All posts by Mary French

Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery

A view of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery in Fort Totten Park, 2019 (Tom Loggia)

Since childhood, brothers Thomas and Vincent Loggia heard family stories about ancestors buried within Fort Totten, the former U.S. Army installation on the Willets Point peninsula in northern Queens. The Willets Point name derives from Charles Willets (1781-1833), who purchased the property in 1829. Before that, the peninsula belonged to the Thorne and Wilkins families. Englishman William Thorne (1617-1664) received the land from the Dutch in 1639, and the farmland remained in his family until 1788 when Ann Thorne married William Wilkins. Thomas and Vincent Loggia are descendants of Ann Thorne and William Wilkins. For many years, evidence of their family’s ancestral burial ground was lost and officials were unaware of its existence within the fort. After 20 years of painstaking research, the Loggia brothers recently proved the existence and location of the burial ground and had it recognized as the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

An 1860 map shows Wilkins Point (present-day Willets Point), the peninsula where Fort Totten is located today. Arrow denotes approximately location of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

The Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery is a small plot on a knoll about 500 feet inside the entrance of Fort Totten. A clause in the 1829 deed transferring the land from Jacob Thorne Wilkins to Charles Willets reserves the burial ground for the use of the family; this exception was reiterated in later transfers of the property. Some 30 members of the Thorne-Wilkins family are thought to be buried in the plot. Family progenitor William Thorne—one of the original patentees of Flushing, Queens, and a signer of the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance—may be among those laid to rest here. Exactly who is buried here is unknown—the only documentation of the graves was made by James Thorne, Jr., who visited the burial ground in 1857 and sketched five badly weathered tombstones.  Initials (“I.T.” and “A.T.”) and dates ranging from 1709 to 1775 were all that were visible on the stones.

This detail from an 1865 survey of property transferred to the U.S. government for Fort Totten shows the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery

Between April 1857 and April 1863, the U.S. government acquired the properties to create Fort Totten, which hosted a series of military services until a large portion of the land, including the cemetery plot, was secured by New York City Parks in 2001. At that time, only one memorial stone stood on the site of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery—a monument to Charles A. Willets, the man who acquired the property from the Thorne-Wilkins family. This marker is somewhat of a historical mystery. Records show that in 1855, the Willets family removed Charles A. Willets’ remains and his weathered tombstone from his “Flushing farm” to a plot in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His original burial place is not actually known; he may or may not have been interred in the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery.

Descriptions of the Thorne-Wilkins burial ground before the 1930s do not mention Charles Willets’ tombstone at the site, suggesting this marker was placed there sometime in the early 1900s, possibly to commemorate the namesake of Willets Point rather than as an actual gravemarker. Whatever the case may be, the existence of Willets’ marker at the site in the 20th century, along with the lack of any other headstones, contributed to the loss of association of the burial ground with the Thorne-Wilkins family. By the time the property was taken over by the Parks Department, officials did not know of the Thorne-Wilkins burial ground and mistakenly believed that Charles Willets was the only civilian who had ever been interred within the fort’s grounds.

Sketches of tombstones in the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery, 1857

In 2016, archaeologist Joan Geismar reviewed and analyzed the extensive material that Thomas and Vincent Loggia had amassed and presented it to the Parks Department to support the Loggias’ appeal to have the burial ground formally recognized as the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery. The request was successful and in 2019, with the full support of NYC Parks and other family members, Thomas and Vincent Loggia installed a one-ton boulder at the site. One side of the massive stone holds a plaque identifying the burial ground and its history; the opposite side has an inscription honoring their seventh great-grandfather, William Thorne.

Asked in a 2012 interview why he persevered in this family quest to seek out and memorialize the lost Thorne-Wilkins burial ground, Thomas Loggia responded: “People should acknowledge things of importance. Maybe nobody will ever go visit them again. But really, that’s not the point. The point is they existed.”

A 2018 aerial view of part of Fort Totten Park; arrow indicates location of the Thorne-Wilkins Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of the City of New York and Its Environs (Walling 1860); Map of Survey of Land of Willets Point, Recently Purchased from Henry Day, Esq., by the United States (Trowbridge 1865); “Military and Civil Law Conflict,” New York Times Apr 21, 1895; “Willets Point Graveyard,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle,  Dec 6, 1896; “Whitestone,” Brooklyn Times Union, Apr 26 1902; “Owned Property at Fort Totten,” Daily Star (Queens), Jan 10, 1907; “To Be Sold in Partition,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle,  Apr 4, 1911; “Legendary Tunnel of 1862 Traced at Fort Totten,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 17, 1937; “Until an Ancestral Graveyard is Found, No Time to Rest,” New York Times, Jun 1, 2012; Memo Report: Thorne/Wilkins/Willets Cemetery, Fort Totten, Queens (Geismar 2016); “Hidden in Plain Site: The Thorne-Wilkins Burying Ground,” New York Researcher, 28(4), Winter 2017; Thomas Loggia, personal communication, Jan 19, 2023

Public Burial Ground, Brooklyn

An 1857 newspaper clipping reports the discovery of human remains at the site of Brooklyn’s early- 19th-century public burial ground

In the years 1811-1812, there was a German physician known as the “Rain-Water Doctor” who practiced in the village of Brooklyn before moving on to Providence, Rhode Island. He was quite famous, and during his time in Brooklyn thousands of people from Manhattan and Long Island came to seek his remedies. The medicines he prescribed were mostly herbs and other natural substances, including rainwater, which he encouraged all of his patients to drink. Among the many who came to Brooklyn to consult the Rain-Water Doctor was Apollos Nicholls of Smithtown, Long Island, who died soon after placing himself under the doctor’s care. The circumstances of Nicholls’ case deeply affected the physician, who erected over his deceased patient’s grave a handsome marble tombstone with the following, unusually long, inscription: 

In the mournful instances of human frailty, concording to demonstrate the destiny; also, as a baneful occurrence of both, and of an unshaken resolution and usual disappointment, here lies the no more animated and wasting remains of APOLOS NICOLL, born in Smithtown Ap. 11, 1776 : 14th of the same month 1811, departed and delivered up to the elementary menstrum of dissolution, nought, Resurrection, and Ascension; Conspicuous example of an unavoidable fate, who after his having been tired of experiencing eight months of various diseases, in expection to find alleviation to his painful existence, started in quest of relief, and firm in his resolution notwithstanding an inconsiderable distance contended three weeks in battling against the progressive obstacles of his perilous situation, opposing his design, to reach a dwelling which his delusive confidence had flattered himself to find alleviance, the end of his distress and complicated misery, but unfortunately found the one of his days accelerated by his bold attempt, and both his stranguary dropsical state and the strenuous motion of the last vehicle which conveyed him to the one by whom he eagerly expected to be alleviated and receive his existence prolongation : but vain hope! soon aborted! subject likewise to asthmatical affection by a sudden violent paroxism, effect of the combusted system stimulating the accumulated mass out of its recess, and which completed by obstructing the airy passage speedily produced suffocation, and that fatally; this incident terminated the earthly career, in putting a period to the suffering venturing afflicated; sorrowful consequence which inseparably has condemned the one he so considerately instrusted with his corporeal repair, to become of his disaster passive spectator, instead of a desirous benefactor : predetermined in the witness, which intitially and peremptorily was to sustain the view of such sinister catastrophe the inexorable po..t..ces manifested to only have afforded to their destined victim enough of vital faculty, for reaching the spot whereupon the minutes residue of the last hour was to be exhausted, and for implacably having after the fatal final thread cut off; To memorize such a dismal event, the concern it has caused to the unaccustomed beholder, may this cold stone relating the particular be of  consolatory nature, for the surviving consort and relatives of the deceased, and help them to be in their privation resigned to the unalterable Supreme Will, and with fortitutde submit to the execution of its irrevocable decree.

Apollos Nicholls’ grave was in the old public burial ground of Brooklyn, where his tombstone was still standing in 1839 when the above inscription was copied and published by the Long Island Star. This public burial ground, or potter’s field, was located on the northwest corner of Livingston Street and Boerum Place in what is now downtown Brooklyn. When exactly this cemetery was established is not known; it was likely used from the early 1800s until about 1827 when the City of Brooklyn created a new public burial ground at Wallabout Bay.

An 1849 map of Brooklyn shows the Military Garden situated at the junction of Fulton and Joralemon streets; the public burial ground was adjacent to the Military Garden, at the corner of Boerum Place and Livingston Street

The public burial ground at Livingston Street and Boerum Place was a place of interment for the poor, the unknown, and, like Apollos Nicholl, those who died while away from home. Sailors and marines from the Brooklyn Navy Yard were buried here before a naval cemetery was established adjacent to the Yard in the early 1830s. In an 1852 letter to the Daily Eagle, a Brooklynite recalled seeing military burials at the cemetery on Livingston Street and Boerum Place during his schoolboy days. “During the war of 1812,” he writes, “when a large body of Militia was collected in and about Brooklyn, taken from the comforts and endearments of home and suddenly subjected to all the hardships of the camp, sickness prevailed among them, and many died and were here buried. I have often followed the funerals of the soldiers to this burial place.”

The public burial ground was located next to Du Flon’s Military Garden, a pleasure ground that was situated at the junction of Fulton and Joralemon streets from 1810 to 1861. Punch Du Flon describes the Military Garden, and the cemetery that abutted it, in an 1891 letter published in the Daily Eagle. “My father, as you know, was the proprietor of the Military Garden, and it was really the only place of amusement in town in those days. . .We had concerts there and a little theater. At that time there was a burying ground at the corner of Boerum Place and Livingston Street, and that little cemetery bordered my father’s property. It didn’t bother us at all to have a cemetery so close at hand, but there was on one side of the fence a good deal that was grim and on the other a good deal that was merry.” 

What happened to Brooklyn’s old public burial ground is unclear. Evidently, the City of Brooklyn sold the property in the 1850s, but no record has been found indicating that authorities arranged for the removal of remains from the site before it was redeveloped. When workmen excavated the property in 1857, they found human remains and portions of coffins and headstones. These were reportedly carried off with rubbish from the site. Another relic from the cemetery was found in 1861 when workmen redeveloping the Military Garden property found a gravestone with the name “Peter Taylor.” By the late 1860s, a county courthouse stood on the former Military Garden and the public burial ground was covered by stables and a gymnasium. Today office buildings are at the site of Brooklyn’s early-19th-century public burial ground, where a monument with the Rain-Water Doctor’s 400-word epitaph to a lost patient once stood.

The redeveloped Military Garden and public burial ground sites are depicted on this 1867 map
A 2018 aerial view of the former site of the Brooklyn public burial ground at Livingston Street and Boerum Place

Sources: Map of the City of Brooklyn (Colton 1849); Plan of New York City, from the Battery to Spuyten Duyvil Creek, Sheet 1 (Dripps 1867); A History of the City of Brooklyn including the Old Town and Village of Brooklyn, the Town of Bushwick, and the Village and City of Williamsburgh, Vol 1 (Stiles 1867) & Vol 2 (Stiles 1869); “Report of the Overseers of the Poor in the Town of Brooklyn,” Long Island Star, Mar 29, 1820; “Report of the Overseers of the Poor in the Town of Brooklyn,” Long Island Star, Mar 28, 1821; “Common Council,” Long Island Star, May 16, 1839; “Rain-Water Doctor,” Long Island Star, Jun 6, 1839; “For the Brooklyn Daily Eagle” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 10, 1852; “Old Potter’s Field,” New-York Daily Tribune, Mar 26, 1857; “Rattle His Bones. . .” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mar 25, 1857; “While Excavating. . .” Brooklyn Evening Star, Mar 25, 1857; “A Mortuary Relic,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 7, 1861; “The Dead. . . Brooklyn Graves that Have Been Opened” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 2, 1875; [Letter to the Editor], Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 15, 1881; “Shattered Napoleon’s Head,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 1, 1891

Fordham Manor Church Cemeteries

This detail from an 1868 map shows the two burial places connected with the Fordham Manor Reformed Church—the old public burial ground on Highbridge Road (today’s Fordham Road) and the Church property on the north side of Kingsbridge Road. Red star denotes approximate location of the original church site on Fordham Road, across from the old cemetery.

The modern Fordham Manor Church on Reservoir Avenue near West Kingsbridge Road is the successor to one of the earliest congregations in the Bronx. In 1696, the Dutch Reformed Church organized a society in the area then known as the Manor of Fordham. In 1706 they built their first church on the north side of Fordham Road, in present-day Devoe Park. After this building was destroyed in the Revolutionary War, a new church was built in 1801 on property about a mile north, at Kingsbridge Road. This was the first of three edifices to stand on that site; the second church was built in 1849, and the present building was erected in 1940. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Dutch Reformed Church of Fordham Manor used two local cemeteries to bury their dead—a public burial ground near their original house of worship on Fordham Road and a small cemetery next to their church on Kingsbridge Road.

Public Burial Ground, Fordham Road

Until 1909, an “ancient Dutch burying ground” stood at the southeast corner of today’s Sedgwick Avenue and West Fordham Road, where an apartment building is located today. Exactly when this cemetery was established is not known; it may have been used as far back as the 1600s when Dutch families began to settle in the area. Deeds dated before the Revolution refer to the one-and-a-half-acre cemetery as a public burial ground and it was known to have been used as a free burial ground by local authorities into the 19th century. During its early history, this public cemetery was linked with the Dutch Reformed church that originally stood 200 yards from it, on the opposite side of Fordham Road. After the congregation moved up to Kingsbridge Road in the early 1800s, their ties with the village burial ground were eventually broken. By the late 1800s, the public burial ground at the intersection of Sedgwick Ave and Fordham Road was known to many locals as the “Berrian Cemetery,” for one of the families who owned land surrounding the cemetery and who had interred a number of their kinfolk in the graveyard.

A 1901 map depicts the old burial ground at the intersection of Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue

One 19th-century historian estimated that perhaps 1,000 people were interred in the cemetery on Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue. Genealogists who visited the site in the 1870s and 1880s recorded tombstones with family names including Berrian, Valentine, Cromwell, Laurence, DeVoe, Hart, and Rowland. The earliest date found was 1810 and the latest was 1863. Less than two dozen graves had headstones with identifiable inscriptions; many more graves were designated by rough, flat stones with no markings. Guarding the graveyard was a magnificent willow tree, over 20 feet in circumference, which stood at the edge of the property.

1906 view of the burial ground at Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue, showing toppled tombstones and the huge willow tree that sheltered the site (Comfort)

By the turn of the century, the cemetery was neglected and partially destroyed by street construction. The western portion of the graveyard was taken by the city in 1874 for the opening of Sedgwick Avenue and a section on the north part of the property was cut off in the 1890s when Fordham Road was widened. Many families had arranged to have their family members’ remains moved to other cemeteries, the numerous disinterments causing further disturbance to the burial ground. Newspaper articles describe it as a place of “sad havoc,” a mass of broken tombstones, brush, and rubbish. Ownership and responsibility of the property was a tangle of uncertainty until the early 1900s when a court-appointed referee ruled that the Camman family, who had acquired the Berrian farm in 1852, could sell the cemetery property once they arranged for removal of the remains. Workmen excavated the cemetery in the winter of 1908-1909 and packed up any bones they found. The exhumed remains were reburied in a plot at Ferncliff Cemetery in Westchester. In 1927 a six-floor apartment building, still present, was erected on the site of the old Dutch burial ground of Fordham Manor. 

Fordham Manor Church Cemetery, Kingsbridge Road

In 1801, Dennis Valentine, Sr., donated land for construction of a new Dutch Reformed Church at the Manor of Fordham. The plot, 90 feet deep and 74 feet across, was located near the northwest corner of what is now Kingsbridge Road and Reservoir Avenue. In 1836, the church appointed a committee to look for land for a burial place. The congregation apparently continued to use the old burial ground at Fordham Road and Sedgwick Avenue for some time after they moved to their new location, the donation having included only enough property to accommodate the building. In 1849, Dennis Valentine, Jr., donated additional lands adjacent to the 1801 church property to provide sufficient ground for erection of a new house of worship and for a burial ground. The new building was erected on the property immediately adjoining the 1801 structure and facing Kingsbridge Road. Land to the rear of the church was used for a cemetery. The last known interment here was in 1884.

1901 map depicting the Fordham Manor Reformed Church building on Kingsbridge Road, with the cemetery behind it

Several families had vaults in the church cemetery, including members of the Valentine, Briggs, and Archer clans. After Woodlawn Cemetery was established in 1863, each of these families acquired plots there and had the remains of their family members relocated to Woodlawn from the church cemetery. Notable among the removals from the Valentine family vaults were the remains of Virginia Clemm, wife of Edgar Allan Poe. In 1847, Virginia Clemm died while she and her husband were living in a rented cottage (preserved as Poe Cottage) on the Valentine farm. She was laid to rest in the private vault of Dennis Valentine, Sr., which he built in the 1830s on his land adjacent to the 1801 Fordham Manor Church building. Although officially separate from the church burial ground, it was generally considered part of the cemetery. When the Valentine family removed the remains from their vaults in the late 1870s, Virginia Clemm’s remains were taken to Baltimore for reburial alongside her husband, who died in 1849.

A 1912 view of the Fordham Manor Reformed Church building on Kingsbridge Road, erected in 1849. The church cemetery, located to the rear of the building, is not visible (Jenkins)

In August of 1912, the journal Genealogy published inscriptions from the Fordham Manor Reformed Church Cemetery. The burial ground behind the church was described as “a neglected corner plot, overgrown with weeds, where a few tombstones, some badly broken, still remain.”  Inscriptions from the 20 tombstones found at the site included members of the Poole, Webb, Archer, Horton, Corsa, and Webb families. The earliest dated to 1843 and the latest to 1870.

In the early 1920s, the Fordham Manor Reformed Church authorities made plans to purchase a nearby house and have it moved to the church property for use as a parsonage. Before this could be done, it was necessary to clear the cemetery of bodies. After receiving the necessary permissions, in 1925 the remains of 32 people were exhumed from the cemetery behind the church and reburied in a plot at Kensico Cemetery in Westchester. In 1940, the Fordham Manor Reformed Church demolished their 1849 church building and the parsonage, sold the southern portion of their property along Kingsbridge Road, and built a new edifice on the northern part of their land, where their cemetery once stood. The 1940 building, which faces Reservoir Road, is the home of the present Fordham Manor Church, now a nondenominational congregation.

A modern map with arrows denoting the former site of the cemetery at Fordham Rd and Sedgwick Ave and the present Fordham Manor Church at Reservoir Ave near Kingsbridge Rd, on the site of the former church cemetery. Red star denotes the approximate location of the original church site on Fordham Road (OpenStreetMap)
2018 aerial view of the apartment building on the former cemetery site at Fordham Rd and Sedgwick Ave (NYCThen&Now)
2018 aerial view of the present Fordham Manor Church property on Reservoir Avenue, formerly the site of the church cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl 8; Hyde’s 1901 Atlas of the Borough of the Bronx, Pl 25 & 32; Genealogy of the DeVeaux Family (De Voe 1885); History of Bronx Borough (Comfort 1906); The Story of The Bronx (Jenkins 1912); History of Fordham Manor Reformed Church, 1696-1946 (Attwood 1946); “Old Burial Grounds in Westchester Co, NY,”  NYG&B Record 20 (2) 1889; “Notes & Queries,” NYG&B Record 22 (4), 1891; “Neglected Graves at Fordham Heights,” Evening Telegram, May 7, 1892; “A Neglected Cemetery,” New York Times, Dec 22, 1901; “Facts About the Berrian Cemetery,” New York Times, Dec 30, 1901; “Old Historic Cemeteries,” Daily Argus (Mount Vernon, NY) Jan 9, 1905; “Historical Cemetery Despoiled,” Magazine of American History, 36 (11), Nov 1908; “Poole Family Burials,” Genealogy 2(6), Aug 10, 1912; “From a New York Cemetery,” Genealogy 2(7), Aug 17, 1912; “Church in Bronx to Have New Home,” New York Times, Feb 17, 1940; Cemeteries of the Bronx (Raftery 2016)

Bedford Street Methodist Church Graveyard and Vaults

This vintage photo of Bedford and Morton streets in Greenwich Village shows part of the Bedford Street Methodist Church at the southeast corner, just before it was demolished in 1914 (NYPL)

The first Methodist congregation in Greenwich Village was founded in 1805 and in 1810 erected a meeting house at the southeast corner of Bedford and Morton streets. This structure—a frame building with shingled sides—was enlarged in 1830, then replaced in 1840 by a red-brick church. The Bedford Street Methodist church became one of the largest and most prosperous congregations in the city, its membership ranging in size from 800 to 1,200 for most of the 19th century. Known as “a hot furnace of religious activity” for its evangelism, the Bedford Street Church congregation included the middle classes of old Greenwich Village as well as wealthy local families such as the McLeans, Brushes, DeGroots, Bakers, and Halls.

This detail from an 1854 map shows the Bedford Street Methodist Church at the southeast corner of Bedford and Morton streets in Greenwich Village. The empty lot next to the church along Morton Street is the former church grounds; by that time remains from the cemetery had been exhumed and removed to vaults beneath the church.

The original meeting house faced Bedford Street and behind it stretched a graveyard where approximately 3,000 bodies were buried until the new church was built in 1840. At that time, a system of burial vaults was constructed beneath the church and the cemetery plot along Morton Street was sold. Before the purchaser was allowed to take possession of the cemetery property, the ground was “carefully dug over by employees of the church, who gathered up every human relic and deposited it in the vaults,” according to one account. The vaults beneath the church continued to be used for new interments until about 1865.

Monument at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens marking the plot where remains exhumed from the Bedford Street Methodist Church graveyard and vaults were reburied (Chris Bendall)

The Bedford Street Methodist Church building stood over the bones of several thousand of the “best and truest people of Greenwich Village” until title to the church property passed to the city in 1913 for the southward extension of Seventh Avenue. Before the demolition of the building in January of 1914, remains from the burial vaults beneath the church were moved to a plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens. The homeless Bedford Street Methodist congregation merged with the Metropolitan Methodist Temple on Seventh Avenue and 13th Street, which was later renamed the Metropolitan-Duane Methodist Church.

Excavations for the Seventh Avenue subway line in 1916 uncovered remains that had been left behind in the old burial ground and vaults at the Bedford Street Methodist Church site. In a report entitled “The Catacombs of Seventh Avenue,” an engineer for the Bureau of Subway Construction detailed the discoveries and described the “huge underground tomb” still present where the church once stood. Constructed of brick and stone, it included 20 separate vaults and two lengthy passages that led to the individual burial chambers. The remains of about 50 people were found at the site and taken to Mount Olivet Cemetery for reburial.

For more than a century the Bedford Street Methodist Church stood at the heart of Greenwich Village. Today Seventh Avenue cuts through the former church site, and passengers on the 1 train ride through what was once the burial place of the Village’s earliest Methodist congregation.

A 2018 aerial view of the southeast corner of the Bedford and Morton Streets, the former site of the Bedford Street Methodist Church and its burial places. Arrow denotes approximate location. (NYCThen&Now)
Location of the Beford Street Methodist Church reburial plot at Mount Olivet Cemetery (Mount Olivet Cemetery Map, with notation by Chris Bendall, Nov 2022)

Sources: Perris’ 1854 Maps of the City of New York, Vol 5 Pl 59; Annals of New York Methodism (Seaman 1892); The American Metropolis, from Knickerbocker Days to the Present Time, Vol 3 (Moss 1897); Nooks & Corners of Old New York (Hemstreet 1899); From Abyssianian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship (Dunlap 2004); “A Tour Around New York,” Evening Post, Mar 4, 1887; “To Dig Up Bodies Long Buried,” The Sun, Sep 23 1913; “Historic Church to Go,” New York Times, Oct 3, 1913; “Old Graves Block Street,”  New York Tribune, Oct 24, 1913; “Old Church to Go,” New York Times, Nov 13, 1913; Laws of the State of New York Passed at the 137th Session of the Legislature, Begun January 7th 1914 and ended March 27th, 1914, Vol. I, Ch. 138 (New York 1914); “Wrecking of Bedford Street M.E. Church Removes a Historic Shrine,” New York  Press, Dec 18 1913; “Ancient Cemeteries Dug Up in Subways,” New York Times, June 11 1916; Chris Bendall, personal communication, Nov 19, 2022

Mount Loretto Cemetery

Mount Loretto Cemetery, May 2017 (Mary French)

In 1908, the New York Tribune published the following verse from a poem entitled “A Visit to the Old Home”:

I stood within the graveyard, boys,
Among loved ones at rest;
And peered within the marble vault
Where lay our friends the best.
The Reverend Father Dougherty
And “Father John” Drumgoole,
Whose minds and hands both worked and planned
To teach the Golden Rule.

The Tribune reprinted this stanza from the December 1908 issue of the Mount Loretto Messenger, the class journal of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin of Mount Loretto, which was dedicated that month to the 25th anniversary of the Mission’s opening on the south shore of Staten Island. The Mission of the Immaculate Virgin was founded in 1883 by Father John C. Drumgoole as a facility to house and train homeless boys. Operated by the Archdiocese of New York, the main buildings were located north of present-day Hylan Boulevard and west of Sharrott Avenue. Girls were admitted beginning in 1897 and lived in St. Elizabeth’s, a Victorian building on the south side of Hylan Avenue.

This snippet from a 1907 map shows the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin complex and the Mount Loretto Cemetery (arrow)

By 1947, the facility at Mount Loretto spread over 700 acres and had 42 buildings—including the Church of Sts. Joachim and Anne— that housed 700 boys, 360 girls, 85 Franciscan nuns, and five priests. By that time, it had been the home of over 50,000 children and was the largest childcare institution in the U.S. As foster care emerged and orphanages declined, Mount Loretto transitioned in the 1970s. The Mount Loretto campus, much reduced in size, is now run by Catholic Charities of Staten Island and is home to numerous educational, athletic, and service programs that aid children and teens, the disabled, and those living with addiction and mental or physical challenges. 

The poem quoted above was written by Thomas J. Reynolds, one of the former “mission kids,” and describes a visit to the cemetery at Mount Loretto. The small graveyard is located in a clearing in the woods at the back of the Mount Loretto grounds, down a road east of the main buildings. The earliest known interments here were husband and wife Louis and Louise De Comeau in 1885. The De Comeaus were a wealthy local family that made generous contributions to the Mission. Their daughter Yolande donated $100,000 for the construction of a home for blind girls on the property. She later joined the Sisters of St. Francis and became Superioress of the motherhouse at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin in 1900. 

Mausoleum erected in 1899 for interment of Father Drumgoole’s remains (SI Advance)

Father Drumgoole was buried in Mount Loretto Cemetery when he died of pneumonia in 1888. In 1899  his body was moved from his grave to a mausoleum built by his close friend and successor as head of the Mission, Rev. James J. Dougherty. Rev. Dougherty is also laid to rest in the tomb, which stands on a gentle rise in the center of the cemetery. Msgr. Mallick J. Fitzpatrick, who headed the Mission from 1907 until he died in 1936, is interred beside his predecessors.

Mount Loretto Cemetery is the final resting place for children who died in the facility and for alumni raised at the Mission who died after they went out into the world but were returned to their old home for burial. Notable among these is U.S. Marine Angel Mendez, who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Mendez died saving the life of his platoon commander Ronald Castille, who would later become the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Obituary of 10-year-old William Mulligan, who died at the Mount Loretto boy’s home in 1902 and was buried in Mount Loretto Cemetery

Dozens of rows of simple, flat headstones at Mount Loretto Cemetery mark the graves of the Franciscan nuns who taught at the Mission. Among them is the grave of Sister Mary Angela Flanagan, a Superioress of St. Elizabeth’s, the girl’s home at Mount Loretto. She died at age 40 of burns she received when candle flames ignited her robes as she knelt before a shrine for prayers on a December night in 1898. The Mount Loretto Cemetery is still actively used for interments of Sisters of St. Francis who were formerly connected with the Mount Loretto campus. One of the most recent burials is Sister Mary Beatrice Campbell, who entered the Order of St. Francis in 1928 and taught at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin from 1937 to 1945. She died in 2015 at age 105.

Flat headstones mark the graves of the Sisters of St. Francis interred at Mount Loretto Cemetery (SI Advance)

Today the old graveyard at Mount Loretto is maintained by staff of Resurrection Cemetery, which is located just east of the Mount Loretto campus and was created in 1977 from a large swathe of land transferred from the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin. Few know of the cemetery’s existence at Mount Loretto; no signs point the way to this historic burial ground beyond the modern school buildings and athletic fields. And those who stumble across are out of luck; it is protected by an iron fence and gate that is kept locked with a “no trespassing” sign warning away intruders.

But the cemetery does have occasional visitors. Each September, alumni return to Mount Loretto to reunite and reminisce on the grounds of the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin. The cemetery is a favorite spot for the former “mission kids” and their families to visit on these annual Alumni Days, offering them a time to reflect on the hallowed ground where the Mission’s founder is laid to rest, along with others who served at the Mission or were raised there.

This 2012 aerial view shows the Mount Loretto complex today, north of Hylan Blvd. Arrow identifies location of the cemetery, shown in greater detail below (NYCityMap)

2012 aerial view of Mount Loretto Cemetery (NYCityMap)

Sources: Robinson’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Richmond, City of New York, Pl 21; Children’s Shepherd: The Story of John Christopher Drumgoole (Burton 1954); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “The Death of Mrs. De Comeau,” New York Herald, Dec 15, 1885; “Father Drumgoole’s Funeral,” New York Herald, April_3_1888; “These Boys Get Along,” The Sun, May 11, 1890; “Nun at Prayer Mortally Burned,” New York Herald, Dec 7, 1898; “Father Drumgoole’s Body Moved,” New York Tribune, Dec 1, 1899; “Death Notices,” Richmond County Advance, Sep 6, 1902; “Its Silver Jubilee,” New York Tribune, Dec 10, 1908; “Msgr Fitzpatrick Buried on Monday,” The Tablet, Dec 12, 1936; “A Push to Get Staten Island War Hero the Medal of Honor,” Staten Island Advance, Mar 16, 2009; “Sister Mary Beatrice Campbell, O.S.F.,” Catholic New York, Jul 9, 2015; “’Mission Kids for Life’ Reunite and Reminisce at Mount Loretto,” Staten Island Advance, Sep 24 2017; “Mount Loretto” Staten Island Advance, May 15, 2018; Hidden Staten Island: Exploring the Secrets of Mt. Loretto