Category Archives: religious cemeteries

East Houston Street Church Cemeteries

An 1852 map showing the church cemeteries along East Houston street and between First and Second Streets

“The expectation that cemeteries shall afford a permanent resting place to the bodies interred in them is conclusively discredited by experience,” wrote civic leader Louis Windmüller in 1898, declaring that “of all American cities, New York—where about a hundred graveyards have been destroyed or partially abandoned since it became a city—offers the most striking examples of the changeableness of ‘resting places.’” Burial grounds were scattered throughout lower Manhattan in the early 1800s to such an extent, says Windmüller, “that a splenetic Englishman who came to visit our shores speedily returned when he found every street lined with headstones.”

Graveyards that surrounded many Manhattan churches were removed or covered over as development encroached and congregations relocated. Some churches established new burial grounds further north of the dense downtown area where they thought they would be safe from disturbance. These cemeteries, often common burial grounds used by several congregations of the same denomination, were in turn overtaken by the ever-growing city. Such was the case with a cluster of six church cemeteries used by the Society of Friends (Quakers), Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Dutch Reformed Church, that were created between 1796 and 1822 on or near North Street (today’s East Houston Street) just east of Bowery. After the city banned interments below 86th Street in 1851, these burial grounds were sold and the remains relocated to cemeteries in Brooklyn, Queens, and elsewhere. The cemetery lands were redeveloped during the second half of the 19th century, typically subdivided into lots where multi-story brick tenement buildings and other structures were erected.

Friends Cemetery
The Friends Cemetery in 1853

In 1796, the Society of Friends purchased land “well out in the country” on the south side of East Houston Street, between Bowery and Chrystie, to serve as its new burial ground. Among the approximately 2,300 persons interred here were members of the earliest Quaker group to worship in Manhattan—the Green Street congregation, who built a meetinghouse in 1696 at today’s Liberty Place. Remains from the graveyard attached to that meetinghouse were transferred to a vault at the new Houston Street cemetery in 1825.

The Friends Burying Ground on Houston Street operated until about 1846, when the Friends Cemetery located within the present-day boundaries of Prospect Park in Brooklyn opened. By 1874, all interments at the Houston Street cemetery had been removed to the Westbury Meeting House grounds in Long Island or to the Quaker Cemetery in Brooklyn. The cemetery property was sold to Trinity Church, who built St. Augustine’s Chapel on the site. In 2004 the area was redeveloped as part of the Cooper Square Urban Renewal Project, and the 14-story Avalon Chrystie Place retail/residential building sits atop the Friends Cemetery site today. Archaeological testing conducted prior to the redevelopment project unearthed some small fragments of human bone likely left behind during the process of relocating the graves in the 19th century; these remains were reinterred at the Quaker Cemetery in Prospect Park.

Presbyterian Cemetery
The Presbyterian Cemetery in 1859

Across Chrystie Street from the Friends Cemetery was a burial ground used by three Presbyterian congregations. In 1803 the First Presbyterian Church, Brick Presbyterian Church, and Rutgers Street Church acquired 24 lots on the south side of East Houston Street for use as a cemetery. The three churches, founded in lower Manhattan between 1716 and 1797, removed some bodies from their churchyards to the Houston Street cemetery and used it as their primary burial ground after interments in those graveyards ceased. In 1865, the remains from the Presbyterian Cemetery on Houston Street were removed to Evergreens Cemetery, Woodlawn Cemetery, and Cypress Hills Cemetery, the property was sold, and by 1867 had been subdivided and developed. The city acquired the former Presbyterian Cemetery site in 1929 to form the northern portion of Sara Delano Roosevelt Park.

A removal notice for the Presbyterian Cemetery that appeared in the New York Herald in March 1865
Reformed Dutch Cemetery
The Reformed Dutch Cemetery in 1859

Just east of the Presbyterian Cemetery on the south side of Houston was the Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery. What little is known about this cemetery is gleaned from an 1868 article in the Evening Post announcing that the consistory of the Collegiate Reformed Dutch Church intended to remove the bodies interred in their burial ground, bounded by Houston, Forsyth and Eldridge streets, to Cypress Hills Cemetery that March. The 1868 announcement says:

This cemetery was laid out early in the present century and was about two hundred feet square. No attempt was made to ornament it, and the space was not entirely taken up with bodies. A few years ago a part of the front on Houston Street was used for the construction of the German Evangelical Mission Church, and two or three lots on the corner of Forsyth and Houston streets were sold for business purposes. There are a number of vaults on the corner of Eldridge and Houston streets, and several hundred graves in the remaining lots on Forsyth and Eldridge streets.

The cemetery was in operation by 1821, when the Common Council of the City of New York passed an ordinance to fill in sunken lots “fronting on Eldridge Street and Forsyth Street adjoining the Dutch Church Burial Ground.” The Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery likely was used by several congregations of the Collegiate Church, which formed in Manhattan in 1628. By the late 1870s, tenement buildings covered most of the old cemetery  site. The German Mission Church that was located in the front part of the cemetery on Houston Street became the site of a Yiddish vaudeville theater in the early 1900s and more recently was home to Sunshine Cinema. In 2017 it was sold to developers who plan to demolish it.

Baptist Cemetery
The Baptist Cemetery in 1820

On the north side of Houston, opposite Forsyth Street, between First and Second Avenues was a Baptist Cemetery that opened around 1815. This burial ground belonged to the First Baptist Church, which originated on Gold Street in 1762; other Baptist congregations may have used the cemetery as well. In 1861, the First Baptist Church gave notice of their intention to remove the bodies from the cemetery and sell the ground. The remains were likely removed to Cypress Hills Cemetery, where the First Baptist Church acquired 20 lots ca. 1860. The Baptist Cemetery lands were subdivided and developed by 1867; in the mid-20th century, a subway station was built beneath the site and it was partially covered by the widening of East Houston Street. A small park is now located at what is left of the Baptist Cemetery site.

A legal notice regarding the removal of the Baptist Cemetery that appeared in the NY Daily Tribune in Aug 1861
Methodist Episcopal Cemetery
The Methodist Episcopal Cemetery in 1820

One block north of Houston, at the corner of First Street and Second Avenue, was a cemetery established by the Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1805. It may have been a general Methodist burial ground during its early years; from 1836 until 1851 it was primarily used by the five churches who formed th the Methodist Episcopal Church East Circuit—the Forsyth Street, Seventh Street, Allen Street, Willett Street, and Second Street Methodist Episcopal Churches founded in Manhattan between 1789 and 1832.

A notice of the removal of bodies from the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery that appeared in the New York Times in Jan 1854

In 1853 the Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church East Circuit received permission from the New York State Supreme Court to remove the bodies from their cemetery and sell the property, a decision that incensed the family and friends of those interred there. The New York Times reported on public meetings held by those opposed to the removal of the dead from the cemetery, events that were “very largely attended.” The Trustees’ actions were regarded as “scandalous,” induced by the desire for financial gain, and done “so secretly that their rascality was not found out until 360 of the corpses had been removed.” In the end, the Trustees proceeded with the cemetery removal, a slow process “on account of the large number of dead buried there” (the number is unknown but was said to be “thousands”). The bodies were reinterred at Cypress Hills Cemetery. Between 1857 and 1862 the former cemetery was subdivided into 13 lots and developed with commercial/residential structures. In 2008 the area was redeveloped as part of the Cooper Square Urban Renewal Project; the seven-story Avalon Bowery Place 2 retail/residential building now stands at the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery site.

Methodist Society Cemetery
The Methodist Society Cemetery in 1859

One block directly east of the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery was a cemetery used by a group that broke off from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1820 and formed the independent Methodist Society of New York. The Methodist Society established their cemetery—sometimes known as “Stillwell’s Cemetery” for the Society’s first pastor William M. Stillwell—in 1822 in the center of the block bounded on the east and west by First and Second avenues and on the north and south by First and Second streets. They subsequently built a church adjacent the cemetery, fronting on First Street. The later history of Methodist Society Cemetery is obscure. It is still recorded as a Methodist Cemetery in 1852, but by the 1870s a public school was at the site of the Methodist church that stood along First Street bordering the cemetery, and a Presbyterian church had been built next to the school on an eastern portion of the original cemetery property. In 1874, the Board of Education received permission to remove “all remains of persons now buried in the grounds or deposited in the vaults of the First Presbyterian Church, located between 1st and 2d sts. and between 1st and 2d avs.” The New York Times, reporting on the removals, said:

The entire cemetery, a part of which only is to be removed, is rather extensive, occupying the interior of the entire block bounded on the east and west by First and Second avenues and on the north and south by First and Second streets and extending under a portion of the school building on First street, and the whole of the City Mission on First Avenue…The bodies to be removed number several hundred, 108 of which are to be taken from the school-yard, a space 60 feet by 70, planked over and used as a playground by the children. Under these planks lie some eighty tombstones, face upward, within eight or ten inches of the surface. Under the school [the former Methodist church] are four large vaults, entirely filled with dead bodies. A more incongruous sight than the hundreds of gleeful children romping and playing immediately over the thickly huddled army of the dead can hardly be imagined.

In 1891, the Board of Education received permission to remove the rest of the “human remains buried in the old burying-ground, between First and Second streets and First and Second avenue”—those that had been left in the western portion of the original cemetery property. It is not known where the remains were reinterred in either of the removals. The large facility—Grammar School No. 79—that the Board of Education built over much of the site in 1886 and expanded in the 1890s is still present, converted into apartments.

An 1879 map showing redevelopment of the church cemetery sites
A 2016 aerial view of the former church cemetery sites

Sources: Randel’s 1820 Farm Maps; Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; Perris’ 1853 Maps of the City of New York; Perris’ 1859 Maps of the City of New York; Bromley’s 1879 Atlas of the Entire City of New York; “Graveyards as a Menace to the Commonweal,” The North American Review 167:211-222; A History of the Churches of All Denominations in the City of New York from the First Settlement to the Year 1846 (Greenleaf 1846); The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries (Inskeep 2000); Cooper Square Community Development:Historical Overview and Assessment (Parsons Engineering 2000); Archaeological Investigations…within the Cooper Square Urban Renewal Area (John Milner & Assoc 2003); Second Avenue Subway Phase 1A Archaeological Assessment (Historical Perspectives, Inc. 2003); Phase 1B Archaeological Investigation:Block 457, Lot 28 (Former Methodist Episcopal Cemetery) (John Milner & Assoc 2005); Methodist Episcopal Cemetery Intensive Documentary Study, Second Avenue (Historical Perspectives Inc. 2003); Lower East Side Rezoning…Phase IA Archaeological Assessment (Bergoffen 2008); Friends of the City of New York in the Nineteenth Century (Wood 1904), 22-23; “Remains of Friends Now at Rest in Prospect Park Cemetery,” Spark Jan 2004 35:1; [Removal Notice], New York Herald, March 20 1865, 3; “Gravestone Inscriptions from the Burial Ground of the Brick Presbyterian Church,” NYG&BR, 60:1, Jan. 1929, 8-14; “City Intelligence—The Cemetery of the Reformed Dutch Church,” Evening Post Feb 27, 1868, 4; Minutes of the Common Council of the city of New York, 1784-1831 (City of New York 1917), 12:119, 141; Supreme Court, City and County of New York,” New York Daily Tribune, Aug 11 1861; The Cypress Hills Cemetery, 1863 [catalog & list of lot holders]; Lost chapters recovered from the early history of American Methodism (Wakeley 1858); Annals of New York Methodism (Seaman 1892); “Legal Notices,” New York Times Jan 2 1854, “The Burial Ground Excitement,” New York Times Jan 26 1854; “To Whom It May Concern [Notice], New York Times Jan 12 1874; “Removal of an Old Cemetery,” New York Times Jan 14, 1874; Laws of the State of New York Passed at the 114th Session of the Legislature (1891) Ch. 137

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B’nai Jeshurun Cemetery, 32nd Street

B’nai Jeshurun’s 32nd Street Cemetery, denoted as “Jews burial Ground” in 1854 (Perris 1854)

In 1825, a group of members of Shearith Israel—the only Jewish congregation in New York City at that time—broke off to form B’nai Jeshurun (Sons of Israel). Most of the 32 founding members of B’nai Jeshurun were immigrants from England, Holland, Germany and Poland, and they incorporated as New York’s first Ashkenazic congregation, holding services according to the German and Polish ritual rather than the Sephardic mode of worship practiced by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of Congregation Shearith Israel. The new congregation established its synagogue at 119 Elm Street, near Canal Street, in a building previously owned by the First Coloured Presbyterian Church. Elm Street was B’nai Jeshurun’s home for 25 years; by the time they moved to a new synagogue in 1850, the congregation had grown to 150 members. Four synagogues followed Elm Street, their locations reflecting the northward move of the city’s Jewish population. The congregation’s present home is at 88th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue.

The Elm Street Synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun’s home from 1825 to 1849 (Goldstein 1930)

When B’nai Jeshurun was founded, the congregation’s property included not only its synagogue on Elm Street but also its burial ground, which was acquired in 1826, even before the house of worship had been established. This land, consisting of four lots situated on 32nd Street near 7th Avenue—then on the outskirts of the city—was purchased for the sum of $600. Soon after the acquisition of the burial ground, a metaher house, which served as a chapel and place for washing and preparing bodies, was established at the site. Some of the congregation’s founding members were buried there, including Daniel Jackson, who signed B’nai Jeshurun’s charter of incorporation and was an original trustee.

An 1836 map showing B’nai Jeshurun’s cemetery on the north side of 32nd Street, near 7th Ave (Colton 1836)

The 32nd Street Cemetery served as B’nai Jeshurun’s burial ground until 1851, when a City ordinance banned burials below 86th Street. That year, B’nai Jeshurun and Shearith Israel together purchased land along the Brooklyn/Queens border near Cypress Hills to form Beth Olom Cemetery. Once B’nai Jeshurun’s burial ground at Beth Olom was incorporated, it’s 32nd Street Cemetery gradually deteriorated. Surrounding tenements and factories made it increasingly difficult to keep the old cemetery in proper condition; The Jewish Messenger provided an account of it in 1875:

One of the few old Jewish cemeteries which are still within the limits of the City of New York is that belonging to the B’nai Jeshurun congregation. It is situated in Thirty-second Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, being within several doors of the latter avenue. It has a frontage on the street of about thirty feet, and a depth of one hundred feet, being bounded on the west by some old and rickety wooden shanties, used for stables and other purposes, and on the east and north by a large furniture manufactory. Two years ago, the writer was informed, the ground was in an orderly and nice condition, the place being slightly embellished with flowers, giving it a pretty, if not a handsome, appearance, and one thoroughly in keeping with its sanctity. Up to the period aforesaid, probably no rubbish had been allowed to accumulate . . .

At present the cemetery is in a sad state . . . Bits of glass, old and broken bottles, shavings from the furniture factory, pieces of iron wire and hoops, sticks of wood, gravel stones covered with tar, and tarred roofing material, blown from the roofs of contiguous buildings, and other rubbish unnecessary to enumerate, are strewed upon the earth in all directions. In those spots where debris has not chanced to accumulate, the ground, except in two or three instances, is in a rough and uncared for condition . . . There are about fifty tombstones still standing, most of which are in a good state of preservation . . . Here is a list of some of the persons buried in this cemetery, copied from the portion of the tombstones that is decipherable, with the date of death: Salomon Van Praag, 1829; Esther, wife of Joseph Levy, 1845; Judah, son of T. A. Meyer, 1845; Isaac Moses Cohen Peixotto; Samuel Barnett, 1845; J. M. Dyer, 1842; Benjamin F. Lewin, 1842; Moses H. Lowenstein, 1841; Leopold E. Lewin, 1837; Daniel Jackson, 1841; Michael Davis, 1841; Henry M. Lyons, 1845; Marcus Josephi, 1847; Simon Saroni, 1847; Joseph A. Michael, 1851; Rebecka Maria Jackson, 1847; Samuel Goldsmith, 1851; Hannah S., daughter of Sampson and Rebecka Levy, 1848; Henry Joseph, 1834; Levy B. Boruck; Isaac I. Salomon, 1845.

In 1887, B’nai Jeshurun sold the 32nd Street Cemetery for $20,000 and moved the bodies to Beth Olom. Today the Hotel Pennsylvania, built in 1919, stands on the 32nd Street Cemetery site that was the original burial place of the City’s oldest Ashkenazic congregation.

Bromley’s 1920 atlas of NYC shows the the Hotel Pennsylvania on the 32nd Street Cemetery site
A view of the 32nd Street Cemetery site today (NYCityMap)

Sources: A Century of Judaism in New York: B’nai Jeshurun, 1825-1925 (I. Goldstein 1930);A History of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, 1825-2005” (S. Brawarsky 2005); “Jewish City Cemeteries. I.,” The Jewish Messenger Jul 2, 1875, 5; “Bodies to be Removed,” New York Times Feb 23, 1887, 8; “B’nai Jeshurun Cemetery,” The Jewish Messenger, Apr 1, 1887, 2; Colton’s 1836 Map of the City and County of New-York; Perris’ 1854 Maps of the City of New York Vol 7 Pl 93: Bromley’s 1920 Atlas of the City of New York, Borough of Manhattan Pl 21; NYCityMap

Calvary Cemetery

Birds-Eye View of Calvary Cemetery, 1855, by Endicott & Co. (MCNY)

An early 20th century guide to New York City cemeteries describes Calvary Cemetery in Queens as “by far the most important burial ground in the vicinity of New York, and, in fact, in the United States in point of interments, extent and the number of monuments and headstones that go to make it a wilderness of rising tombstones.” With an estimated three million burials, today it is America’s largest cemetery in number of interments and is renowned for its dramatic setting—a vast necropolis tucked in among the chaotic surroundings of highways, industrial buildings, and businesses, with views of Manhattan rising as a backdrop.

View of Manhattan from Calvary Cemetery (Getty)

The Archdiocese of New York established Calvary Cemetery in 1848 after the closure of their burial grounds at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and on 11th Street in Manhattan. Located in the Long Island City/Woodside area of Queens and managed by the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Calvary served as the main burying ground for Manhattan’s Roman Catholic population for many years and burials are still made there. By the early 1900s, it had over 750,000 interments and handled 18,000 burials a year—almost half the annual deaths in the city at that time. Calvary’s 365 acres hold five times as many bodies as the more famous and spacious Green-Wood Cemetery in nearby Brooklyn and are divided into two expanses: Old or First Calvary, the cemetery’s earliest parcel, bounded by the Long Island Expressway, Laurel Hill Blvd, Review Ave, and Greenpoint Ave; and New Calvary, three divisions stretching from Queens Blvd to 55th Ave and cut by the Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Detail from an 1873 map, showing Old Calvary and New Calvary (Beers 1873)

Calvary’s scenic power results from the magnitude of graves and tombs and the surrounding presence of urban life rather than from its design; however, Old Calvary does contain several significant monuments and features. The charming red brick, Queen Anne-style gatehouse at the main entrance (Greenpoint Ave at Gale Ave) is an architectural gem, one of the last of its kind in the area. At the center of the grounds is the cemetery’s chapel, which was declared the “most remarkable mortuary chapel in America” when it was erected in 1908. Designed by architect Raymond F. Almirall, it features a beehive-shaped concrete dome crowned with a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Crypts below the building are for the burial of priests of the Archdiocese.

The Civil War & 69th Regiment monuments at Calvary Cemetery, Dec 2017 (Mary French)

In the southeastern part of Old Calvary, a Civil War monument erected by the City of New York in 1866 honors 21 Roman Catholic Union soldiers interred in a 40×40 foot plot that is a city-owned park within Calvary. The 50-foot-high granite obelisk is surmounted by a bronze figure representing peace that was sculpted by Daniel Draddy. Draddy also created the four life-size bronze figures depicting Civil War soldiers that stand on pedestals surrounding the column (identical figures border the Soldiers’ Monument at Green-wood Cemetery, which was erected three years later). Adjacent to Calvary’s Civil War monument is a memorial to New York City’s famed Fighting 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard. Formed in 1849, this Irish-heritage unit gained notoriety for its members’ bravery and valor in the Civil War.

Near the Civil War/69th Regiment plot is a metal fence enclosing a “cemetery within a cemetery”—a small burial ground that predates Calvary Cemetery. When the Trustees of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were assembling land to form Calvary in 1845, they purchased a tract from Mrs. Ann Alsop, part of a farm that had been in the Alsop family for generations and included the old family graveyard. When the property was sold, the agreement provided that the Alsop family burial ground would remain inviolate and the Trustees have maintained it to this day. About 30 gravestones stand in the old burial ground, dating from 1743 to 1889.

The showpiece at Old Calvary is the massive Johnston mausoleum that sits atop a hill near the cemetery’s eastern edge. Built of huge granite blocks, this domed neo-Baroque chapel and tomb has a figure of Christ holding a cross at its summit and sculpted angels at each corner of the roof, gazing heavenward. Magnificent but blackened by age and pollution, with a decaying marble frieze above its fragmented bronze ornamental doors, it has an atmosphere of neglect and dissipation that is a visible symbol of the rags-to-riches-to-rags story of the family that reposes within.

John Johnston, head of the dry goods firm J. & C. Johnston, was one of the city’s most successful merchants when he built the mausoleum in 1873, reportedly at a cost of $200,000 (roughly equivalent to $4 million today). Born in Ireland in 1834, Johnston came to New York in 1847 and worked his way to the top of the mercantile trade. His successful dry goods firm included brother Charles Johnston, who died in 1880. John bore a deep affection for his brother Charles and never recovered from the latter’s death; he died in 1887, leaving the family fortune and business in the hands of his younger brother, Robert Johnston. The once-thriving firm closed a year after John’s death and Robert gradually lost the family millions as well as his palatial home along the Hudson River in Riverdale. He spent his final years in poverty, living as a recluse in a barn on his former estate. Robert was found there in 1904, sick with pneumonia and insane, and died in the hospital at Ward’s Island. He was interred alongside his brothers in the family crypt.

An aerial view of part of Old Calvary Cemetery in 2015. The Johnston Mausoleum is in the foreground (James Sengul)

A number of notable individuals are also buried at both Old Calvary and New Calvary, including Olympic gold medalist Martin Sheridan, considered the greatest all-around athlete of his time; Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed through Ellis Island; Joseph Petrosino, a trailblazing NYPD detective who was a pioneer in the fight against organized crime; and four-time New York governor Al Smith, the first Roman Catholic to run for United States president (in 1928). Moreover, Calvary is legendary as the fictional burial site of Vito Corleone in The Godfather. One determined urban explorer has identified the exact spot in the cemetery where the burial scene was filmed for the 1972 Mafia classic: Old Calvary, Section 1W, Range 18, Plot P, Grave #17.

Location of Calvary Cemetery in Queens (NYCityMap)

View more photos of Calvary Cemetery

Sources: Calvary Cemetery; Beers 1873 Atlas of Long Island, Pl 52; The Cemeteries of New York (Judson 1881), 3; History of Queens County, New York (Munsell 1882), 379; King’s Handbook of New York City (1893), 522; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901), 16-19; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1 (1899), 375-177; Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery (Jackson & Vergara 1989), 34-35; Encyclopedia of New York City (Jackson 1991), 176; 300 Years of Long Island City (Seyfied 1997), 179-180, 183; “You Can Come and Go. They’re Staying Awhile,” New York Times Nov 30, 2008; “A Protestant Burial Ground Maintained by Catholics,” New York Times Apr 12, 1950, 29; AIA Guide to New York City (White et al 2010), 765; “Most Remarkable Mortuary Chapel in America,” Popular Mechanics Sep 1909, 292-293; “Burial of Charles Johnston,” New York Tribune May 4, 1880, 8; “An Old Merchant Dead,” New York Times May 17, 1887; “Poor, but has a $200,000 Tomb,” The Sun May 10, 1903, 3; “Once Rich, Now in Morgue,” New York Times May 4, 1904; Calvary Cemetery, Queens New York Est 1848 (aerial video); NYCityMap

Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery

A view of AME Zion Church Cemetery at Sandy Ground, May 2017 (Mary French)

Amid rows of modern tract houses on a quiet street in Staten Island is a graveyard that is regarded as one of the country’s most significant African American burial grounds. Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery memorializes the history of Sandy Ground, one of the oldest continuously inhabited free black settlements in the United States. This African American enclave was founded near the towns of Rossville and Woodrow on the South Shore of Staten Island. Its history begins in 1828 when Capt. John Jackson bought land here shortly after slavery was abolished in New York in 1827. Capt. Jackson, an African-American ferryboat owner-operator, was the first black landowner on Staten Island. Other freedmen followed him to Sandy Ground, including oystermen from New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Snow Hill, Maryland, who were attracted by the rich oyster beds in the area.

The AME Zion Church and Cemetery in 1874 (Beers 1874)

The settlement was centered at the junction of present-day Woodrow and Bloomingdale Roads and acquired its name from the sandy soil of the area. Sandy Ground grew and prospered through the early 20th century and at its peak in the 1880s-1890s encompassed almost two square miles and had about 200 residents and over 50 homes. After oystering in the waters off Staten Island was banned in 1916 due to pollution, the Sandy Ground community gradually declined. The community suffered a further blow in 1963 when about half Sandy Ground’s remaining 25 homes were razed in a brush fire that destroyed a large portion of Staten Island’s South Shore. Today, 10 families who trace their roots to the original settlers still live in Sandy Ground.

Location of Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery (NYCityMap)

The Zion African Methodist Episcopal congregation at Sandy Ground was incorporated in 1850, and in 1852 they purchased land on Crabtree Avenue where they built their church and established a cemetery. By 1890 the congregation had outgrown its original church and constructed a new building on Bloomingdale Road where descendants of Sandy Ground settlers still worship today. The cemetery on Crabtree Avenue has continued as the church and community burial ground.

A view of the Rossville A.M.E. Zion Cemetery, ca. 1980 (LPC)

Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery occupies 1.6 acres on the south side of Crabtree Avenue, west of Bloomingdale Road. About 100 modest tombstones can be found in the graveyard and a recent ground-penetrating radar survey located more than 500 unmarked graves here. Dates on the tombstones range from 1860 to the present and represent over 40 families. Capt. John Jackson’s tombstone is here, as are markers for members of other early Sandy Ground families such as Bishop, Harris, Henry, Landin, Purnell, and Stevens.

Distinguished Sandy Ground resident George H. Hunter (1869-1967) also has a marker in the cemetery. Hunter was the son of a Virginia slave who escaped to her freedom in New York State just before the Civil War and who brought young George to Sandy Ground around 1880. Hunter went on to establish a successful cesspool building and cleaning business and was a longtime steward of the AME Zion Church and caretaker of its cemetery. In a classic New Yorker article published in 1956, legendary writer Joseph Mitchell profiled Hunter and chronicled the history of Sandy Ground and its residents.

George H. Hunter ca. 1940, with the “Honey Wagon,” the name Sandy Grounders gave to the truck he used for cleaning cesspools (SI Advance)

Visiting the AME Zion Church Cemetery with Mitchell, Hunter remarked, “Most of the people lying in here were related to each other, some by blood, some by marriage, some close, some distant. If you started in at the gate and ran an imaginary line all the way through, showing who was related to who, the line would zigzag all over the cemetery.” Hunter’s “imaginary line” symbolizes the cemetery’s significance in representing Sandy Ground’s history. The family plots and markers offer a visible record of the network of relationships that constituted the community of Sandy Ground and provide a tangible and visible link to Sandy Ground’s long and continuous existence that has shaped and molded the lives of the people who lived there, and their descendants, in many powerful ways.

Gravestone of Dawson Landin (1826-1899), an oysterman who moved to Sandy Ground from Maryland in the mid-1800s. He owned a forty-foot sloop named the Pacific and was the “richest man in the settlement,” according to George Hunter (Mary French)

View more photos of Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery.

Sources: “Mr. Hunter’s Grave,” (J. Mitchell), New Yorker, Sept 22, 1956; LPC Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church Cemetery Designation Report, 1985; LPC AME Zion Church Designation Report, 2011; Sandy Ground Memories (Mosley 2003); “Sandy Ground: Archaeological Sampling in a Black Community in Metropolitan New York,” (R. Schuyler 1974), The Conference on Historic Site Archaeology Papers 1972, Vol. 7, pp.13-52; “Early Black Settlement Struggles to Preserve Heritage,” Los Angeles Times, Dec 15, 1991; “Repairs Start After Vandalism In Historic Black Cemetery,” New York Times, July 8, 1998; “On Visionary Soil, the Dream Turns Real, New York Times, Nov 7, 2008; Vintage Photos of Sandy Ground (SI Advance); Beers’ 1874 Atlas of Staten Island Sec 23; 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.

St. Raymond’s Cemetery

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View of St. Raymond’s Cemetery (Old Section), August 2015 (Mary French)
Location of St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.
Location of St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx (OpenStreetMap)

A typical day at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx is bustling with activity – with nearly 4,000 burials each year, St. Raymond’s is one of the busiest cemeteries in the nation. Established by the Church of St. Raymond, this Catholic burial ground has expanded from its original 36-acre site in the Throgg’s Neck neighborhood to an 180-acre complex that, when full, will accommodate over half a million people. The cemetery is composed of two sections, both situated just east of the Hutchinson River Parkway: the “Old Cemetery,” created about 1875 on Tremont Avenue, and the “New Cemetery,” developed at Lafayette Avenue in the 1950s.

St. Raymond's Cemetery in 1891.
St. Raymond’s Cemetery in 1891 (Sheil 1891)

Notable individuals buried at St. Raymond’s include gangster Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, famed boxer Hector “Macho” Camacho, and the infamous Irish cook known as Typhoid Mary (Mary Mallon), who allegedly caused multiple outbreaks of typhoid fever in turn-of-the- century New York.

The history of St. Raymond’s Cemetery also includes its role in one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century. A site inside the cemetery’s Whittemore Avenue entrance was used in 1932 as the drop point for the $50,000 ransom money paid to the kidnappers of Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month old son; the child’s body was later discovered near Lindbergh’s New Jersey estate. Bruno Hauptmann was apprehended for the crime in 1934 when he used bills from the ransom money to purchase gasoline at a service station in New York City. Hauptmann’s murder trial caused a media frenzy that went unmatched until the O.J. Simpson trial in  1995.

View of the site in Old St. Raymond's Cemetery where ransom was paid to the kidnappers of the Lindbergh baby, 1932.
View of the site in Old St. Raymond’s Cemetery where ransom was paid to the kidnappers of the Lindbergh baby, April 1932 (Getty Images)
Hector Camacho's is laid to rest at St. Raymond's Cemetery, Dec. 2012.
Hector Camacho is laid to rest at St. Raymond’s Cemetery, Dec. 2012 (Jose Rivera)
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Billie Holiday’s gravesite at St. Raymond’s Cemetery (Mary French)
Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) gravesite at St. Raymond’s Cemetery (Mary French)
Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll is carried to his grave in St. Raymond's Cemetery.
Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll is carried to his grave in St. Raymond’s Cemetery, Feb 1932 (Getty Images)

Marked by an absence of the floral flourishes usually accompanying the interment of a gang chieftain, Vincent (Mad Dog) Coll, Manhattan racketeer, was buried this morning. With only a dozen mourners and as many detectives, who stood in the mud and braved the penetrating chill, the remains of Coll were laid alongside his brother Peter, who was slain less than nine months ago, in St. Raymond’s Cemetery, the Bronx. A thick mist enveloped the gathering. The grave diggers waiting in the background were indistinct forms as the funeral director recited two prayers, the only religious ceremony to mark the final rites fo the 23-year-old youth who, in a year, rose from an obscure thug to one of the most feared figures in the New York underworld. His career came to an abrupt end Monday when machine gunners cornered him in a W. 23d St., Manhattan, drug store and “gave him the works.” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 11 1932)

View more photos of St. Raymond’s Cemetery.

Sources: St. Raymond’s Cemetery (Church of St. Raymond); Sheil’s 1891 Map of the town of Westchester, Westchester County, N.Y.; The Story of the Bronx (Jenkins 1912), 324;  Only Dozen Mourn as Coll is Taken for His Last Ride, Brooklyn Daily Eagle Feb 11, 1932 p3; WPA Guide to NYC (1939), 546-547; The Lindbergh Kidnapping (FBI); The Lindbergh Kidnapping (British Pathe newsreel); Despedida a Hector Macho Camacho Video por Jose Rivera 12:1:12.

Jesuit Cemetery, Fordham University

The Jesuit Cemetery at Fordham University, June 2014
The Jesuit Cemetery at Fordham University, June 2014 (Mary French)

His body was laid to rest in the cemetery at Fordham, which holds the dust of many of the most intimate friends of his religious life. This, his first American home, from which he had gone forth in the early dawn of his priesthood with the new glory of sacerdotal dignity still shining on his brow, now opens her arms to receive him back, worn out in the service to which he had been sent. (excerpt from eulogy of Father Theodore Thiry, 1889)

Hidden behind a hedge on the campus at Fordham University in the Bronx is a small cemetery that stands as a symbol of the Jesuit history and tradition on which the university was founded. It is the final resting place for a group of men with a deep spirituality and an outstanding record of devotion and scholarship, many of whom left behind family and country to follow God’s call.

Shortly after the Catholic archdiocese of New York established Fordham in 1841 (originally named St. John’s College) as a seminary and a college for the general public, the scholastic functions were given to the Jesuit order, a religious group with a great deal of experience in higher education. Five Jesuit priests from St. Mary’s College in Kentucky were recruited in 1846 to staff the institution. Other Jesuits soon joined them, and St. John’s continued as a small liberal arts college for men until it expanded and was renamed Fordham University in 1907.

As was typical of many religious institutions of the time, the Jesuits set aside a plot of land at Fordham for burial purposes. The cemetery was a burial ground for the deceased from Fordham as well as from other Jesuit institutions in the region. The site of this “original” cemetery at Fordham was a hillside near Southern Boulevard, on property that is now part of the New York Botanical Garden. The first burial took place there in July 1847 when Brother Joseph Creeden, a 26-year-old Irish-born novice, died two months after entering the Jesuit novitiate. Over the next four decades, another 60 Jesuits were interred near him, as well as nine students, three seminarians, and three college workmen. One of the Jesuits buried in the old cemetery was Father Eugene Maguire, who died at St. Mary’s College, Kentucky, in 1833 and whose remains were transferred to Fordham in 1850.

Location of the original Jesuit cemetery at Fordham, near Southern Boulevard, 1868
Location of the original Jesuit cemetery at Fordham, near Southern Boulevard, 1868 (Beers 1868)

The loss of the property on which the old cemetery was located created a crisis among the Jesuits regarding their past burials and future ones. Although they considered transferring their burials to St. Raymond’s Cemetery, members of the Jesuit community requested that the graves be retained on college property to respect the dead by having them “apud nos” (among us). A suitable site in the campus vineyard was found and the graves from the original cemetery were relocated there in January 1890. The new gravesites were marked with marble tombstones, replacing the wooden crosses that had been used as markers in the old cemetery.

Permit for transfer of remains from the old cemetery to the new cemetery at Fordham, 1890 (Hennessy 2003)
Permit for transfer of remains from the old cemetery to the new cemetery at Fordham, 1890 (Hennessy 2003)

Between 1890 and 1909, 64 more Jesuits were buried in the new cemetery. Father William O’Brien Pardow, a prominent speaker and retreat master whose funeral was attended by thousands of mourners, was the last person buried in the cemetery at Fordham, in January 1909. Thereafter, the graveyard was largely forgotten although not completely neglected – in the 1950s, a stone and brick wall surmounted by a symbol of blessing was erected on the south side of the cemetery and a number of burials were relocated within the site to facilitate the building of Faber Hall.

By 1998, the cemetery was a campus eyesore and curiosity; many of the tombstones were disintegrating or vandalized and it was widely believed that the site was a “phantom cemetery” containing monuments but no human remains. Archival records proved otherwise, and a committee was appointed to preserve the cemetery’s sacred character. The site was renovated and beautified, and low granite markers replaced the deteriorated tombstones. Now well kept and orderly, the graveyard recognizes a community created by a common history and shared vision.

The Jesuit Cemetery at Fordham, ca. 1970 (Fordham Archives)
The Jesuit Cemetery at Fordham, ca. 1970 (Fordham Archives)
Location of the Jesuit Cemetery at Fordham University, between University Church and Faber Hall.
Location of the Jesuit Cemetery at Fordham University, between University Church and Faber Hall
The Jesuit Cemetery at Fordham University, June 2014
The Jesuit Cemetery at Fordham University, June 2014 (Mary French)

View more photos of the Fordham Cemetery.

Sources: Beers’ 1868 Atlas of New York and Vicinity, Pl. 11; “The Old Cemetery in Fordham University,” (Falco 1971), Bronx County Historical Society Journal 8(1):20-25; How the Jesuits Settled in New York: A Documentary Account (Hennessy 2003); “Who’s Buried at Fordham?,” The Ram, Nov 4, 1976 p. 2; “Thousands Mourn for Father Pardow,” New York Times Jan 27, 1909; Fordham University: History & Mission; Fordham University: Rose Hill Campus Map; Fordham University: Cemetery Chronology.