Tag Archives: church cemeteries

Most Holy Trinity Cemetery

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.

Location of Most Holy Trinity Cemetery.
Location of Most Holy Trinity Cemetery.
Holy Trinity Cemetery in 1880.
Holy Trinity Cemetery in 1880.

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.

A profusion of wooden crosses mark the gravesites in Holy Trinity Cemetery, 1929.
A profusion of crosses mark the gravesites in Holy Trinity Cemetery, 1929 (NYPL).
Metal grave markers in Holy Trinity Cemetery, December 2011.
Metal grave markers in Holy Trinity Cemetery, December 2011.
Wooden grave marker in Holy Trinity Cemetery, December 2011.
Wooden grave marker in Holy Trinity Cemetery, December 2011.

View more photos of Most Holy Trinity Cemetery.

Sources: OpenStreetMap; Hopkins’ 1880 Detailed Estate and Old Farm Line Atlas of the City of Brooklyn, Vol. 2, Pl. R; The History of Most Holy Trinity Cemetery; “Crosses Gone from Hundreds of Graves in the Trinity Cemetery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 24 1890, p.6; “Holy Trinity Cemetery. A Unique Burial Ground Which Is a Multiplied Golgotha,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 26 1899, p.18; “A Village Churchyard,” Thomas F. Meehan, Historical Records and Studies 7, 1914, p.183-194.

St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery Churchyard and Cemetery

St. Mark’s Church stands on the site of the chapel built in 1660 by Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor of Dutch New Amsterdam, and its grounds are all that remain of Stuyvesant’s vast “bouwerie,” or farm.  Stuyvesant was interred in the family vault beneath the chapel when he died in 1672.  During the 18th century, the chapel fell into a state of dilapidation, until little remained except the foundation and the Stuyvesant family vault beneath.  In 1793, Stuyvesant’s great-grandson, Peter Stuyvesant IV, donated the chapel property to the Episcopal Church with the stipulation that a new church be erected.  Originally intended to be a chapel of Trinity Parish, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery was completed in 1799 as the first New York City Episcopal parish separate from Trinity.  The Stuyvesant vault is still present under the east wall of the church; it was closed permanently when the last family member was interred there in 1953.

St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery in 1836 (NYPL)
The churchyard and cemetery of St. Mark’s, 1852.

In addition to the Stuyvesant vault, St. Mark’s had two burial sites attached to its church during the first half of the 19th century—the yards surrounding the church, which were used exclusively for vault interments, and a cemetery further east along 11th Street for conventional graves. Peter Stuyvesant IV donated a 242 x 190 plot just east of 2nd Avenue, between 11th and 12th Streets, for the cemetery in 1803.  One of the stipulations in Stuyvesant’s grant of the plot was that any of his present or former slaves and their children have the right to be interred in the burial ground free of charge. An unknown number of individuals were buried at St. Mark’s Cemetery until burials there were prohibited in 1851.  The remains from this graveyard were removed to Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn in 1864 and residences were built on the site.

The first underground burial vaults were built in the grounds adjoining the church in 1807.  In these tombs lie the remains of many important individuals and members of prominent and wealthy families of 19th century New York.  Among those interred here are Mayor Philip Hone, English governor Henry Sloughter, and Daniel D. Tompkins, governor of New York and U.S. vice-president under James Monroe. Millionaire A.T. Stewart was interred in a vault in the east yard in 1876; two years later his remains were stolen and reportedly held for ransom. The suspicious events surrounding the theft and rumors of ransom demands were well publicized for several years following the crime.  The case was never officially resolved, although some stories hold that Stewart’s widow negotiated the return of the remains in 1881 and reinterred them elsewhere.

“Desecration of the vault of A.T. Stewart,” (Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 16, 1878)
The flat vault markers in the east yard can be seen in this view of St. Mark’s from ca. 1925 (MCNY)

As the neighborhood surrounding St. Mark’s changed from upper class townhouses to tenement slums during the first half of the 20th century, the churchyard fell into disrepair.  The Preservation Youth Project restored it for community use in the 1970s, creating a playground in the east yard and a quiet garden in the west yard.  Many of the flat vault markers can still be seen among the newer pavements.

Vault marker’s in the gravel surface of the east yard, 2008.
St. Mark’s west yard, 2008.

Sources: St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery; A Comprehensive Guide to the St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery Historical Site (St. Mark’s 1999); Memorial of St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery (St. Mark’s 1899); A New York Pantheon: The Burial List of St. Mark’s in-the-Bouwerie (St. Mark’s n.d.); “Public Notice” [Removal of St. Mark’s Cemetery], New York Times, Aug. 17, 1864; “Ghouls in New-York City,” New York Times, Nov 8, 1878; “New Rector Heard in His First Sermon at Old St. Mark’s,” New York Times Aug 3, 1959; “The Decline and Fall of the Commercial Empire of A.T. Stewart,” Business Review 36(3):255-286, Autumn 1962; “St. Mark’s Building Playground in its Cemetery, the City’s Oldest,” New York Times, Feb. 9, 1970; Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St.

St. Fidelis Graveyard

St. Fidelis Parish was founded in 1856 to serve the Catholic community of Strattonport village, which later became part of College Point, Queens.  Originally consisting of a small congregation of German and English-speaking families, the parish’s first church was a small wooden building on 124th Street, between 14th and 15th Avenues.  Next to the church on its south side was a small churchyard where members of the congregation were buried. In 1894, the bodies from St. Fidelis churchyard were disinterred and removed to St. Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing to make room for the new brick church building that still stands at the site today.  St. Fidelis has no records of their old church graveyard, but remnants of the cemetery have been found on several occasions. When local historian Robert Friedrich compiled information about St. Fidelis cemetery in the 1960s, the church’s pastor, Msgr. William Osborne, recalled that coffin handles and bones where unearthed during construction along the church’s south façade in the 1930s.  Later, a human skull was found during landscaping in the same vicinity.   In 1965, a tombstone inscribed “JOHANN ADAM WILLMANN GEB. [born] 12 OCT 1860, GEST [died] 12 APRIL 1863” was unearthed in the backyard of a house a block south of St. Fidelis.  When the homeowners moved into the house in the 1940s, they found priests’ pictures and church pews in the attic, evidence that the home had previously been associated with St. Fidelis’ vestry or clergy.  The gravestone is thought to have been from either the old St. Fidelis graveyard or the Strattonport Village Cemetery that was located nearby.

St. Fidelis Church and the adjoining cemetery in 1873.
A ca. 1875 view of the original St. Fidelis Church, showing the wooden fence and gateway that surrounded the church graveyard. (Poppenhusen Institute Archives)
The grave of Rev. Joseph Huber, St. Fidelis’ founding pastor who died in 1889, is the only burial in St. Fidelis’ small churchyard today. (Mark W. DelValle)

Sources: Beers 1873 Atlas of Long Island, Pl. 66; 1894 Brooklyn Citizen Almanac, 440; “Find Tombstone in Backyard,” North Shore News, July 27, 1965; “Cemeteries: St. Fidelis,” Robert Friedrich Collection, Poppenhusen Institute Archives.

Carmine Street Lutheran Cemetery

In 1808, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew purchased six lots of land on the east side of St. John’s Cemetery in Greenwich Village to serve as a Lutheran burial ground. Adjacent to but separate from St. John’s, the Lutheran graveyard was at the junction of Carmine and Clarkson Streets, opposite the northern end of Varick Street.  The property was roughly triangular, having a frontage of about 100 feet on Carmine Street and 44 feet on Leroy Street.

The Carmine Street Lutheran Cemetery in 1852.

The Carmine Street cemetery ceased use as a burial ground in 1846. In September 1869, St. Matthew announced plans to remove the remains from the cemetery so that the property could be sold.  The removals began on October 1, 1869, and progressed over several weeks.  The scene on the first day of the exhumations was described by the New York Herald-Tribune:

By nightfall more than a dozen graves were opened.  Large crowds of people gathered around the inclosure and looked curiously through the picket fence toward the groups of workmen inside.  Old gentlemen dressed in black stood by the graves superintending the laborers who were digging up the bones of those who were with them half a century ago.  Gray-haired men came with coffin-like boxes to receive the remains of their wives and children.  One gentleman, after working for an hour, found that the bones he had did not belong to his family.  In one place there stood a casket half filled with ribs, blackened silver plates, and tresses of hair, skulls, and shin bones were lying among the decayed coffins, awaiting a second burial.

Remains of an estimated 1,500 individuals were removed from the Carmine Street cemetery and reinterred at the new Lutheran Cemetery (now known as All Faiths Cemetery) that was established in Queens in 1850.  The Hudson Park Library and Carmine Street Public Bathhouse (today’s Tony Dapolito Recreation Center) were built on the Carmine Street cemetery site in the early 1900s.

The site of the Carmine Street Lutheran Cemetery in 1911.

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; Bromley’s 1911 Atlas of the City of New York Pl. 9; “Removal of Remains from the Carmine-street Lutheran Cemetery,” New York Times Sept 29, 1869; “The Carmine-St. Cemetery Exhumations,” New York Tribune, Oct. 2, 1869 p8; “Exhumation of Human Remains at Carmine-street Cemetery,” New York Times, Oct. 30, 1869.

St. John’s Cemetery

A view of St. John’s Cemetery by Alexander Jackson Davis, ca. 1860 (NYC Parks & Recreation).
A view of St. John’s Cemetery by Alexander Jackson Davis, ca. 1860 (NYC Parks & Recreation).

In 1890, the City of New York selected St. John’s Cemetery, located on the east side of Hudson Street between Clarkson and Leroy Streets in Greenwich Village, as a site for a new public park.  The property, which was connected with St. John’s Chapel of Trinity Church, served as a burial ground from 1806 to 1852 and an estimated 10,000 individuals were buried there. Following a five-year legal battle with Trinity, the city secured the property under the Small Parks Act, a law passed by the state legislature in 1887 that allowed the city to acquire property for the creation of small parks in crowded neighborhoods.

St. John’s Cemetery served as a burial ground primarily for the poorer and middle classes, although some prominent individuals and members of well-known families, such as the Schermerhorns, Berrians, Leggetts, and Valentines, were also buried there. The cemetery had been in a dilapidated condition for many years by the time it was taken by the city in 1895, but in the first half of the 19th century it was said to be a pleasant, restful place, and Edgar Allan Poe reportedly roamed the burying ground when he lived nearby in the 1830s.  Helen Jewett, a prostitute whose 1836 murder became a media sensation, was briefly interred at St. John’s Cemetery; four nights after her burial, medical students stole, and subsequently dissected, her body.

When Trinity lost the battle to keep the cemetery property, their attorney stated, “We did not believe the city could take such property for parks, but the courts have decided otherwise, and if the city takes the ground it takes the remains also, and must make its own disposition of them.”  In 1896, the city announced that families wishing to remove relatives interred in the cemetery must do so by the end of that year; remains from only about 250 graves were removed before construction on the new park began in 1897.  In 1898, the new Hudson Park (renamed James J. Walker Park in 1947), opened on the site.  Remains beneath the park have occasionally been unearthed during construction work, as in 1939 when workmen encountered the coffin of six-year-old Mary Elizabeth Tisdall, who died in 1850.  One reminder of the old burying ground still exists – an 1834 monument to fallen firemen, one of the most prominent markers in the old cemetery, was preserved during the original construction of the park, and stands today along its north side.

St. John’s Cemetery (identified here as Trinity Church Cemetery) at Hudson, Clarkson, and Leroy Streets, 1852.
Tombstones in St. John’s Cemetery, ca. 1895.  The firemens monument can be seen at the right side of the photo. (NYPL)
The firemens monument at the north side of Walker Park is a remnant of St. Johns Cemetery.

Sources: Dripps’ 1852 Map of the City of New-York extending northward to Fiftieth St; Before They Were Parks (NYC Parks & Recreation); Walks in Our Churchyards (J.F. Mines 1896), 152-164; Literary New York (Hemstreet 1903), 148; The Murder of Helen Jewett (Cohen 1998), 299; Report of the Tenement House Committee…Jan. 17, 1895, 42-43; “What Will Become of These Bodies?,” New York Herald, March 20, 1893, 4; “Old St. John’s Cemetery,” New York Times Sept 13, 1896; The Mummy in Trinity Church (The Archivists Mailbag).

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral Cemetery

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1836, with cemetery grounds located north and south of the church.

When officials of the newly established Diocese of New York decided to build the city’s first cathedral in 1809, they selected a site at Mott and Prince Streets that was within the burying ground of St. Peter’s Church. St. Peter’s, the city’s first Catholic church, created the cemetery at the beginning of the 19th century when the graveyard around their church on Barclay Street became full. In 1801, they purchased several lots on the northwest corner of Prince and Mott streets, in the area that is now known as NoLita; an 1803 purchase of additional lots on the northeast corner of Prince and Mulberry streets enlarged the new burial ground. When a portion of the cemetery was chosen as the cathedral site, provisions were made for the relocation of any graves within the building site to other areas of the cemetery.  Construction on St. Patrick’s Cathedral began in 1809 and was completed in 1815. Between 1811 and 1824, the church’s property was expanded further by the acquisition of adjacent lots, and the cemetery grew to its present dimensions, flanking the church on its north and south sides.  Additionally, a network of family crypts was built beneath the church. In ca. 1830, a 10-foot-tall brick wall was constructed around the boundary of the property to protect the church and cemetery from anti-Catholic violence that was prevalent during that period.

A depiction of the 69th regiment, part of New York’s Irish Brigade, marching down Prince  and Mott Streets next to St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in 1861. The southern portion of the cemetery, where some members of the regiment are buried, is shown. (NYPL)

Over 32,000 burials were recorded in St. Patrick’s Cemetery between the time that interments began to be registered in 1813 until the Catholic Cemetery on 11th Street opened in 1833. The 11th Street cemetery replaced St. Patrick’s Cemetery as the main burial ground for the city’s Catholic community, but occasional interments continued in the graveyard and crypts at St. Patrick’s into the early 20th century.

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral became a parish church when the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown Manhattan was completed in 1879. The Old Cathedral was recently designated a basilica due to its historical and spiritual significance.  Its cemetery and vaults hold the remains of many of the city’s early Catholics, including those transferred from the graveyard at St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street in 1836.  Most of those buried at Old St. Patrick’s are Irish, including several members of the 69th New York regiment, part of the “Irish Brigade” that fought in the Civil War.  The cemetery is also the original burial site of Pierre Toussaint, a former Haitian slave who is a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church; his remains were moved to a crypt at the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1990.

View of graveyard on the north side of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.
View of graveyard on the south side of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.

Virtual tour of the cemetery and crypts at Museum Planet.

Sources: Colton’s 1836 Map Of The City and County Of New-York; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1, 371-373; History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral;Centennial at Old St. Patrick’s,” New York Times, May 19, 1909; “Politely, A Cathedral Battles to Keep Modern Scrawling Off a Wall’s Historic Bricks,” New York Times, July 6, 2003; “Cathedral With a Past; Basilica With a Future,” New York Times, Dec. 5, 2010.

St. Peter’s Catholic Graveyard

The first Catholic cemetery in New York City, and in the State of New York, was around the original St. Peter’s Catholic Church in lower Manhattan.  In 1785, a group of Catholics in New York acquired an 110 x 125 foot plot on the southeast corner of Barclay and Church streets.  The first St. Peter’s church, a brick building of 48 x 81 feet, was erected on the site and the remainder of the property was reserved for a burial ground.

St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church and the surrounding graveyard in 1807.

The churchyard had become inadequate by the end of the 18th century, and in 1801 St. Peter’s purchased land at the corner of Prince and Mott streets to serve as a new burial ground.  Subsequent acquisitions expanded this property, which became the site of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1809.  In 1836, St Peter’s began construction of a new, larger church on the same site as the old church and graveyard on Barclay Street.  The graves in the churchyard were removed at that time, and were reinterred in the graveyard adjacent to St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Prince and Mott streets.  Some remains were reburied under the new church building, which still stands today. According to a statement made by Vicar General William Quinn in 1883, remains that had been buried beneath the present church were disturbed during excavation work in the mid-1800s and were reburied at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

An 1831 view of the original St. Peter’s Church (Bourne Views of New York).
A present-day view of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church. (Beyond My Ken)
A present-day view of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church at 22 Barclay St. (Beyond My Ken)

Bridges’ 1807 Plan of the city of New-York; “The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,” Historical Records and Studies 1, 370; The Catholic Churches of New York City, 586-624; A Brief Sketch of the Early History of the Catholic Church on the Island of New York (copy of Bourne engraving); “Excited Roman Catholics: The Proposed Removal of Dead Bodies from a Cemetery,” New York Times Jan 4, 1883; “St Peter’s 108 Years Old,” New York Times Nov 27, 1893; “St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church 22 Barclay Street” by Beyond My Ken.