Category Archives: corporate cemeteries

Flushing Cemetery

Flushing Cemetery, 2007. The cemetery’s floral and arboreal beauty memorialize Flushing’s history as a horticultural center (Terry Ballard-Creative Commons)

In the mid-19th century, the rapid growth of the population at Flushing, Queens, made it necessary to create a local cemetery large enough to accommodate citizens of all denominations for generations to come. The Flushing Cemetery Association formed in 1853, with trustees selected to manage the project. They purchased 21 acres about two miles southeast of the village, in the vicinity of Kissena Lake. With additional land purchases, Flushing Cemetery grew to encompass 75 acres on the south side of today’s 46th Avenue, east of Pigeon Meadow Road.

Flushing Cemetery’s original 21 acres are shown in this detail from an 1859 map; additional lands were acquired to expand the cemetery to its current 75 acres

Since its inception, Flushing Cemetery has been known for its beautiful grounds. Flushing was America’s premiere horticultural center throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries and the cemetery’s founding and succeeding trustees were mindful of this connection. They hired landscape architects and gardeners who created spacious lawns and gentle grades with a multitude of trees, ornaments, shrubbery, rare plants, and flowers. Dubbed a “wonderland of a million blooms” for the multi-colored spectacle of flowers present throughout the summer months, Flushing Cemetery has long been one of the most attractive and well-kept resting places in the metropolitan area.

Adding to the cemetery’s picturesque beauty is the Spanish-style administration building inside the entrance gate on 46th Avenue. Built in 1912, it is of light brown ashlar stone with tile roofs and consists of an office building and a chapel. Just beyond the administration building is a collection of historical landmarks including several soldiers’ memorials and a massive World Trade Center monument that was erected by the cemetery’s board of directors in 2002. Also here is the Elliman Memorial Fountain. Originally erected in downtown Flushing in 1896 in honor of the philanthropist and temperance activist Mary Lawrence Elliman, the fountain was moved to the cemetery in 1907.

Older areas of the cemetery feature large plots of early families of Flushing, College Point, Whitestone, and Bayside, while newer sections are distinguished by tombstones featuring Greek and Chinese inscriptions of more recent immigrant communities. Since the early 1900s Flushing Cemetery also has been a major burial place for African Americans of Queens, Brooklyn, and Harlem. This is in stark contrast to the cemetery’s origins as an exclusively “white” cemetery—in 1864 its trustees passed a resolution “that all applications for interment of colored persons in the Flushing Cemetery be refused” and their prohibition against the burial of local people of African American and Native American ancestry was widely reported in local and national newspapers. These policies were lifted towards the end of the 1800s, allowing people of all races and ethnicities to acquire graves and family plots at Flushing Cemetery.

Louis Armstrong’s gravestone at Flushing Cemetery with the original bronze trumpet that was attached before it was stolen in the early 1980s. A new trumpet sculpted of white marble was installed atop his marker in 1984 (Louisiana Digital Library)

In what may be a case of divine retribution against the racist practices of the cemetery’s founding fathers, the most famous individual buried at Flushing Cemetery is black. Superstar trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong was laid to rest here in 1971 after he died at his home in Corona, Queens, at age 71. Since then thousands of fans have visited his gravesite, leaving mementos at his tombstone.

Among other notables interred at Flushing Cemetery are State Supreme Court justice and founder of Queens College Charles S. Colden; financier and statesman Bernard Baruch; restauranteur Vincent Sardi, Sr.; Eugene Bullard, one of the world’s first black military pilots; Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., the prominent pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and father of U.S. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.; and jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, and Hazel Scott.

Today Flushing Cemetery is the final resting place for approximately 45,000 people of diverse backgrounds. With over 300 interments each year, it still actively serves the present-day community while preserving the area’s historical and horticultural past.

The Consul General of France in New York lays a wreath at Eugene Bullard’s grave in Flushing Cemetery in 2021. Bullard, a native of Columbus, Georgia, was one of the world’s first black military pilots. He flew for the French Army Air Corps during WWI and was a spy for the French Resistance during WWII (Consulate General of France in New York)
A view of Flushing Cemetery, Jan 2016 (Mary French)
2018 aerial view of Flushing Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Topographical Map of the Counties of Kings and Queens, New York (Walling 1859); History of Queens County (Munsell 1882); The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); The Story of Flushing Cemetery (Stuart 1945); Flushing in the Civil War Era (Seyfried 2001); “Dedication of a New Cemetery at Flushing,” New York Times, Sep 2 1853; “Trouble at Flushing with the Colored Dead,” New York Tribune, June 26, 1866; “The Death of Mr. John Mingo,” Brooklyn Times Union, Nov 6, 1873; “Picturesque Past of Flushing Town,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 1, 1899; “Beautiful Flushing Cemetery,” Brooklyn Times Union, Jul 13, 1901; “Plea for Preservation of Monument,” Brooklyn Times Union, Sep 14, 1907; “Memorial Moved,” Brooklyn Times Union, Dec 13, 1907; “Church and Chapel Among Week’s Building Permits,” Brooklyn Times Union, Sep 5 1912; “Flushing,” The Standard Union, Aug 28, 1921; “Trumpet Restored,” Daily News, Oct 17, 1984; “A Memorial Etched in Mourning,” Newsday, Feb 14, 2002; Commemorative Ceremony for the 60th Death Anniversary of Veteran Eugene Bullard (Consulate General of France in New York)

Evergreens Cemetery

An 1893 photo of the ivy-clad administration building at Evergreens Cemetery, originally built as a chapel

It was still morning, and the quiet of the huge Evergreen Cemetery was broken only by the idling engine of Otis Chance’s big yellow backhoe. The machine was parked at the edge of the cemetery’s Ascension Section, a few yards from Yusef Hawkins’ grave, a few hundred yards from where Michael Griffith, victim of the Howard Beach racial attack, was buried on the day after Christmas in 1986. Otis Chance dug both of those holes in the sandy Queens earth. “I even carried Michael Griffith’s coffin,” he said. “You don’t always know who they’re for, but the foreman told us yesterday this one was for Hawkins,” said Chance, a 34-year-old black man who owns and lives in a house in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section. “It’s a tragedy, a damn shame, nonsense, stupidity,” he said, shaking his head. “It was the same way with Griffith—it didn’t make any sense, what happened. You feel so bad, so sorry for the families.” (Daily News, Aug 31, 1989)

A view of Manhattan from Evergreens Cemetery, Apr 2016

Evergreens Cemetery is a non-denominational burial ground created in 1849 that spans 225 acres along the Brooklyn-Queens border. Prominent landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing designed the grounds, and the results were described as “a perfect rural cemetery” by one 19th-century guide to New York City cemeteries. The wooded landscape includes winding paths traversing an undulating terrain, high points that offer scenic vistas of the Manhattan skyline and Jamaica Bay, and a picturesque Gothic Revival chapel designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1849/50  (now used as an administration building). 

Celestial Hill, an early Chinese burial ground at Evergreens Cemetery, Mar 2018 (Mary French)

Evergreens is the resting place of over 526,000 people of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds; among the notables interred here are dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, jazz musician Lester Young, and world chess champion William Steinitz. Distinctive plots include the Seaman’s Grounds, which hold the remains of more than 1,200 sailors; Celestial Hill, one of the early burial grounds for New York’s Chinese immigrants; and the Actors Fund Plot, where 500 members of the entertainment industry are interred. Also of note is the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Memorial, a haunting monument to several victims of the 1911 Triangle factory fire buried here; the victims’ names, unidentified for a century, were uncovered in 2011 through the persistence of researcher Michael Hirsch and have been added to the memorial.

Yusuf Hawkins’ grave at Evergreens Cemetery, Mar 2018 (Mary French)

The graves of Michael Griffith and Yusuf Hawkins—both victims of late-1980s racial attacks—are in an area of modest graves on the northern side of Evergreens Cemetery. Unlike older sections of the cemetery that are named for pastoral features such as Sylvan Dell, Lake View, and Hickory Knoll, these newer sections are named for biblical themes. In the Redemption section is the burial place of 23-year-old Michael Griffith, killed in 1986 when he was struck by a car as he was chased onto a highway by a group of young white men in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens. Three years later, 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins was laid to rest in the nearby Ascension section after he was shot to death during an attack by a white mob in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The peacefulness of the gravesites of these two young men is a stark contrast to the anguish and civic unrest that followed their deaths, one of the worst periods of racial tension in New York City’s history.

Monument at the center of the Seaman’s Plot, Evergreens Cemetery , Mar 2018 (Mary French)
Location of Evergreens Cemetery Brooklyn-Queens border (OpenStreetMap)

View more photos of Evergreens Cemetery

Sources: The Cemeteries of New York (Judson 1881); The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle…(Brooklyn Daily Eagle 1893); Green Oasis in Brooklyn: The Evergreens Cemetery 1849-2008 (Rousmaniere 2008); The Evergreens Cemetery—The Cultural Landscape Foundation; The Evergreens Cemetery; “When Jack Tar Dies in Port—A Final Resting Place in the Evergreens Cemetery,” New York Times, May 28 1893;  “He’ll Bid Yusef His Last Farewell,” New York Daily News, Aug 31, 1989; “100 Years Later, the Roll of the Dead in a Factory Fire Is Complete,” New York Times, Feb 20, 2011; “The Story Behind HBO’s Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn,” Time, Aug 13, 2020; OpenStreetMap

St. Michael’s Cemetery

A large stylized cross and rows of small plain crosses mark the Community of St. John the Baptist plot at St. Michael’s Cemetery, where early sisters of this order of Episcopal nuns are buried. (Mary French, Aug 2021)

In 1852, Rev. Thomas McClure Peters acquired seven acres of farmland in Newtown, Queens, to establish a new cemetery that would provide graves and dignified burials for the poor. Rev. Peters, the rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, had devoted himself to mission work in the city’s almshouses, prisons, and hospitals, and among its poorest and most disenfranchised communities. He developed an understanding of the needs of these communities and believed it was possible to run a cemetery on business principles and at the same time furnish the poorer classes of the city with burials at a price within their means. Once he had the cemetery laid out and functioning successfully, Rev. Peters turned it over to the corporation of St. Michael’s Church, which owns and manages it to this day.

St. Michael’s Cemetery gradually added more land over the years to reach its present size of roughly 88 acres in the area bounded by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway in East Elmhurst, Queens. Various churches and charitable institutions acquired sections within the cemetery, public grounds were set aside for free and low-cost burials, and private lots were purchased by individuals and families. St. Michael’s Cemetery still serves a diverse constituency and is the final resting place of roughly 175,000 people from all classes, religions, and ethnicities.

Robert Kellner monument at St. Michael’s Cemetery, 1983 (Jackson & Vergara)

The older family plots at St. Michael’s are predominately German and the dark gray markers here are frequently ornamented with statues depicting angels, lamenting females, and other classical imagery. Also here is a life-sized statue of a Doughboy adorning the gravestone of 24-year-old Cpl. Robert L. Kellner, who was killed on the battlefield of the Argonne Forest, France, in 1918. Later sections have markers with Italian and Greek-lettered names, while more recent monuments carry Chinese and Korean inscriptions. The cemetery’s crematorium, opened in 2005, accommodates the needs of the city’s large Hindu population.

The burial place of St. Michael’s most renowned resident—African American composer and pianist Scott Joplin—is found amid the modest markers and unmarked graves in the cemetery’s public grounds. Dubbed the “King of Ragtime,” Joplin experienced a brief period of fame at the turn of the 20th century, but his career was cut short by mental health issues and he died in poverty in 1917 at age 49. His family was too poor to provide a stone or marker for his grave, and Joplin faded into obscurity as his music waned in popularity.

Plaque marking Scott Joplin’s grave at St. Michael’s Cemetery, Aug 2021 (Mary French)

In 1973, the Academy Award-winning film The Sting stimulated a revival of ragtime and renewed interest in Joplin when his 1902 composition “The Entertainer” was used as the film’s theme music, topping the musical charts for months. The following year, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) installed a bronze plaque at Joplin’s unmarked grave at St. Michael’s. In 2004, St. Michael’s began holding annual ragtime concerts on its grounds in Joplin’s honor, and in 2017 added a memorial bench at the gravesite to commemorate the centennial of his death.

1983 photo showing wreckage of once orderly rows of tombstones at St. Michael’s Cemetery (Jackson & Vergara)

During the 1970s, St. Michael’s fell into disrepair because of budget cuts and a lack of maintenance and experienced a period of intense vandalism and neglect through the 1980s. Intruders toppled hundreds of tombstones throughout the cemetery and  weeds and underbrush completely enveloped the monuments in some sections. At one point, the lack of adequate fencing allowed motorbikes and even cars to drive among gravesites in the cemetery’s southern corner. But a large-scale renovation in the early 1990s restored the historic cemetery to its past beauty, and today it is well maintained and continually expanding through the construction of community mausoleums.

Another modern addition at St. Michael’s is a collection of memorials devoted to the city’s first responders who lost their lives on 9/11 and before. The most striking of these is the Christopher Santora memorial, honoring 76 firefighters who lived or worked in Queens that died on September 11, 2001. The memorial’s centerpiece is a black marble slab bearing an etched image of Santora, the youngest firefighter to die at the World Trade Center on 9/11. These memorials to the city’s service members are a continuation of St. Michael’s mission to create places to remember and celebrate lives.

The Christopher Santora/Sept. 11 Firefighters Memorial at St. Michael’s Cemetery, Aug 2021 (Mary French)
Location of St. Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst, Queens (OpenStreetMap)
Vintage photo showing reporters gathering for the interment of mobster Frank Castello’s casket in the family mausoleum at St. Michael’s Cemetery, February 21, 1973

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Sources: Annals of St. Michael’s: Being the History of St. Michael’s Protestant Episcopal Church, New York for One Hundred Years 1807-1907 (Peters 1907); St. Michael’s Cemetery – About; Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery (Jackson & Vergara 1989); King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era, 2nd ed (Berlin 2016); “Our Cities of the Dead,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 28, 1895; “Costello & Legend are Buried,” Daily News, Feb 22, 1973; “A True Note at Composer’s Grave,” Daily News, Oct 7, 1974; “Requiem for the Cemetery?” Daily News, Nov 8, 1974; “Queens Vandals Topple Markers on 300 Graves,” New York Times, Apr 5, 1980; “Seek to Stop Cemetery’s Decline,” Daily News, Jan 11, 1983; “700 Stones Overturned at Cemetery,” New York Times, Aug 10, 1991; “E. Elmhurst Biz Plots for the Future,” QNS.com, May 19, 2004; “Memorial to Firefighers Who Died on 9/11 Is Dedicated,” Queens Gazette, Sep 16, 2004; “New Final Home Underway in Boro,” Queens Tribune, Jun 10, 2010 “Queens Cemetery’s Attempts to Expand on Park Land in Limbo, Daily News, Aug 15, 2013; “Visit to a Historic Cemetery,” CSJB Newsletter, Spring 2013; “Three-Story, 18,800-Square-Foot Mausoleum Coming To St. Michael’s Cemetery, Woodside,” New York Yimby, June 29, 2016; “Joplin Tribute Draws Hundreds of Admirers,” Queens Chronicle, May 23, 2019

United Hebrew Cemetery

Numerous stones left atop these monuments at United Hebrew Cemetery attest to frequent visits (Mary French)

In contrast to many of New York City’s Jewish burial grounds, which often have a deserted air about them, United Hebrew Cemetery on Staten Island hums with activity. On an average day, cars line the cemetery’s roadways, paths are filled with family and friends visiting their departed loved ones, and a yarmulke-wearing manager zips around the grounds on a golf cart. The cemetery’s history begins when the United Hebrew Cemetery Association of New York City incorporated in 1906. The association later acquired 67 acres on Arthur Kill Road in the Richmond section of Staten Island and opened to burials in 1908. United Hebrew now is the resting place of 40,000 Jews from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In its early years, United Hebrew sold plots to about 200 burial societies and benevolent associations. Today its grounds are sold directly to families or individuals, and recent emigration from the former Soviet Union has resulted in an increase in burials over the past few decades.

The Drobniner Holocaust memorial at United Hebrew Cemetery (Steven Lasky/Museum of Family History)

Among those interred at United Hebrew Cemetery are countless people touched by the Holocaust and monuments found throughout the cemetery memorialize those who suffered or died under Nazism.  The Holocaust memorials are dedicated to specific towns that lost their Jewish population to the Nazi regime and their collaborators, or to the many Jews themselves who once inhabited these towns. A monument in the Eishishok Society plot at United Hebrew commemorates more than 4,000 Jews of the Lithuanian shtetl of Eishyshok who were massacred by German troops in 1941. Another large monument, erected by the Drobniner Benevolent Society, commemorates 3,000 Jews from the town of Drobnin, Poland, who were gassed and cremated at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Buried at the foot of the Drobniner monument are ashes brought from Auschwitz in 1961 by one of the camp’s survivors, Rabbi David Foffer.

Burial site of ashes from Auschwitz interred at the foot of the Drobniner monument (Steven Lasky/Museum of Family History)
Listing for United Hebrew Cemetery in a 1910 directory of NYC cemeteries
Location of United Hebrew Cemetery on Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island (OpenStreetMap)

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Sources: “Incorporations Filed,” Buffalo Courier, Nov 2, 1906; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910), 164-165; Annual reports of the Board of Health of the City of New York, 1900-1925; “Rites for Nazi Victims,” New York Times, Nov 27, 1961; “Jewish Cemeteries Recall Era of Immigration, Times of Suffering, Moments of Forgiveness,” Staten Island Advance, Jul 26, 2005; Carved in Granite: Holocaust Memorials in Greater New York Jewish Cemeteries (Poplack 2003); “Holocaust Memorials of New York and New Jersey,” Museum of Family History; OpenStreetMap

Baron Hirsch Cemetery

A stone gate at Baron Hirsch Cemetery marks the entrance to a plot owned by a branch of the Independent Order of Brith Abraham, a Jewish men’s fraternal order (Mary French)

All is quiet during a midday walk through Baron Hirsch Cemetery, where dense woods cover much of the grounds, leaves whisper in the breeze, metal gates creak on rusted hinges, and critters rustle through underbrush that surrounds tombstones. Throughout this 80-acre Jewish graveyard in the Graniteville section of Staten Island there are large plots, fenced off and gated like small neighborhoods, that were bought up by various burial associations during the cemetery’s early years. Leaning and toppled headstones are evidence of the waves of vandalism that have plagued the cemetery since the 1960s, as well as signs of widespread indifference—as members died out so did the burial societies that supported upkeep of their plots and younger generations feel no responsibility for maintaining their ancestor’s graves.

Martin Einziger of Staten Island examines the swastika vandals painted on his family’s tombstone at Baron Hirsch Cemetery in January 1960 (Associated Press)

Altogether, about 65,000 people are buried at Baron Hirsch Cemetery, which was founded in 1899 by an association of Jewish men of New York and named for Jewish businessman and philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch. Some notable figures can be found at Baron Hirsch—theater producer Joseph Papp, publisher Samuel Newhouse, Sr., and Medal of Honor recipient William Shemin among them—but most of those buried here are the lesser-known or forgotten from surrounding areas of New York and New Jersey, individuals with hopes and dreams, with families, each with their own unique story.

Henrietta Schmerler’s tombstone (Baron Hirsch Cemetery)

The story of one young woman buried at Baron Hirsch Cemetery is profoundly timeless and hauntingly relevant to today’s social issues. In the summer of 1931, 22-year-old Henrietta Schmerler, a student of renowned anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s at Columbia University, set out to do fieldwork among the White Mountain Apache in Arizona. On her way to conduct research at a tribal dance on July 18, 1931, she was raped and murdered by a member of the community she was studying. Her body was returned to her family in New York and interred at Baron Hirsch. In the aftermath of the crime, Apache tribal members, FBI investigators, and Schmerler’s mentors and colleagues condemned Schmerler for her own sexual assault and murder. Characterized as willful and careless, a message emerged that she shared responsibility for what had happened to her. Recent research has attempted to correct the distorted narrative of events surrounding Schmerler’s death and to reexamine her story in the context of the #MeToo movement and other experiences of sexual violence within the field of anthropology.

A 2012 aerial view of Baron Hirsch Cemetery
Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn pray at the grave of Herman Steiner—brother of Grand Rebbe Yehuda Tzvi Steiner, who founded the Kerestir Hasidic dynasty—at Baron Hirsch Cemetery, May 2019 (SI Advance)

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Sources: “Incorporated at Albany,” Sunday News (Wilkes-Barre PA), Jul 9, 1899; “Bigotry Peril to the World, Ike Tells AJC” Daily News,Jan 13, 1960; “Vandals Topple Tombstones at S.I. Jewish Cemeteries, Daily News, Apr 2, 1979; “Island Cemeteries Reflect Our ‘Tender Mercies,’”Staten Island Advance, April 29, 1990; “In a Place Plagued by Vandals, The Pain of Putting Things Right,” New York Times, May 16, 2004; “Apathy, Neglect and Vines Overtake Staten Island Cemetery,” Staten Island Advance,  Aug 18, 2012; “Hundreds Pay Their Respects on 103rd Anniversary of Rabbi’s Death at Graniteville Cemetery,” Staten Island Advance, May 17, 2019; “Students Attend Schmerler Rites,” New York Times, Aug 1, 1931; Henrietta Schmerler and the Murder that Put Anthropology on Trial (Schmerler 2017); “How Henrietta Schmerler Was Lost, Then Found,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct 14, 2018; Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006), 32-37; Baron Hirsch Cemetery; NYCityMap