Tag Archives: Glendale

Cypress Hills Cemetery

A hillside Chinese section at Cypress Hills Cemetery, 2011 (Mary French)

The passage of the Rural Cemetery Act by the New York legislature in 1847 spurred the creation of new large-scale cemeteries throughout the state, including over a dozen developed from farmland situated along the Brooklyn-Queens border. The first of these was Cypress Hills Cemetery, organized in 1848 as a non-sectarian cemetery that “might furnish extraordinary facilities for the vast and rapidly increasing population of this region.” Dubbed “the people’s graveyard” in a late 19th century guidebook for its inclusiveness and egalitarian principles, Cypress Hills offered a place “where every church and society may consecrate its own grounds according to its ideas of duty or feeling, and embellish them as its own means or taste may dictate.” Today Cypress Hills Cemetery is remarkable for the number of ethnic, religious, and social groups represented within its borders, and the resonance of their unique histories and cultural values.

Cypress Hills Cemetery straddles the Brooklyn-Queens border and is bisected by the Jackie Robinson Parkway (OpenStreetMap)

The cemetery’s 225 acres of rolling terrain extend from Jamaica Avenue in Brooklyn to Cooper Avenue in Queens. Its open policies and affordable lots attracted many religious, fraternal, and benevolent associations, and by the 1880s some 50 organizations owned ground within its boundaries. Groups such as the Metropolitan Police Benevolent Burial Association, New York Press Club, and Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen acquired extensive plots of ground, as did churches and religious societies of many denominations, and numerous immigrant mutual aid societies. The U.S. Government owns a three-acre parcel in the cemetery that was set aside for burial of Civil War dead, and in 1879 Mount Sinai Hospital acquired a sizeable plot to provide free burial for patients who died in the institution and were not claimed by relatives or friends.

A view of monuments in the Greek section at Cypress Hills Cemetery, 2011 (Mary French)

Cypress Hills has interred approximately 380,000 individuals since its inception, including an estimated 35,000 bodies transferred from church cemeteries in Brooklyn and Manhattan and reinterred here. It is the final resting place of a number of celebrated individuals, including iconic sex symbol Mae West, artist Piet Mondrian, and Jackie Robinson, the Brooklyn Dodger who integrated baseball. But what is most striking about Cypress Hills is the large clusterings of stones according to ethnic affiliation that seem to form “neighborhoods of the dead.” Significant among these are Chinese, Greek, Albanian, Japanese, Jewish, and Hispanic sections, each with memorial designs, grave adornments, offerings, and rituals tied to cultural values.

Food offerings are made at a grave in Cypress Hills Cemetery during the 2012 Qing Ming festival, a Chinese spring ritual that honors dead family members (NY Daily News)

The city’s Chinese community has been burying their dead at Cypress Hills since the 1890s, when an acre of ground at the north end of the cemetery was established as a Chinese section. This was the burial ground used by the Hip Sing and On Leong tongs (secret brotherhoods) that battled one another in the streets of Chinatown during the gang wars that raged for the first three decades of the 20th century. These and other early Chinese graves at Cypress Hills are gone now due to the practice of Jup Gum, by which dead Chinese were disinterred, cleaned and sent back to China for reburial every five to seven years. This custom, which kept a dead person’s ghost from sorrowing in an alien land, faded with the onset of World War II and the rise of communism in China.

Chinese monuments now dominate much of the landscape at Cypress Hills, especially on hillsides where burial is considered auspicious. The Chinese plots are made more distinctive by the elaborate offerings at gravesites, where food is left for the dead and fake money, incense and other items are burned. When purchasing a grave, Chinese frequently bring along a feng shui practitioner for advice on the best placement, and Cypress Hills recently built a trapezoid-shaped section similar to ones in Hong Kong’s cemeteries to appeal to new immigrants.

Jackie Robinson’s gravesite at Cypress Hills Cemetery, 2018 (Mary French)

Cypress Hills Cemetery has also long been an important burial ground for the city’s African American community. Two of New York’s earliest African American churches—African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (Mother AME Zion) and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church—purchased large sections at Cypress Hills in the mid-1800s to serve as burial grounds for their congregations and for reinterment of remains transferred from their graveyards in Manhattan, which had been major burial places for the city’s black community following the 1794 closure of the African Burial Ground near City Hall. Also reinterred in a plot at Cypress Hills are remains from the Citizens’ Union/Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the burial ground of the historic free black community of Weeksville in Brooklyn.

Al Sharpton with the family of Gavin Cato at a memorial service at Cypress Hills Cemetery in 1997 (Getty)

More than a dozen prominent African Americans are among those buried at Cypress Hills—besides baseball legend Jackie Robinson, there is ragtime-and-jazz great Eubie Blake and Arturo Schomburg, the pioneering historian and scholar who helped lay the foundation for the field of African American studies, as well as lesser-known 19th century trailblazers such as James McCune Smith, the first African American to hold a medical degree in the United States, and Charlotte Ray, the nation’s first black female lawyer. Cypress Hills is the final resting place of Wallace Turnage, an escaped slave who wrote a rare, recently discovered manuscript detailing his experiences, and Gavin Cato, the seven-year-old accident victim whose death ignited the Crown Heights race riots in 1991.

View more photos of Cypress Hills Cemetery

Sources: The Cypress Hills Cemetery, 1858 & 1880 [catalog & list of lot holders]; The Cemeteries of New York (Judson 1881); Cypress Hills Cemetery (Duer & Smith 2010); Beyond the Grave: Cultures of Queens Cemeteries (I. Harlow 1997); “In Mourning, Traditions Mingle,” New York Times Oct 28, 1997; “Mount Sinai Hospital,” The American Hebrew Feb 2, 1900; Chinatown: A Portrait of a Closed Society (G. Kinkead 1992); “Chinese-Americans Honor Loved Ones..,” NY Daily News Apr 6, 2012; “Immigration of the Dead,” Open City, Sept 8, 2017; “Where the Color Line Exists,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 7, 1890; “Cypress Hills Cemetery Now for Tourists,” NY Daily News Jan 30, 2011; “History Lesson at Cemetery,” NY Daily News Mar 1, 2011; OpenStreetMap

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Mount Carmel Cemetery

Mount Carmel Cemetery consists of two large sections that straddle Mount Neboh Cemetery in Glendale, Queens.  Old Mount Carmel was founded in 1906 on a large parcel of rolling terrain situated on the south side of Mount Neboh Cemetery and just north of today’s Jackie Robinson Parkway. A decade later, New Mount Carmel was established on a tract of relatively flat land between Cooper Avenue and Mount Neboh.  Together the two sections contain about 100 acres and over 85,000 interments and include the gravesites for some of the most important individuals in Jewish American history.

Mount Carmel Cemetery in 1924. New Mount Carmel was still under development at that time (NYCityMap)
Mount Carmel Cemetery today (NYCityMap)

The Honor Row at the entrance to the Workmen’s Circle plot at Old Mount Carmel is home to a pantheon of artistic and political heroes of the Eastern European immigrant working class of late 19th-early 20th century America. Buried here are dozens of labor leaders and writers who gave voice to the Jewish proletariat, including Meyer London, the first socialist elected to U.S. Congress, Abraham Cahan, the founder of the renowned Jewish daily newspaper the Forward, anarchist writer Saul Yanovsky, and socialist poet Morris Winchevsky.

Also here is Mount Carmel’s most famous resident, Sholem Aleichem, the great Yiddish writer whose stories inspired the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Sholem Aleichem’s 1916 funeral drew hundreds of thousands of mourners and was the largest New York City had seen at that time.  He was originally interred at neighboring Mount Neboh Cemetery but was reinterred at Mount Carmel when the Workmen’s Circle created the Honor Row in 1921.

Among the other famous individuals at Old Mount Carmel are Bella Abzug, the first Jewish woman elected to U.S. Congress, and members of the Adler family acting dynasty that began with Jacob Adler, a legendary figure of Yiddish theater.  New Mount Carmel has its own share of notable residents, including comedian Henny Youngman, but is also distinguished by its section for recent Jewish immigrants that features row after row of the large, black granite monuments with etched portraits that are favored by Jews that came to New York after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.

The gravesite of Sholem Aleichem, Mount Carmel’s most famous resident (Mary French)
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A view of the Honor Row at Old Mount Carmel Cemetery, ca. 1952 (Forward)
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Monuments of recent Jewish immigrants at New Mount Carmel.

View more photos of Old Mount Carmel Cemetery.

View more photos of New Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Sources:  Mount Carmel CemeteryA Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward (Newhouse 2007), 219; The Jewish Search for a Usable Past (Roskies 1999), 120-145; The Jewish Communal Register of New York 1917-1918, 336-337; “In Mourning, Traditions Mingle,” New York Times, Oct. 28, 1997; “A Reading to Recall the Father of Tevye,” New York Times, May 17, 2010; NYCityMap.

Mount Neboh Cemetery

 

An 1889 ad for Mount Neboh Cemetery, from a Jewish newspaper published in New York City  (The American Hebrew, Jan 4 1889)

Mount Neboh is one of several Jewish cemeteries clustered near the Brooklyn-Queens border in Glendale, Queens.  Founded in 1886 by Mount Neboh Cemetery Association, this 14-acre cemetery is located on the east side of Cypress Hills Street between Cooper Avenue and Jackie Robinson Parkway and is flanked by the old and new sections of Mount Carmel Cemetery. Although its grounds are a bit timeworn today, Mount Neboh was considered one of the foremost Jewish cemeteries in New York at the turn of the century. An impressive sight is still provided by the two circular rows of fine mausoleums that stand just past the entrance, forming the nexus of the cemetery’s layout.

U.S. Congressmen Emanuel Celler and William Wolfe Cohen are among the approximately 15,000 individuals laid to rest here.  Mount Neboh Cemetery also was the original place of interment for Sholem Aleichem, the beloved Yiddish writer whose stories inspired the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Sholem Aleichem was buried at Mount Neboh upon his death in 1916 with the intention of returning his body to Russia after the end of World War I, but in 1921 he was permanently interred in a grave at neighboring Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Mount Neboh Cemetery in 1903, located on the east side of Fresh Pond Road (now Cypress Hills Street) (Hyde 1903)
Mount Neboh Cemetery today, situated between the old and new sections of Mount Carmel Cemetery (NYCityMap)
Mount Neboh Cemetery (NYCityMap)
A polished black granite tombstone with etched portraits, a style favored by recent Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, stands among older monuments in Mount Neboh Cemetery (Mary French)

View more photos of Mount Neboh Cemetery.

Sources: “City News Items,” New York Herald, Feb 25, 1886; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901), 56-57; “Cemeteries of Greater Ridgewood and Vicinity” (R. Eisen, Greater Ridgewood Historical Society Lecture, Aug. 1988); “Vast Crowds Honor Sholem Aleichem,” New York Times, May 16, 1916; Hyde’s 1903 Atlas of the Borough of Queens Vol. 2, Pl. 29; NYCityMap.

Mount Lebanon Cemetery

Abraham Sanders and his daughter, Esther, beside the memorial to their family in Mount Lebanon Cemetery (Forward)

There may be eight million stories in the Naked City, but there are countless stories of loss represented in the city’s graveyards.  In Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Queens, the monument to Celia Sanders and her five children embodies one example of intense personal tragedy. Striking in its size and simplicity, the memorial is in the form of six blocks in descending height that represent the mother and her children, aged four to fifteen, who perished together in a tenement building fire in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1932. Abraham Sanders, the father, and his sole surviving daughter were joined by 3,000 mourners at the family’s funeral.

The Sanders family is among over 88,000 interments at Mount Lebanon, a Jewish cemetery founded in 1915 on 85 acres of dormant land purchased from Cypress Hills Cemetery.  Located south of Myrtle Avenue in Glendale, it is bordered by Cypress Hills and Jackie Robinson Parkway, and is one of a number of cemeteries along the Queens-Brooklyn border. Over 240 societies and synagogues have areas in the cemetery, and thousands more plots are owned by individual families.

The Sanders family monument, Block WC, Section M, Mount Lebanon Cemetery.
The Sanders family monument, Block WC, Section M, Mount Lebanon Cemetery. (Mary French)

View more photos of Mount Lebanon Cemetery.

Sources: “Mother Dies in Fire with Five Children,” New York Times, April 14, 1932; “Six of Family Buried,” New York Times, April 16, 1932; “Cemeteries of Greater Ridgewood and Vicinity (R. Eisen, Greater Ridgewood Historical Society Lecture, Aug. 1988); A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward (Newhouse 2007), 129; Mount Lebanon Cemetery; NYCityMap.