Tag Archives: Glendale

Machpelah Cemetery & the Union Field Cemeteries

A 1913 map showing Machpelah and the Union Field cemeteries situated west of Fresh Pond Road (Cypress Hills Street) and north of Cypress Hills Road (Cypress Avenue)

Beginning in the 1850s, a number of Jewish organizations began to acquire large tracts of land along Fresh Pond Road and Cypress Hills Road in Queens to create what would become four cemeteries situated on present-day Cypress Hills Street and Cypress Avenue in the Glendale-Ridgewood area. Jointly, these cemeteries—Machpelah Cemetery, Union Field Cemetery, New Union Field Cemetery, and Hungarian Union Field Cemetery—now cover about 60 acres where over 60,000 individuals have been interred. Although each of these cemeteries has its own entrance and is separately owned today, early in their history they were managed cooperatively by Machpelah Cemetery Association. This shared history can be seen in the fact that there are no fences separating the cemeteries from one another—the grounds run together and a visitor entering the gate of one cemetery may wander down a path and suddenly find him or herself in one of the adjoining cemeteries without realizing it. The communal nature of the four cemeteries has frequently led to mix-ups in burial records, obituaries, and other accounts regarding which cemetery an individual was actually interred in. Newspaper reports and property records often confuse the cemeteries and their ownership as well.

Location of the four cemeteries today (OpenStreetMap)
Machpelah Cemetery
A 1959 view of the recently-demolished entrance building at Machpelah Cemetery (NYC Municipal Archives)

An 1881 cemetery guide describes Machpelah Cemetery, which was established around 1855, as “a Jewish burial place of age and renown,” located “on high, sandy ground, that is well wooded and shaded,” “a handsome place and well laid out, and well cared for.” By the late 1980s, the cemetery had been abandoned to the state because its board had run out of money and its grounds had become a neglected “impassable jungle.Today the six-acre cemetery is administered by David Jacobson, who operates several of the city’s smaller Jewish burial grounds, and is well kept though timeworn and frequently deserted—burials are now rare at Machpelah Cemetery. Machpelah’s imposing 1928 entrance building on Cypress Hills Street deteriorated with the cemetery’s decline, its offices ransacked and the cemetery’s records scattered around the inside, and was demolished in 2013. Machpelah is distinguished as the burial place of master magician Harry Houdini (Erich Weiss). Since his death on October 31, 1926, thousands of magicians and fans have made the pilgrimage to Houdini’s gravesite at Machpelah where the Society of American Magicians and the Houdini Museum hold memorial services for the famed escape artist and help care for his grave.

The Houdini gravesite at Machpelah Cemetery, April 2018 (Mary French)
New Union Field/Beth-El Cemetery
Monument in the Russian Community Memorial Garden at New Union Field/Beth-El Cemetery, Sept 2011 (Mary French)

North of Machpelah Cemetery on Cypress Hills Street is the 10-acre New Union Field Cemetery, which was established around 1875 by Manhattan’s Temple Beth-El, one of New York’s wealthiest Jewish congregations at that time. In 1893 they erected the cemetery’s grand entrance building at a cost of $20,000; designed by architect Louis Korn, the two-story stone structure is 60 feet wide by 30 feet deep and was designed to accommodate a receiving vault, offices, and keeper’s apartment. New Union Field Cemetery is the final resting place of actor Edward G. Robinson and was the original burial place of businessman Isidor Straus, the co-owner of Macy’s department store who perished with his wife on the Titantic in April 1912 (he was later moved to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx). In 1928 Temple Beth-El merged with Manhattan’s Congregation Emanu-El; Congregation Emanu-El operates New Union Field today as Beth-El Cemetery. Nowadays, Beth-El Cemetery primarily caters to the city’s Jewish community from the former Soviet Union, and in 2005 opened a Russian Community Memorial Garden that pays tribute to Jewish Russian war veterans, their families and loved ones lost during World War II. At the center of the garden is a monument representing the Star of David, topped with an obelisk and a sculpture of an eternal flame. The memorial provides the estimated 300,000 Russian Jews living in New York City with a place to gather and remember their loved ones.

Recent tombstones contrast with older mausoleums in New Union Field/Beth-El Cemetery, April 2018 (Mary French)
Union Field Cemetery
A 1928 view of Union Field’s gatehouse and chapel building (MCNY)

To the rear of Machpelah and New Union Field is Union Field Cemetery, a 35-acre, irregular L-shaped swathe that stretches from its entrance on Cypress Avenue to its northern boundary along 59th Street near 80th Avenue. Manhattan’s Congregation Rodeph Sholom established Union Field around 1855 and expanded it in 1878. Concurrent with the Congregation’s move to its present location on West 83rd Street in 1926, they erected the gatehouse designed by architect Charles B. Meyers that stands at the Cypress Avenue entrance. Union Field is the location of a number of kivrei tzaddikim, “graves of the righteous,” and is a pilgrimage site for many Orthodox Jews. One of the most important graves here is that of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, the first and only chief rabbi of New York. Rabbi Joseph was brought to New York from Europe in 1888 by a group of 17 Orthodox synagogues; he served for only a short time before dying of a stroke in 1902. Thousands visit his gravesite each year, including Hassidic rabbis and their congregants and Talmudical teachers and their students, to light candles and offer prayers around his tombstone. Among the less holy notable figures interred at Union Field Cemetery are actor Bert Lahr, best known for his role as the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, and controversial attorney Roy Cohn, who rose to fame as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel during the 1950s Communist investigations.

Gravesite of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, surrounded by metal candle boxes, at Union Field Cemetery (Shmuel Botchy Amsel/kevarim.com)
Hungarian Union Field Cemetery
A view of monuments in Hungarian Union Field Cemetery, April 2018 (Mary French)

In 1903, the First Hungarian Sick and Benevolent Society purchased a two-acre parcel of land just east of Union Field Cemetery that became known as Hungarian Union Field Cemetery. Besides obtaining burial grounds, the society, which was later called the Hungarian Society of New York, was founded for “mutual self-protection, philanthropy, the fostering of patriotism and the furtherance of humanitarianism.” The Hungarian Society eventually acquired an additional four acres so that the grounds of Hungarian Union Field Cemetery came to fill the area between Machpelah and Union Fields at the corner of Cypress Hills Street and Cypress Avenue. In 1937, the society constructed a large stone building on the cemetery grounds to house their offices. Joe Weber, a vaudevillian who, along with Lew Fields, formed the comedy team of Weber and Fields that was popular at the turn of the 20th century, is among the prominent individuals interred at Hungarian Union Field Cemetery; his remains were placed in the Weber-Friedman mausoleum near the cemetery’s entrance when he died in 1942. In recent years the Hungarian Union Field Cemetery was acquired by Mount Carmel Cemetery, the large Jewish cemetery located opposite it on Cypress Hills Street, and is now a division of Mount Carmel.

The Weber-Friedman mausoleum at Hungarian Union Field Cemetery, where vaudevillian Joe Weber is interred (Mary French)

View more photos of Machpelah Cemetery

View more photos of New Union Field/Beth-El Cemetery

View more photos of Union Field Cemetery

View more photos of Hungarian Union Field Cemetery

Sources: Hyde’s 1913 Atlas of the Borough of Queens Vol 2, Pl 19; The Cemeteries of New York (Judson 1881), 13; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901), 51, 63, 90-91; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910), 86, 106-107, 165, 167; “Our Public Cemeteries,” New York Herald, Jun 2 1867, 8; “Machpelah Cemetery Association,” Jewish Messenger, Dec 12, 1879, 2; “Thinking Ahead,” New York Times Oct 13, 1996; “Vandals Hit Glendale Cemetery,” Queens Chronicle, July 20, 2000; “Houdini’s Final Trick, a Tidy Grave,” New York Times, Oct 31, 2008; “Among the Cemeteries,” Jewish Messenger, Jun 16, 1893, 2; “The Funeral of Isidor Straus,” American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, May 10, 1912, 36; The Cemeteries of Emanu-El (Congregation Emanu-El); “Beth-El Cemetery Opens New Russian-Jewish Memorial,” YourNabe.com, May 26, 2005; “Dedication of a Burial Ground,” Jewish Messenger, Sep 6, 1878, 2; “Graves of the Righteous,” Jewish Action, Fall 2010, 50-54; “Thousands Attend Gravesite of Rabbi Yaakov Joseph,” Vos Iz Neias, July 16, 2009; “First Hungarian Sick and Benevolent Society in U.S.,” YIVO News, No. 2013 Summer 2007, 21.

Advertisements

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

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)
LivingLensp219
A view of the Honor Row at Old Mount Carmel Cemetery, ca. 1952 (Forward)
NewMtCarmel
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.