In the mid-19th century, the rapid growth of the population at Flushing, Queens, made it necessary to create a local cemetery large enough to accommodate citizens of all denominations for generations to come. The Flushing Cemetery Association formed in 1853, with trustees selected to manage the project. They purchased 21 acres about two miles southeast of the village, in the vicinity of Kissena Lake. With additional land purchases, Flushing Cemetery grew to encompass 75 acres on the south side of today’s 46th Avenue, east of Pigeon Meadow Road.
Since its inception, Flushing Cemetery has been known for its beautiful grounds. Flushing was America’s premiere horticultural center throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries and the cemetery’s founding and succeeding trustees were mindful of this connection. They hired landscape architects and gardeners who created spacious lawns and gentle grades with a multitude of trees, ornaments, shrubbery, rare plants, and flowers. Dubbed a “wonderland of a million blooms” for the multi-colored spectacle of flowers present throughout the summer months, Flushing Cemetery has long been one of the most attractive and well-kept resting places in the metropolitan area.
Adding to the cemetery’s picturesque beauty is the Spanish-style administration building inside the entrance gate on 46th Avenue. Built in 1912, it is of light brown ashlar stone with tile roofs and consists of an office building and a chapel. Just beyond the administration building is a collection of historical landmarks including several soldiers’ memorials and a massive World Trade Center monument that was erected by the cemetery’s board of directors in 2002. Also here is the Elliman Memorial Fountain. Originally erected in downtown Flushing in 1896 in honor of the philanthropist and temperance activist Mary Lawrence Elliman, the fountain was moved to the cemetery in 1907.
Older areas of the cemetery feature large plots of early families of Flushing, College Point, Whitestone, and Bayside, while newer sections are distinguished by tombstones featuring Greek and Chinese inscriptions of more recent immigrant communities. Since the early 1900s Flushing Cemetery also has been a major burial place for African Americans of Queens, Brooklyn, and Harlem. This is in stark contrast to the cemetery’s origins as an exclusively “white” cemetery—in 1864 its trustees passed a resolution “that all applications for interment of colored persons in the Flushing Cemetery be refused” and their prohibition against the burial of local people of African American and Native American ancestry was widely reported in local and national newspapers. These policies were lifted towards the end of the 1800s, allowing people of all races and ethnicities to acquire graves and family plots at Flushing Cemetery.
In what may be a case of divine retribution against the racist practices of the cemetery’s founding fathers, the most famous individual buried at Flushing Cemetery is black. Superstar trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong was laid to rest here in 1971 after he died at his home in Corona, Queens, at age 71. Since then thousands of fans have visited his gravesite, leaving mementos at his tombstone.
Among other notables interred at Flushing Cemetery are State Supreme Court justice and founder of Queens College Charles S. Colden; financier and statesman Bernard Baruch; restauranteur Vincent Sardi, Sr.; Eugene Bullard, one of the world’s first black military pilots; Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., the prominent pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and father of U.S. Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.; and jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Shavers, and Hazel Scott.
Today Flushing Cemetery is the final resting place for approximately 45,000 people of diverse backgrounds. With over 300 interments each year, it still actively serves the present-day community while preserving the area’s historical and horticultural past.
Sources: Topographical Map of the Counties of Kings and Queens, New York (Walling 1859); History of Queens County (Munsell 1882); The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); The Story of Flushing Cemetery (Stuart 1945); Flushing in the Civil War Era (Seyfried 2001); “Dedication of a New Cemetery at Flushing,” New York Times, Sep 2 1853; “Trouble at Flushing with the Colored Dead,” New York Tribune, June 26, 1866; “The Death of Mr. John Mingo,” Brooklyn Times Union, Nov 6, 1873; “Picturesque Past of Flushing Town,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct 1, 1899; “Beautiful Flushing Cemetery,” Brooklyn Times Union, Jul 13, 1901; “Plea for Preservation of Monument,” Brooklyn Times Union, Sep 14, 1907; “Memorial Moved,” Brooklyn Times Union, Dec 13, 1907; “Church and Chapel Among Week’s Building Permits,” Brooklyn Times Union, Sep 5 1912; “Flushing,” The Standard Union, Aug 28, 1921; “Trumpet Restored,” Daily News, Oct 17, 1984; “A Memorial Etched in Mourning,” Newsday, Feb 14, 2002; Commemorative Ceremony for the 60th Death Anniversary of Veteran Eugene Bullard (Consulate General of France in New York)