In 1849, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim of Manhattan purchased land on 89th Street to serve as a burial place to supplement its earlier graveyard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The five lots acquired for $900 in 1849 were situated on the north side of 89th Street, near present-day Madison Avenue. By 1875, when the congregation decided to transfer the remains to new plots in Cypress Hills Cemetery, approximately 100 bodies were interred in Shaar Hashomayim’s 89th Street cemetery.
Shaar Hashomayim was one of several Jewish congregations that exhumed remains from their old burial grounds in the late 1800s, an act that was denounced by the Jewish public and press. The editors of The Jewish Messenger took Shaar Hashomayim to task when the congregation began removing their 89th Street cemetery, asserting that “there is absolutely no reason for this desecration. The old cemetery could, with very little expense, have been put in such a condition as to continue an object of grateful reverence. Had the members of Shaar Hashomayim retained any of the old Jewish feeling, they would have hesitated before disturbing the remains of their parents and other relatives.” The editorial goes on to claim that the only motive for emptying the cemeteries was to sell the land at a profit, and pleads with congregations not “to follow their example of contempt for the departed.” Today, an apartment building stands at the site of Shaar Hashomayim’s 89th Street cemetery.
In 1860, one of New York City’s Jewish newspapers published the following announcement:
To the Jewish Congregations in this City – A Burial ground in Williamsburgh, L.I., belonging to one of the Congregations of this city, is to be sold for assessment arrearages. As it is the resting place of a number of departed Israelites, immediate efforts should be made to avert the threatened sale.
The burial ground in question occupied a lot on South Third Street, between Tenth and Eleventh streets (today’s Keap and Hooper streets) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was owned by Congregation Shaar Hashomayim (Gates of Heaven), a group of German Jews that broke off from Manhattan’s B’nai Jeshurun, first meeting for worship in a building on Attorney Street and later having a synagogue on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side. Five days after Shaar Hashomayim was incorporated on June 24th, 1839, the congregation purchased the 120 x 25 foot lot in Williamsburg from Abraham Remsen for $400 and subsequently used it as a cemetery. Unpaid assessment notices for the property—denoted as “Jews’ Burying Ground”—appear in Brooklyn newspapers throughout the 1860s, but this issue must have been resolved as Shaar Hashomayim retained ownership of the property.
In 1874, The Jewish Messenger described the “old Hebrew burying ground” on South Third Street, which “has been used by the juveniles of the neighborhood for the past few years as a playground. They have shamefully defaced some of the gravestones, and even carried away several. It is now over 20 years since a burial has been made there, and it seems strange that no one apparently having an interest in this ground ever visits or makes any repairs.” By the 1880s, the cemetery had become “a wilderness of weeds” and “a dumping ground for refuse and filth,” according to reports in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
The disposition of remains from the South Third Street cemetery is unclear, but it’s likely Shaar Hashomayim removed them to burial plots acquired at Cypress Hills Cemetery for remains exhumed in 1875 from another cemetery the congregation owned at 89th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. In 1889 Congregation Shaar Hashomayim sold their former burial ground in Williamsburg to Westcott Express Company and the property was redeveloped; today a boutique condominium building is on the site. In 1898 Shaar Hashomayim merged with another Manhattan congregation, Ahawath Chesed; the combined congregation subsequently renamed itself Central Synagogue and continues today at 55th Street and Lexington Avenue.
Sources: Higginson’s 1868Insurance Maps of the City of Brooklyn, Pl 82; Brooklyn Land Conveyance Abstracts, Section 8 Block 2424 (Center for Brooklyn History); Kings County Conveyances, Vol 148 p125-126, Vol 298 p262-264, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; “To the Jewish Congregations in this City,” The Jewish Messenger, Jun 1, 1860; “Corporation Notices—Tenth Street Opening,”Brooklyn Times Union, Jun 6, 1860; “Corporation Notices—Assessment Notice,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan 5, 1864; “Local Items,” The Jewish Messenger, Jul 31, 1874; “Disturbing the Dead,” The Jewish Messenger, Nov 26, 1875; “Skeletons in the Eastern District,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jul 20, 1883; “The Aldermen,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 28, 1887; “Cong. Shaar Hashomajim,” The Jewish Messenger, Sep 20, 1889; The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook (Olitzky & Raphael 1996), Central Synagogue—Our History
The consecration of the new Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery, Flushing, Long Island, by the Right Rev. Rev. Dr. Loughlin, Bishop of Brooklyn, on Sunday, 12th inst., is perhaps one of the most solemn and interesting rites we have had occasion for some time to record. The ceremonies commenced by a procession of St. Michael’s Catholic Schools of the village, and the St. Vincent of Paul and St. Michael’s Benevolent Societies attached to the parish, from the convent grounds of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The girls in white, with blue sashes, and the boys in white pants and blue jackets, made a most attractive appearance in marching to the cemetery, nearly two miles distant. (Metropolitan Record July 25, 1863)
Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery was founded in 1862 when the trustees of St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church of Flushing—the oldest Catholic parish in Queens—acquired six acres of land on the south side of North Hempstead Turnpike (today’s Booth Memorial Avenue). Originally established as a parish burial ground, the cemetery grew to 55 acres that were open to Catholics throughout Queens and Brooklyn. Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery still serves the Catholic community of the diocese, handling about 1,000 interments per year in in-ground burials and above-ground community mausoleums.
Among the estimated 80,000 people laid to rest at Mount St. Mary’s are several U.S. congressmen; mafioso Louis DiBono; punk rockers Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan; and Bishop Edmund J. Reilly, a native of College Point, Queens, who served as auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn from 1955 to 1958. Victims of great tragedy are here as well. Six members of the Polish Catholic Fliss family—father, mother, and four children—were interred at Mount St. Mary’s after a fire consumed their home on Alley Pond Road in Bayside, Queens, on March 24, 1930. (See the heartbreakingly similar story of the Sanders family in my Mount Lebanon post). More recently, retired NYPD officer Cesar Borja was buried at Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery on January 27, 2007. Once seen as a symbol of September 11 rescue workers’ health problems, Borja died from a lung ailment he believed was caused by his service at the World Trade Center site.
Sources: Wolverton’s 1891 Atlas of Queens County, Long Island, Pl 29; “A Brief History of Mount St. Mary Cemetery in Flushing, New York,” The Promise 11(1), May 2009; Mount St. Mary Cemetery (Catholic Cemeteries, Diocese of Brooklyn); The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); Annual reports of the Board of Health of the City of New York, 1900-1925; “Notice,” Long Island Farmer, Oct 28, 1862; “Consecration of Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery, Flushing, L.I.,” Metropolitan Record, July 25 1863; “St. Michael’s Cemetery Question,” Newtown Register, June 29, 1899; “Cemetery Desecrated,” Brooklyn Times Union, Apr 22, 1904;“Boy Escaping Fire, Sees 6 Kin Buried,” Brooklyn Times Union, Mar 27, 1930; “His Saddest Day,” Daily News, Mar 30, 1930; “Weeks After a Death, Twists in Some 9/11 Details, New York Times, Feb. 13, 2007; The 9/11 Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (Atkins 2011)
A long driveway off Arthur Kill Road in Greenridge leads to the small cemetery belonging to the Sisters of the Presentation of Staten Island, an order of Roman Catholic nuns that has its origins in the Irish city of Cork. Hemmed in today by residential development, the hilltop burial ground once offered views of sloping hillsides and ridges dotted with fields, orchards, and barnyards. This bucolic environment is what led the Presentation Sisters, assigned to teaching positions at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan, to open a retreat on what had been the Frost farm in the western part of Staten Island. Shortly after opening their 80-acre retreat in 1884, the nuns began hosting needy children from their Manhattan parish; within a few years, the retreat had evolved into St. Michael’s Home for destitute children. In 1921, St Michael’s Home and Convent housed 33 Presentation Sisters and 400 children.
The Presentation Sisters left St. Michael’s Home in the 1940s, relocating their convent to another area of Staten Island and relinquishing operation of the children’s home to the Sisters of Mercy. Over the years, the Presentation Sisters worked at local churches, taught at local schools, and became an indelible part of Staten Island’s Catholic community. In the 1960s, nearly 120 nuns were members of the order. As of 2020, the Staten Island Presentation Sisters congregation had only eight members at their present convent, built in 2010 on Woodrow Road in Annadale.
St. Michael’s Home was closed by the Archdiocese of New York in 1978. At the time of closing, the substantial complex held 12 buildings—including a chapel, gymnasium, administration building, and dormitories—and the burial ground where the Presentation Sisters have interred members of their community for over 100 years. Most of the St. Michael’s Home complex was demolished and much of the property sold, except for about six acres reserved for St. John Neumann Church, a new parish that operated on the grounds until its 2017 closure.
Approximately 80 nuns are buried in the Presentation Sisters Cemetery, which is a short distance behind the St. John Neumann church building. Enclosed by a wrought-iron fence and gate bearing the words “My Jesus Mercy,” the tidy cemetery has rows of uniform headstones marking the nuns’ graves, the earliest dating to 1886. In the southern section of the cemetery is a monument inscribed “In Memory of the Children of St. Michael’s Home Buried on this Sacred Ground,” which marks a plot where about two dozen youngsters from the home, who died without relatives to claim them, are interred. Several other individuals associated with St. Michael’s Home are also interred in the cemetery.
The Presentation Sisters Cemetery is still active; the most recent burial is Sister Margaret Mary Quinn. Born in Manhattan, Sister Margaret Mary entered the Presentation Sisters of Staten Island in 1946. For 32 years, she served at St. Teresa parish and school in West New Brighton, where she was instrumental in starting a preschool program and food pantry. Sister Margaret Mary died at the Woodrow Road convent in August 2020 at age 90.
Sources: Bromley’s 1917 Atlas of the City of New York, Borough of Richmond, Staten Island, Pl 43; The Official Catholic Directory 1921; Staten Island and Its People, Vol. 2 (Davis & Leng 1930); Phase 1 Archaeological Sensitivity Evaluation, Arden Heights Watershed, South Richmond Drainage Plans, Staten Island, New York (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 2001); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); “Many at Funeral of Father Byrnes,” Perth Amboy Evening News, Mar 6, 1908; “Elks to Honor Late Chaplain,” Perth Amboy Evening News, May 26, 1909; “Few in Number, Rich in Land, an Order Sells Some Holdings,” New York Times, Apr 17, 2005; “St. John Neumann Church to Close,” Staten Island Advance, May 1, 2017; “Sister Margaret Mary Quinn,” Catholic New York, Sep 24, 2020; Staten Island Presentation Sisters Congregational Story
On the same day in 1654 that Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant ordered a church be built at Flatbush, he authorized the same for the neighboring settlement at Flatlands (then known as New Amersfort), another of the six original towns of Brooklyn. The first church edifice at Flatlands, erected in 1663, stood on a gently elevated spot at the head of a little stream that ran into Jamaica Bay. This site is occupied by the present Flatlands Reformed Dutch Church, at East 40th Street and Kings Highway. Constructed in 1848, it is the third church building on the site.
West and southwest of the church building is the roughly two-acre cemetery where generations of Flatlanders are laid to rest; names include Lott, Voorhees, Wyckoff, Stothoff, Schenck, Kouwenhoven, and Funck, among others. Though only a few hundred gravestones remain today, over 2,000 people are believed to have been interred in the cemetery between the late 17th century and the mid-20th century. The oldest surviving tombstones date to the 1760s; the most poignant of these marks a grave shared by three young brothers—children of Peter and Willempie Amirman—who died on consecutive days in September 1767.
Members of Flatlands’ historic African American community are also interred here. An 1882 inventory of tombstones in the cemetery identifies eight graves of “colored people,” including several members of the Paupau family that died between the 1830s and 1850s. According to research by the Friends of the Lott House in Marine Park (part of the historic town of Flatlands), the Paupaus were of African and Native American ancestry and resided in Flatlands as early as 1830. Descendants of this family were interred in the cemetery into the 20th century.
Flatlands was established in 1636 when a group of Dutch settlers bought 15,000 acres of land from local Canarsee tribal chiefs, and there was a tradition among the old families of Flatlands that the site of the church and cemetery was a former Native American burial ground. This story ostensibly was confirmed in 1904, when construction of a new Sunday school/lecture building at the southern end of the cemetery grounds uncovered what were believed to be Native American human remains. While excavating for the foundation of the new building, workers dug up 12 skeletons “of massive proportions,” according to newspaper reports, with nothing indicating they had ever been in coffins. “There is little doubt that the dozen skeletons exhumed are the remains of Indians,” the Brooklyn Daily Eagle proclaimed, and residents of the neighborhood concluded this was proof of their “Indian burial ground” folklore. The bones were placed in a box and reinterred in another section of the cemetery.
In the early 1900s, several distinct sections made up what is now the Flatlands Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery. These included the churchyard proper, immediately west of the church building and owned by the congregation, the “Indian burial plot” at the north end of the property, where the Native American remains uncovered in 1904 were reburied; the privately-owned DeBaun and Terhune family burial plots, forming a narrow strip below the churchyard; and the public burial ground along the southern boundary of the property, owned by the town of Flatlands. All of these sections are now owned and managed by the church. In the 1920s, the cemetery grounds were graded to street level, beautified with plantings, and enclosed by a fine wrought-iron fence. The present Flatlands Reformed Dutch Church continues to serve the ever-changing population of the local community, and the pretty, spacious grounds of the church cemetery offer a quiet place to recall the site’s long history.
Sources: Beers 1873 Atlas of Long Island, Pl 32; [Map of Flatbush Ave. at Alton Pl. and Overbaugh Pl.], undated; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); The Ferry Road on Long Island (Armbruster 1919); Tercentenary Anniversary, 1654-1954 (Protestant Dutch Reformed Church of Flatlands 1954); “Inscriptions on the Tombstones in and around the Churchyard in the Village of Flatlands, Kings County, N.Y.” Kings County Genealogical Club Collections, 1(2), Jul 1882; Cemetery Inscriptions from Flatlands, Brooklyn, New York (Frost 1914); “Flatlands’ Church-Yard,” Kings County Rural Gazette, Apr 25, 1874; “Flatlands—The Duty of Sexton,” Kings County Rural Gazette, Apr 22, 1876; “Gravestones,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jul 21, 1882; “Old Burial Grounds,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug 29, 1886; “Find Dead Men’s Bones in Excavation” Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug 12, 1904; “Bones of Aborigines in Flatlands Churchyard,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug 12, 1904; “Urge City to Purchase Flatlands Property,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 2, 1911; “Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City(Meade 2020); “Meet Julia Paupau Teare,” Hendrick I. Lott House Facebook post, May 6, 2020