929) and the adjacent cemetery (NYPL)

During its early history, members of the Presbyterian Church of Newtown were buried in the village cemetery at the edge of the settlement. But in the 1800s the congregation began to bury their dead in land adjacent to the new church they built after the Revolution. This cemetery was located on the north side of Queens Boulevard, immediately east of the 1787 church. Over 300 people were buried in Newtown’s Presbyterian Church cemetery between 1822 and 1929, including several early members relocated here in 1901 from the old village burial ground. Many well-known Newtown families had plots in the Presbyterian cemetery, including some of the Bragaw, Fish, Furman, Gorsline, Leverich, Luyster, Payntar, Penfold, Remsen, Strang, and Woodhull clans.

A view of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery in April 1958, just before its removal (Seyfried)

By the mid-20th century, the Presbyterian cemetery—in poor condition and frequently vandalized—was deemed a “white elephant” by church officials, who in 1958 sold the property to Tymon Gardens Realty Corporation for $187,500. After some families privately removed the remains of their relatives to other burial places, in June of 1958 the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown disinterred the rest of the graves in their old cemetery and reburied them in a lot in the Prospect Hill section of Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn. The former site of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery is now occupied by 86-35 Queens Boulevard, a large apartment building near Elmhurst’s Queens Place Mall (known for its circular design).

A view of the reburial plot of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown at Evergreens Cemetery, Oct 2022 (Chris Bendall)
2018 aerial view showing apartment building now on the former site of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery; the present church can be seen directly across the street (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Beers 1873 Atlas of Long Island, Pl 51; Cemetery Inscriptions from Presbyterian Churchyard at Newtown, Long Island, N.Y (Frost 1912); Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens: A Supplement (Queens Topographical Bureau 1975); Elmhurst: From Town Seat to Mega-Suburb (Seyfried 1995); “Old Newtown and Its Confines—The Presbyterian Church Yard, Newtown Village,” Newtown Register, Jun 9, 1887; [Part 2], Newtown Register Jun 16, 1887; “Obituary,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug 6, 1913; “Newtown Elder Indignant at Vandals’Work,” Daily Star (Long Island City, NY), Mar 11, 1933; “Permission Being Sought to Sell 250 Year Old Newtown Cemetery,” Queens Ledger (Maspeth, NY), Apr 3, 1958; “Sale of Ancient Cemetery is OKd,” New York Daily News, Mar 28, 1958; “The Death of a Cemetery,” Long Island Star-Journal, Apr 7, 1958; First Presbyterian Church of Newtown—Cemetery

Cannon Street Baptist Church Cemetery

Monument marking the Cannon Street Baptist Church Cemetery reburial grounds at Cypress Hills Cemetery, Feb 2018 (Mary French)

A large granite marker sits atop a rise in the northwest section of Cypress Hills Cemetery, where it marks the reburial ground for bodies exhumed from a Brooklyn cemetery during the winter of 1874-1875. The cemetery was located on Humboldt, Withers, and Frost streets in Williamsburg, on land acquired in 1844 by the trustees of the Cannon Street Baptist Church of Manhattan. Founded in 1840, the Cannon Street Baptist Church was near Broome Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

This detail from an 1852 map of Williamsburg shows the Cannon Street Baptist Chuch Cemetery

The Cannon Street Church used their Williamsburg cemetery as a burial ground for their congregation which, at 700 members in 1846, was one of the largest and most powerful in Manhattan. They also opened it up as a burial place for other Baptist churches and, according to an 1874 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, “the graves were quickly bought, and it became a popular place of interment. Indeed, it became such a favorite that in the poor ground they had to pile in corpses from seven to twelve feet high in each grave.”  By the late 1850s, the cemetery was full and interments were discontinued. As it was no longer a source of revenue for them, the Cannon Street Church let the cemetery go to ruin and it became a pasture ground for neighborhood animals.

One of the few headstones transferred from the Cannon Street Baptist Cemetery to the reburial ground at Cypress Hills (Mary French)

In 1864, Cannon Street Baptist Church acquired property for a new church at Madison and Gouverneur streets and decided to sell their Williamsburg cemetery. In that same year, they were authorized by an act of the New York State legislature to remove the dead interred in their cemetery, “and deposit the same in any cemetery in the county of Kings or in the county of Queens authorized by law to make interments.”  However, it was not until a decade later, when Cypress Hills Cemetery was awarded the contract for the removal project, that bodies were disinterred from Cannon Street Baptist Church Cemetery. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle had a reporter observe the exhumations and published a list of about 200 names identified from headstones and coffin nameplates, including some of those found in the cemetery’s 100-x-75-foot “colored” section. The rest of the hundreds of graves in the cemetery were unidentifiable (no burial records having been located) and the bones exhumed from them were “huddled into the same box with the ones in the next grave, there being in many instances the remains of twenty human beings in one box.”

The cemetery property was quickly redeveloped after the disinterment process was completed and the remains reburied at the one-acre ground at Cypress Hills. In the following years, excavations for cellars during housing construction at the site uncovered at least 12 more bodies that had been overlooked during the 1874-1875 removal. The Cannon Street congregation, which renamed itself East Baptist Church when it relocated to Madison and Gouverneur streets, disbanded in 1896. Their former cemetery property is covered by residences today.

A view of the Cannon Street Baptist Church reburial ground at Cypress Hills Cemetery, Feb 2018 (Mary French)
Snippet of Cypress Hill Cemetery map showing location of the Cannon Street Church Cemetery grounds
2018 aerial view of the former Cannon Street Church Cemetery site in Williamsburg (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the city of Williamsburgh and town of Bushwick (Field 1852); Kings County Conveyances, Vol 125 p135-139, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; [East Broome Street Baptist Church], Baptist Advocate, Aug 15, 1840; “Cannon Street Church,” Baptist Advocate, Feb 13, 1841; A History of the Churches of All Denominations in the City of New York from the First Settlement to the Year 1846 (Greenleaf 1846); “Careless Burial,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug 10, 1858; [Legislature], Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 1, 1864; “Board of Health,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 21, 1874; “An Old Burial Ground to Be Sold,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 1, 1874; “Desecration,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 3, 1874; “Human Remains Exhumed,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 24, 1878; “Thrice from the Tomb,” New York Herald, Dec 22, 1878; “Incomplete Removal of a Cemetery,” New York Tribune, Aug 13, 1879; “Skeletons,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug 12, 1879; “Skeletons in the Eastern District,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jul 20, 1883; “East Baptist Church to Go,” New York Times, Aug 9, 1896; Cypress Hills Cemetery (Duer & Smith 2010)

West Farms Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery

Detail from a 1901 map showing the location of the “Old Cemetery” – the West Farm Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery. By this time parts of the two adjoined cemeteries had been taken for E 172nd St and Boone Ave

“Blast Blows Bodies from Old Cemetery” was the alliterative headline of a 1911 New York Times article about graves unearthed in the West Farms section of the Bronx. As the article reports, in July 1911 employees of the Stanton Construction Company exposed an array of bones and pieces of coffins when using dynamite to excavate for a sewer line through Boone Avenue near East 172nd Street. After realizing their explosions had blown into part of a forgotten graveyard, the workmen gathered the remnants of the skeletons together and packed them into three boxes from which dynamite sticks had been removed. They then reburied the boxes among overturned headstones found along the roadside. In 2015, these three dynamite boxes with the repacked bones were among about 80 graves found by archaeologists during excavations conducted before construction of an affordable housing complex.

In 2015, archaeologists recovered this dynamite box packed with partial remains of at least 20 individuals that had been unearthed and reburied during sewer construction in 1911 (HPI)

The old cemetery disturbed by workmen in 1911 and excavated by archaeologists over a century later was actually two adjacent graveyards—the Hedger-Edwards burial ground and the cemetery of the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church. The two graveyards were situated at the northeast corner of present-day Boone Avenue and East 172nd Street and together formed a cemetery of about an acre and a half in size. The site was formerly part of the 100-acre farm of the Hedgers family, early settlers of West Farms who had their homestead between today’s Boone and Longfellow avenues. On the east side of their land, the Hedgers set aside a burial ground for their family and their Edwards kin. This family burial ground is mentioned in the 1769 will of John Hedgers, who reserved “a piece of land for a burying place for me and my family, in my orchard, where my sister-in-law lies buried.” 

In 1845, West Farms Reformed Dutch Church purchased a parcel immediately west of the Hedger-Edwards burial ground for use as a burial place for their congregation. Founded in 1839, the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church was located about a mile north of the cemetery grounds, at the southeast corner of the present intersection of Boston Road and East 179th Street, until they moved to a new church at Prospect Avenue and Fairmount Place in 1904.

One of the partial gravestones found during the 2015 excavations at the West Farm Reformed Dutch Church/Hedger-Edwards family cemeteries, it originally marked the grave of one-year-old William Henry Golden, who died 1848 (HPI)

By the end of the 19th century, the joined cemeteries were disused and neglected, and the City of New York made plans to extend Boone Avenue and East 172nd Street through the site. About 70 graves were exhumed and reburied at Woodlawn Cemetery between 1895-1900 in preparation for the street construction. Many other graves were left behind and bones were disturbed during roadwork in 1905 and during the 1911 sewer construction. In the 1920s, the “forlorn, deserted” cemetery still had a few stones standing, bearing familiar Bronx family names including Austin, Mapes, Butler, Corsa, Edwards, and Cortelyou. But by the mid-20th century, the West Farms Reformed Dutch Church had dissolved and a parking lot was built over the old cemetery site. 

Redevelopment of the site in 2015 once again unearthed graves at the forgotten cemetery, when archaeologists excavated human remains, coffin wood and hardware, personal effects, and partial gravestones from 79 burial shafts; 45 of these were within the Hedger-Edwards burial ground, 20 were within the church cemetery, and two were on the boundary line between the two parcels. In 2017, the human remains and artifacts recovered from the site were reinterred in a crypt in the Hillcrest mausoleum complex at Woodlawn Cemetery; the gravestones were transferred to the Bronx County Historical Society. The Crotona Park East Compass Residences development is now at the former cemetery site.

A view of the crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery where remains excavated from the West Farms RD Church Cemetery & Hedger-Edwards Family Cemetery were reinterred in 2017 (HPI)
Aerial views of the cemetery site in 2012, when it was covered with a parking lot, and today, occupied by the Compass Residences (NYCThen&Now/GoogleEarth)

Sources: Hyde’s 1901 Atlas of the borough of the Bronx, Vol. 2, Pl. 6; Cemetery inscriptions copied from a cemetery in the Bronx formerly located at 172nd St and Boone Ave. WCHS Call #200#50, Cemeteries file, Bronx County Historical Society; Early Wills of Westchester Co from 1664 to 1784 (Pelletreau 1898); Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Family History of New York, Vol III (Pelletreau 1907); “Digging Among the Dead,” The Evening World, Sep 17 1895; “Unmarked Graves Dug Open,” New York Sun, Mar 13, 1906; “Blast Blows Bodies from Old Cemetery,” New York Times, Jul 30, 1911; “Coffins Unearthed by Men Digging Sewer in Bronx,” New York Press Jul 30, 1911; “A Neglected Cemetery, New York Tribune, May 26, 1921; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016); What Lies Beneath: Cemeteries of the Bronx,” Bronx County Historical Society exhibit, Oct 2017; Phase IB Archaeological Field Investigation, Crotona Park East Compass Residences (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 2017); Julie Abell Horn, personal communication, Sep 23, 2022.

John Street Methodist Church Graveyard and Vaults

A 19th-century depiction of the Methodist Church erected on John Street in 1768 (NYPL)

“The church first, and then my family” was the motto of New York City merchant William Lupton, one of the founding members of the John Street Methodist Church. The first Methodist church in America, the John Street Church was erected in 1768 at 44 John Street in Lower Manhattan and rebuilt in 1818 and 1841. Considered the cradle of American Methodism, the John Street Church still stands today. It has an active congregation and a museum that tells the story of this historically and religiously significant property.

John Street Methodist Church and adjoining graveyard in 1807

The lot connected with John Street Church was the first place Methodists used for a burial ground in New York, and they had burial vaults under the original church building. But by the early 1800s, the congregation had acquired lots in a Methodist cemetery further uptown and stopped burying their dead at John Street. In 1817, when the congregation tore down their first chapel to build a new house of worship on the same site, they disturbed bodies buried there. Some of the bones were gathered together and reburied under one end of the new church and some were removed to other burial grounds.

Obituary of William Lupton, interred at John Street Methodist Church in 1796

William Lupton’s remains were among those removed and reburied during construction of the new church in 1817. Lupton had a private vault under the church where he was interred in 1796 when he died at age 69.  One of the wealthiest of the original trustees, Lupton was an Englishman who came to America in 1753 as a quartermaster in the British Army and served in the French and Indian War. Married twice—first to Joanna Schuyler and, after her death, to Elizabeth Roosevelt—he had eleven children. Lupton and his family lived next door to the John Street Church for some time. Legend has it, when a fire broke out in the neighborhood Lupton instructed the firemen to save the church before his home, thus proving him faithful to his motto.

Construction projects at the church in the 1880s and again in the 1940s uncovered the bones of more early Methodists; these were reburied beneath the basement of the present church building. More recently, in 1986 construction workers found fragments of human bones during work on the foundation wall of the church, and these also were reburied under the basement. Archaeologist Sherene Baugher, who led excavations at the church when the bones were found in 1986, observes that “the basement of the church has become a burial ground and, in a sense, a sacred site.”

John Street Methodist Church, July 2020 (John Street Church)
2018 aerial view of the John Street Methodist Church, overshadowed by surrounding office towers (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Bridges’ 1807 Plan of the city of New-York; “Died,” Daily Advertiser, Apr 11, 1796; Lost Chapters Recovered from the Early History of American Methodism (Wakeley 1858); “The General Conference,” The Methodist, Jun 4, 1864; Annals of New York Methodism (Seaman 1892); John Street Methodist Church: An Archaeological Investigation (LPC 1991); “The John Street Methodist Church: An Archaeological Excavation with Native American Cooperation,” Historical Archaeology 43(1); From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship (Dunlap 2004); Encyclopedia of New York City, 2nd ed. (Jackson et al 2010)