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 New York Marble Cemetery and New York City Marble Cemetery are the city’s two oldest non-sectarian cemeteries. Perpetually confused with one another since they were created in the early 1830s, these private cemeteries were formed by businessmen seeking to provide alternatives to churchyard and public graveyard interments after burials were prohibited in lower Manhattan by city ordinances in the 1820s. Featuring underground vaults that are the size of small rooms and made of Tuckahoe marble, the two Marble cemeteries were built in the area of Second Avenue between Second and Third streets in the East Village, a neighborhood that developers hoped would soon become a fashionable residential locale.
The two cemeteries were initially popular and members of a number of distinguished families were entombed there; however, by the 1870s rural cemeteries in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx were preferred and the Marble cemeteries primarily were used as storage vaults for bodies awaiting burial at these places. Sporadic entombments continued in the Marble cemeteries until the 1930s; both were designated NYC Landmarks in 1969 and now are open to the public on special occasions.
The small yard in front of the Church of St. Raymond, with its handful of gravestones, is a vestige of a much larger burial ground that was the first Catholic cemetery in the Bronx. Located at the corner of Castle Hill Avenue and East Tremont Avenue, the parish was founded in 1842 when an acre of land was obtained by Reverend John Hughes to create a Catholic church and cemetery in what was then the village of Westchester. In 1847 the cemetery was enlarged by the purchase of another acre and this site was in constant use as the parish burial ground until a new, larger St. Raymond’s Cemetery was established about two miles southeast of the church, in 1875. Most of the graves from the churchyard, which extended along the west side of the church as well as to the rear, likely were transferred to St. Raymond’s Cemetery as the parish complex grew throughout the first half of the 20th century.
A landscape dotted with rusted metal markers and wooden crosses, Most Holy Trinity Cemetery in Brooklyn is one of the city’s most unique and visually arresting graveyards. Nestled at the end of Central Avenue in Bushwick and bounded by Evergreen Cemetery and the tracks of the NYC Subway’s L train, the 23-acre cemetery was established in 1851 as a new cemetery for Most Holy Trinity Church, the first German Catholic church in Williamsburg. The parish cemetery was originally located behind the church at Montrose Avenue in East Williamsburg; when a new church building and schools were planned for that site, a four-acre parcel of land was purchased from Evergreen Cemetery to serve as a church cemetery. The remains from the Montrose Avenue site were transferred to the new Most Holy Trinity Cemetery and, as the need for burial space grew over the years to accommodate an estimated 25,000 graves, the church purchased additional parcels from Evergreen until the parish cemetery reached its present size.
When Most Holy Trinity Cemetery was created, the church resolved that no distinctions were permitted to be made between the rich and the poor, and the rule was established that no stone monuments could be erected. Until very recent times, when flat gravestones have been permitted, only simple wooden and metal markers indicated the resting places of the dead. This “democratic equality of the grave” set the graveyard apart from others in the area and the markers created a remarkable visual spectacle. An 1890 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described it:
The monuments that surmount [the graves] present a curious picture and one that has not a parallel in any other cemetery in the neighborhood of these two cities . . . the monuments are now all of wood, or, especially the later ones, of galvanized iron, dressed in imitation of gray granite. Nearly all of them have crosses rising above them, but the peculiar feature of nearly every one of them is that it is decorated with highly gilded figures of the crucifix, the winged head of a cherub and lamb. Some stones contain all of these three figures, some only one. They sparkle everywhere among the thickly strewn white and gray monuments and give the peculiar aspect to the cemetery that distinguishes it decidedly from all others.
Today, few of the numerous wooden crosses that once filled the cemetery are still present and the weatherworn crucifixes have lost their gilding. Large grassy areas, probably once filled with wooden crosses, now have only a few markers scattered here and there. The rusted metal markers, many strangely crumpled and peeling with paint, add to the peculiar atmosphere of this most interesting site.
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.