Category Archives: Queens

Mount Zion Cemetery

Aerial view of Mt Zion Cemetery, 2015. Long Island Expressway at left, Dept of Sanitation complex at right, Calvary Cemetery and Manhattan skyline in background (G.Tushev)

There is a remarkable sight just north of the elevated Long Island Expressway as it travels through Maspeth, Queens—a vast expanse of tall, thickly crowded stone monuments sprawls before two massive, blackened smokestacks that arise from a strange nest of metal and tubes. The towering smokestacks are part of a defunct New York City Department of Sanitation incinerator, and they loom over Mount Zion Cemetery, one of the city’s most fascinating graveyards.

Mount Zion Cemetery began in the early 1890s when a small group of Jewish land developers purchased about 130 acres in rural Queens to accommodate the burial needs of the burgeoning Jewish immigrant populations of urban Manhattan and Brooklyn. Of the original acres, only 73 were approved for burial use and most of the rest of the land was sold for other purposes. By the 1920s, about 250 Jewish burial societies had purchased all the approved acreage. In the 1950s, five more acres were approved for burial use and made available for private and family lots. The original association that managed the cemetery was a religious one, Chevra B’Nai Sholom; in 1929 it became Elmwier Cemetery Association, a not-for-profit corporation that still oversees the cemetery today.

Location of Mount Zion Cemetery (OpenStreetMap)
Tombstones in Mt Zion Cemetery, May 2016 (Mary French)

The first burial at Mount Zion was in 1893 and by the 1920s the cemetery interred more than 3,000 individuals per year. Now there are 210,000 graves in the 78-acre cemetery, making it one of the city’s densest graveyards. Most of the graves are organized into gated areas owned by various burial societies founded by Jewish immigrants, usually those from the same town or region in Europe. Because most of these immigrants were poor and their burial societies could not afford to reserve land for landscaping or ornamental features, they would use every inch of space for graves that sold for a few dollars each. Society burial grounds often lack walkways and space between monuments or headstones, and the graves, designed for small, Orthodox-sized caskets, are so closely placed that digging of new graves must be done by hand. This spatial practice and the sense of claustrophobia it creates is often mystifying to modern cemetery visitors but was a familiar environment for those buried here. Most Jewish immigrants of the turn of the 20th century came to the crowded neighborhoods of New York City from compact Jewish ghettos in their European homelands, where the governments restricted both living space and cemetery land. Jewish immigrants had already developed practices for maximizing burial space under these conditions and the burial grounds at Mount Zion mirror a tradition of closeness and communalism that testifies to this history.

Visitors at Mt Zion Cemetery during the Jewish holidays, ca 1940 (Mt Zion Cemetery)
Mt Zion’s original main gate and office building on 54th Avenue, seen here ca.1940, was torn down about 1960 (Mt Zion Cemetery)

A number of celebrated individuals are buried at Mount Zion, including Pulitzer prize-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch, Broadway lyricist Lorenz Hart, novelist Nathanael West, and several prominent Orthodox rabbis. Notorious figures are also interred here, including brothers Morris and Joseph Diamond, who the State of New York executed at Sing Sing prison in 1925 for the robbery-murder of two Brooklyn bank messengers. “Stay away from bad company and love your mother,” was Morris Diamond’s last statement before execution. “She is your dearest friend. If you search all the treasure of the world you will not find a treasure like your mother.”

Morris Diamond’s Sing Sing Prison Admission Record, 1924 (Ancestry)

Mount Zion Cemetery is the final resting place of 44 victims who died in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City. The Triangle fire, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the most infamous workplace accidents in American history, a tragedy that brought widespread attention to dangerous factory conditions and set a in motion an era of labor reforms to better protect the safety of workers. In the Workmen’s Circle section at Mount Zion, several monuments honor the fire victims. One early monument surrounds 14 graves with victims’ names inscribed on individual pillars, and carries the message, “In Memory of the young men and women who perished in the fire at the Triangle Waist Company’s shop, Asch building, N.Y. March 25th 1911. Erected November 1911 by their sisters and brothers, members of the Ladies Waist and Dressmakers Union Local Number 25.” Rose Rosenfeld Freedman, the last survivor of the Triangle fire, is also buried at Mount Zion; a lifelong crusader for worker safety, she died in 2001 at 107 years old.

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A 1912 photo of the marble monument surrounding graves of 14 victims of the Triangle Fire that are interred at Mt Zion Cemetery (Kheel Center)

Secluded off Path C in the southwestern part of Mount Zion is another noteworthy feature—a family burial ground dating to Queens’ colonial period. In 1656, Capt. Richard Betts established a homestead and family graveyard at the northeast corner of 54th Avenue and 58th Street, a site now part of Mount Zion. The burial ground holds the remains of Capt. Betts and his descendants, and Mount Zion maintains it for the Queens Historical Society.

The urban features surrounding Mount Zion add to its unique character today and the area has had a distinctive atmosphere since the cemetery’s early days. During the first half the 20th century, the locale was a known desolate spot that was popular for criminal misdeeds; murder victims were frequently found next to Mount Zion’s fences along 58th Street and Maurice Avenue. Also part of the cemetery environs during this time period was a famed shantytown of Ludar Romanian gypsies that stood immediately south of Mount Zion on 54th Avenue from 1922 to 1939.

Gypsy shantytown at Maspeth, located opposite Mt Zion Cemetery, 1937. The cemetery’s 54th Avenue entrance gate/office building can be seen in the background (QBPL)
View of Mt Zion Cemetery, Betts Avenue Incinerator in background, June 2017 (Mary French)

View more photos of Mount Zion Cemetery

Sources: Mount Zion Cemetery; “Trip to Mount Zion Cemetery,” Jewish Genealogical Society Newsletter 2(1) Sept 1980; Mount Zion: Sepulchral Portraits (Yang 2001); “American Jewish Cemeteries,” (Halporn 1993), Ethnicity and the American Cemetery, p131-155; “Sallie Diamond Faints at Brothers’ Burial in Maspeth,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 2, 1925 p24; The 1911 Triangle Factory Fire; Woodside: A Historical Perspective, 1652-1994 (Gregory 1994) p6; “Man Found Shot to Death,” New York Times, June 12, 1926 p21; “D’Olier’s…Murder,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept 4 1928 p1-2; “Can’t Oust Gypsy Camp,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 8, 1923 p26; “Colorful Maspeth Gypsy Camp Now Just a Memory,” Long Island Star-Journal, Mar 30, 1939 p5; Mt. Zion Cemetery & Queens Garbage Incinerator (aerial video); OpenStreetMap; Sing Sing Prison Admission Registers, 1865-1939 (Ancestry)

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Burroughs Family Cemetery

View of the Burroughs Family Cemetery, ca. 1922 (NYHS)
A view of the Burroughs Family Cemetery, ca. 1922 (New-York Historical Society)

NYC officials proved to have short memories in the 1950s and 1960s when they repeatedly sold and then had to buy back a piece of land in Corona, Queens, after title searches revealed the property was an old cemetery. The plot in question, located near 94th Street and Alstyne and Corona avenues, was earmarked as a private cemetery under a last will and testament admitted to probate on January 3, 1821. It was once part of the estate belonging to the Burroughs family who settled in the area in the 17th century. By the late 1800s, the family had sold off most of their old farm land and retained only the ancestral burial ground. The Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the cemetery in 1919, identifying 16 graves with headstones dating from 1793 to 1871 for members of the Burroughs, Vandervoort, and Waters families.

Location of the Burroughs burial ground in 1919 (Queens Topographical Bureau)
Location of the Burroughs burial ground in 1919 (Queens Topographical Bureau)

As the descendants of those interred there moved out of the area, the cemetery was abandoned, neglected, and became a dumping ground for neighborhood refuse. In 1954, the city seized the property in a delinquent tax action—erroneously it turned out, since private burial grounds, like all cemeteries, are tax exempt. The site was then mistakenly sold at public auction at least twice, in 1956 and 1960. In each case, the city refunded the buyers when they discovered they could not develop the property unless the cemetery was removed, a long and expensive process that would require tracing descendants to obtain permission to move the bodies. It is not known if the remains were ever removed from the Burroughs cemetery site, which is now covered with residential buildings and asphalt.

Another view of the Burroughs Cemetery, ca. 1922. The former Durkee factory (now Elmhurst Education Campus) is in the background (NYHS)
Another view of the Burroughs Cemetery, ca. 1922. The former Durkee factory (now Elmhurst Educational Campus) is in the background (New-York Historical Society)
Approximate location of the former Burroughs Cemetery site.
Approximate location of the former Burroughs Cemetery site today (NYCityMap)

Sources: History of Queens County, New York (Munsell 1882), 344; Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens, 12-13; “City Stuck with Two Cemeteries,” Sunday News March 4, 1956; “Oops! City Discovers it Sold a Cemetery!” Long Island Daily Press, Jan 24, 1957; “City Digs Up Info on Lost Cemetery,” Long Island Star Journal, April 22, 1957, 3; “He Buys a Cemetery, Gets His 2Gs Back,” Long Island Star Journal, March 23, 1962, 3; NYCityMap.

St. John’s Cemetery

A view of St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, April 2016
A view of St. John’s Cemetery, April 2016 (Mary French)

There is a graveyard in Middle Village, Queens, where the Mafia goes to rest in peace. It is a bucolic haven where the rolling swards are tended by uniformed gardeners and the marble crypts are reminiscent of a grander age . . . It is a landscape of silent stone and quiet grass and bird song, and its utter peacefulness holds no sign of the violent deeds of those interred within its grounds . . . (New York Times, July 21, 2001)

St. John's Cemetery in 1891
St. John’s Cemetery in 1891 (Wolverton 1891)

St. John’s Cemetery was established by the Brooklyn Diocese in 1879 to meet the burial needs of Catholic families of Queens and Brooklyn. Located just west of Woodhaven Boulevard in the Middle Village neighborhood of Queens, the 190-acre cemetery is divided into two sections that straddle Metropolitan Avenue. Officially consecrated in 1881, the area north of Metropolitan Avenue was the first to receive interments and by 1895 there were already 32,000 burials here. The land on the southern side was developed and made available for burials in 1933.

Over the years, many prominent Mafia figures chose St. John’s as their final resting place and the cemetery has gradually become a “who’s who” of organized crime families that dominated the New York City underworld since the 1930s. Charles “Lucky” Luciano, credited with creating the structure of the modern American Mafia, was interred in the family mausoleum at St. John’s in 1962. In addition to Luciano, more than 20 infamous crime figures are laid to rest here, including some of the most notorious mob bosses in recent history. Among them are Joe Profaci, Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Carmine Galante, Joe Colombo, and celebrity mobster John Gotti, widely considered the last of the classic Mafia chiefs.

A pine box containing the coffin of Charles "Lucky" Luciano is wheeled toward the family mausoleum, Feb. 1962. The crypt is inscribed, "Luciana," his real surname.
A pine box containing the coffin of Charles “Lucky” Luciano is wheeled toward the family mausoleum, Feb. 1962. The crypt is inscribed, “Luciana,” his real surname (Getty Images)
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Mario Cuomo’s tomb at St. John’s Cloister (Mary French)

Although St. John’s Cemetery is distinctive for its assemblage of deceased mafiosi, it is perhaps most significant as the burial place for two dedicated public servants and icons of contemporary American politics. Geraldine Ferraro, the former Queens congresswoman who was the first woman nominated for U.S. vice president by a major political party, was buried here in 2011. Ferraro ran with Walter Mondale on the Democratic party ticket in the 1984 presidential election, becoming a symbol for women’s equality. Also interred at St. John’s is Queens native and three-term New York governor Mario Cuomo. Cuomo, a powerful and eloquent speaker whose keynote address at the 1984 Democratic convention made him a national political star, was entombed in St. John’s Cloister mausoleum in January 2015.

Geraldine Ferraro's gravesite at St. John's Cemetery.
Geraldine Ferraro’s gravesite at St. John’s Cemetery (Mary French).
Location of St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens
Location of St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens (OpenStreetMap)

View more photos of St. John’s Cemetery.

Sources: “St. John’s Cemetery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 21, 1881, 4; Wolverton’s 1891 Atlas of Queens County, Long Island, Pl 30; “Our Cities of the Dead,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr 28, 1895, 28; “Middle Village Journal – Sleeping with the Giants of the Mob,” New York Times, July 22, 2001; St. John Cemetery (Catholic Cemeteries, Diocese of Brooklyn); “Cemetery has a Mob of Mafiosi,” Daily News, Feb 26, 2008; “St. John Cemetery in Queens,” The Velvet Rocket, Jan 18, 2012.

Remsen Family Cemetery

View of the Remsen Family Cemetery,1923
View of the Remsen Family Cemetery,1923 (New-York Historical Society)

Situated on a triangular lot near the busy intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, the Remsen Cemetery is a remnant of Queens’ colonial past and is the final resting place of a family of Revolutionary War patriots. The 2.5 -acre site, bounded by Trotting Course Lane and Alderton Street, originally lay within the property of the Remsen family, who immigrated from northern Germany in the 17th century and established a farm in the area that was then known as Hempstead Swamp.

Tombstone of Jeromus Remsen (1735-1790), ca. 1910 (BHS)
Tombstone of Jeromus Remsen (1735-1790), ca. 1910 (Brooklyn Historical Society)

The cemetery is believed to have been used as the family burial ground from the mid-18th through the 19th centuries. In a 1925 survey of the cemetery, the graves and brownstone gravemarkers of eight Remsen family members were identified, dating from 1790 to 1819. The oldest known grave is that of Colonel Jeromus Remsen, from 1790. Col. Remsen fought in the French and Indian War and, as a colonel of the Kings and Queens County Militia in the Battle of Long Island, he commanded the 7th New York Regiment in the Revolutionary War. His cousins Abraham Remsen, Luke Remsen, and Aurt Remsen were also Revolutionary War officers.

View of the Remsen farm, ca. 1920 (New-York Historical Society)

By 1925, all of the Remsen property had been sold off and the Remsen House, which was near the cemetery, was torn down to make way for residential development. Most of the cemetery’s old tombstones disappeared with time and vandalism, although the local American Legion post and other civic groups strove to maintain it over the years. In 1980, new marble gravemarkers were erected by the Veterans Administration to honor Col. Remsen and the other Revolutionary veterans buried there. A World War I memorial, with two doughboy statues flanking a flagpole, also was created at the site to commemorate Forest Hill’s service in that war. Remsen Cemetery was designated a New York City Landmark in 1981 and is now owned and maintained by the NYC Parks Department.

Location of Remsen Cemetery between Trotting Course Lane and Alderton Ave in Forest Hills
Location of Remsen Cemetery between Trotting Course Lane and Alderton Ave in Forest Hills (NYCityMap)
View of Remsen Family Cemetery, April 2016
View of Remsen Family Cemetery, April 2016 (Mary French)
New marker at gravesite of Col. Jeromus Remsen
Gravesite of Col. Jeromus Remsen (Mary French)

View more photos of Remsen Family Cemetery

Sources: “Revolutionary Colonel’s Grave, Ruined by Vandals, Now Faces Tax Lien Sale,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr 30 1929, 2; Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens (Powell & Meigs 1932), 62-63; Remsen Cemetery (LPC Designation Report 1981); “Cemeteries of Greater Ridgewood and Vicinity” (R. Eisen, Greater Ridgewood Historical Society Lecture, Aug. 1988); “Remsen Cemetery A Step Closer To Becoming An Official City Park,” Queens Chronicle, March 4, 2004; Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park (M. Perlman 2015), 14.

Mount Judah Cemetery

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Mount Judah Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens (OpenStreetMap)

Mount Judah Cemetery is one of several Jewish burial grounds clustered along the Brooklyn-Queens borderline. Located just off the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the 37-acre cemetery is divided into two sections that straddle Cypress Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens. It was incorporated as Highland View Cemetery Corporation in 1908 and the first burial took place there in 1912. Among the 54,000 individuals buried at Mount Judah are two young men who represent the range of human experience—they led very different lives that, sadly, each ended in violence and turmoil.

Jacob Orgen
Jacob Orgen

In the early 1920s, there were two gangs fighting for domination over the Jewish Lower East Side, one led by Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen and the other by Nathan “Kid Dropper” Kaplan. Their feud was considered one of the bloodiest New York City had known at that time, resulting in at least 20 killings and concluding with Kaplan’s murder in 1923. With Kaplan’s death, Orgen, at just 21 years old, became one of the city’s major labor racketeers and bootleggers.

The sole black sheep in a respectable immigrant family, Orgen’s criminal career began in 1917 as a knife fighter and, later, gunman, for gangster Benjamin Fine. Orgen was arrested 14 times and served four terms in prison over the next decade. On October 15, 1927, three gunmen shot and killed Orgen, and wounded his bodyguard Jack “Legs” Diamond, in a barrage of gunfire near the corner of Delancey and Norfolk streets on the Lower East Side.  Over 1,500 people gathered the next day for his funeral, including his grieving family, mob associates who had come to play their last respects, and police detectives looking for his killers (no one was ever convicted of the crime). His grave is in the Krashnosheltz society’s section at Mount Judah, and his mother and father lie nearby.

Orgen is laid to rest in the Mount Judah Cemetery in Queens as his grieving mother looks on (Daily News)
Jacob Orgen is laid to rest at  Mount Judah Cemetery in 1927 as his grieving mother looks on (Getty Images)
Jacob Orgen's grave at Mount Judah Cemetery, Jan. 2016.
Jacob Orgen’s grave at Mount Judah Cemetery, Jan. 2016 (Mary French)
Andrew Goodman
Andrew Goodman

Just across from the Krashnosheltz society’s gate at Mount Judah is the B’nai Wolf Goodman Family plot, which includes the graves of Andrew Goodman and his parents. Goodman was from an intellectually and socially progressive family who lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. During the summer of 1964, when he was a 20-year-old anthropology student at Queens College, Goodman volunteered for the Freedom Summer project, a campaign to register black voters in the Deep South.

On Goodman’s first day in Mississippi, he and two other civil rights workers, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, disappeared when they went to investigate the burning of Mount Zion Church in Philadelphia, Miss. Their bodies were found six weeks later in a nearby earthen dam. They had been abducted, shot, and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The national outrage in response to their deaths helped bring about the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1966, Goodman’s parents created the Andrew Goodman Foundation to encourage social action. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner found near Philadelphia, Miss., in Aug. 1964.
The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner found near Philadelphia, Miss., in Aug. 1964 (FBI)
Andrew Goodman's grave at Mount Judah, Jan. 2016.
Andrew Goodman’s grave at Mount Judah Cemetery, Jan. 2016 (Mary French)

Sources: Mount Judah Cemetery; “‘Little Augie’ Slain by Rival Gangsters,” New York Times Oct. 16, 1927; “Funeral of ‘Little Augie’…,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Oct. 17, 1927; “Gangland Pays Last Tribute to Little Augie,” New York Herald Tribune Oct. 18, 1927; The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America (A. Fried, 1993); “Slain Rights Workers Mourned by Thousands at Services Here,” New York Times Aug. 10, 1964; “Three Who Mattered,” New York Daily News, June 21, 2014; Andrew Goodman Foundation.

Cornell Cemetery, Little Neck

Samuel Cornell’s tombstone, April 1927. (QBPL)
Tombstone of Samuel Cornell (d. 1841). Photo taken April 1927. (QBPL)

Here lies a youth in prime of life
By death was snatched away.
His soul is blest and gone to rest,
Though flesh is gone to clay.
He is gone forever his life’s sun is set.
But its golden beams linger to comfort us yet.
He has gone in the fulness of beauty and youth,
An emblem of virtue, a witness for truth.
 
Strangers, remember, you must die.

This poignant epitaph, concluding with a bleak reminder to the living, is from the gravestone of Samuel Cornell, who died in 1841 at the age of 20.  His was one of four markers that were found by the Queens Topographical Bureau in 1923 in a plot located at today’s Little Neck Parkway and Nassau Blvd.  Along with Samuel Cornell’s monument, the 67’ x 74’ graveyard had tombstones for John Cornell (d. 1847), Atletter Ann Herrick (d. 1849) and Emeline Penny (d. 1850).  The site was a known burying ground of the Cornell family, who were among the earliest English settlers in Little Neck. The small cemetery, with the four markers still present, was discovered again in 1952 when a shopping center was built at the site.  The remains from the graveyard were likely moved to the cemetery at Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, where other members of the Cornell family are buried.

The Cornell Cemetery near Little Neck Road (todays Little Neck Parkway), as surveyed in 1923 by Queens Topographical Bureau.
The Cornell Cemetery near Little Neck Road (today’s Little Neck Parkway), as surveyed in 1923 by Queens Topographical Bureau.
Approximate location of the Cornell Cemetery on the estate of John Cornell, 1913.
Approximate location of the Cornell Cemetery on the estate of John Cornell, 1913 (Hyde 1913)
View of the Cornell Cemetery in 1952. (NY Herald Tribune)
View of the Cornell Cemetery in 1952. (NY Herald Tribune)
Present day view of the former Cornell Cemetery site, now part  of a shopping center property.
Present day view of the former Cornell Cemetery site, now the location of a shopping center (NYCityMap)

Sources:  Hyde’s 1913 Atlas of the Borough of Queens 3:Pl 20; Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens, 64-65; “Queens Builder Finds 100-Year-Old Tombstones on Lot—He’ll Spare Them,” New York Herald Tribune, Dec 29, 1952, 3; NYCityMap.

Brinckerhoff Cemetery

The Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows, Queens, is a colonial-era burial ground used by Dutch families who settled in the area.  The Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the cemetery in 1919,  identifying 77 graves with headstones dating from 1730 to 1872 for members of the Brinckerhoff, Adriance, Hoogland, Snedecker and other families.  When the descendants of these families moved out of the area, the old graveyard was abandoned, neglected, and eventually taken over by the city.  In the mid-20th century, the city sold the land at public auction to a developer, but plans to build on the site have been blocked for decades by Brinckerhoff descendants and the Queens Historical Society.

Today, no headstones are visible at the 45-by-120-foot cemetery, which is nestled between one-family homes on 182nd Street, north of 73rd Avenue.   The site is covered with brush but is kept free of garbage by neighborhood caretakers.  In May 2012, the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association issued an urgent appeal for landmarking the cemetery to protect it from development.  Update:  The city declared the Brinckerhoff Cemetery a landmark on August 14, 2012.

Location of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery (NYCityMap)
The Brinckerhoff Cemetery as surveyed in 1919 (Queens Topographical Bureau)
A 1927 view of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery (QBPL)
Tombstones of Stephen Rider (d. 1736) and Charyty Anthony (d. 1763), Brinckerhoff Cemetery, 1927 (QBPL)
The Brinckerhoff Cemetery, July 2010 (Mary French)
The Brinckerhoff Cemetery, July 2010 (Mary French)

Sources: Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens 36-37, 41; “Ghouls Despoil Cemetery,” North Shore Daily Journal, May 18, 1934;“Two Old Cemeteries Auctioned Off by City,” Long Island Star Journal, Feb. 9, 1962; “Suing to Reclaim a Family Plot, Gone but Not Forgotten,” New York Times, March 5, 2000; “Fighting to Keep Builder Off Colonial Graves,” NY Daily News, June 29, 2008; NYCityMap