Tag Archives: Graniteville

Baron Hirsch Cemetery

A stone gate at Baron Hirsch Cemetery marks the entrance to a plot owned by a branch of the Independent Order of Brith Abraham, a Jewish men’s fraternal order (Mary French)

All is quiet during a midday walk through Baron Hirsch Cemetery, where dense woods cover much of the grounds, leaves whisper in the breeze, metal gates creak on rusted hinges, and critters rustle through underbrush that surrounds tombstones. Throughout this 80-acre Jewish graveyard in the Graniteville section of Staten Island there are large plots, fenced off and gated like small neighborhoods, that were bought up by various burial associations during the cemetery’s early years. Leaning and toppled headstones are evidence of the waves of vandalism that have plagued the cemetery since the 1960s, as well as signs of widespread indifference—as members died out so did the burial societies that supported upkeep of their plots and younger generations feel no responsibility for maintaining their ancestor’s graves.

Martin Einziger of Staten Island examines the swastika vandals painted on his family’s tombstone at Baron Hirsch Cemetery in January 1960 (Associated Press)

Altogether, about 65,000 people are buried at Baron Hirsch Cemetery, which was founded in 1899 by an association of Jewish men of New York and named for Jewish businessman and philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch. Some notable figures can be found at Baron Hirsch—theater producer Joseph Papp, publisher Samuel Newhouse, Sr., and Medal of Honor recipient William Shemin among them—but most of those buried here are the lesser-known or forgotten from surrounding areas of New York and New Jersey, individuals with hopes and dreams, with families, each with their own unique story.

Henrietta Schmerler’s tombstone (Baron Hirsch Cemetery)

The story of one young woman buried at Baron Hirsch Cemetery is profoundly timeless and hauntingly relevant to today’s social issues. In the summer of 1931, 22-year-old Henrietta Schmerler, a student of renowned anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s at Columbia University, set out to do fieldwork among the White Mountain Apache in Arizona. On her way to conduct research at a tribal dance on July 18, 1931, she was raped and murdered by a member of the community she was studying. Her body was returned to her family in New York and interred at Baron Hirsch. In the aftermath of the crime, Apache tribal members, FBI investigators, and Schmerler’s mentors and colleagues condemned Schmerler for her own sexual assault and murder. Characterized as willful and careless, a message emerged that she shared responsibility for what had happened to her. Recent research has attempted to correct the distorted narrative of events surrounding Schmerler’s death and to reexamine her story in the context of the #MeToo movement and other experiences of sexual violence within the field of anthropology.

A 2012 aerial view of Baron Hirsch Cemetery
Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn pray at the grave of Herman Steiner—brother of Grand Rebbe Yehuda Tzvi Steiner, who founded the Kerestir Hasidic dynasty—at Baron Hirsch Cemetery, May 2019 (SI Advance)

View more photos of Baron Hirsch Cemetery

Sources: “Incorporated at Albany,” Sunday News (Wilkes-Barre PA), Jul 9, 1899; “Bigotry Peril to the World, Ike Tells AJC” Daily News,Jan 13, 1960; “Vandals Topple Tombstones at S.I. Jewish Cemeteries, Daily News, Apr 2, 1979; “Island Cemeteries Reflect Our ‘Tender Mercies,’”Staten Island Advance, April 29, 1990; “In a Place Plagued by Vandals, The Pain of Putting Things Right,” New York Times, May 16, 2004; “Apathy, Neglect and Vines Overtake Staten Island Cemetery,” Staten Island Advance,  Aug 18, 2012; “Hundreds Pay Their Respects on 103rd Anniversary of Rabbi’s Death at Graniteville Cemetery,” Staten Island Advance, May 17, 2019; “Students Attend Schmerler Rites,” New York Times, Aug 1, 1931; Henrietta Schmerler and the Murder that Put Anthropology on Trial (Schmerler 2017); “How Henrietta Schmerler Was Lost, Then Found,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct 14, 2018; Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006), 32-37; Baron Hirsch Cemetery; NYCityMap

St. Mary of the Assumption Cemetery

A view of St. Mary’s of the Assumption Cemetery in 1928 (NYPL)

In 1853, St. Peter’s—the mother church of Staten Island’s Catholics—established a mission to serve the area of the island known then as Northfield. With contributions from Irish and German laborers who worked in the area’s quarries, a piece of land was acquired at what is today Walker Street in Elm Park. Here a two-story frame building, 60×30 feet, was erected as a church and school house for the 40 Catholics who lived in the vicinity at that time, and land next to the church was laid out for a cemetery.

An 1859 map of the historic township of Northfield depicts St. Mary’s Church situated between Port Richmond and Granite Village, at today’s Walker St in Elm Park

The congregation grew to 500 members by 1877 and church authorities designated it as a separate parish—St. Mary’s, Granite Village. By this time the old frame building was no longer adequate, and in 1884 the congregation moved to a new church building at 2230 Richmond Terrace, a mile north of their original church and its adjoining cemetery. Incorporated at their new location as St Mary’s of the Assumption, the parish continued to operate their Walker Street cemetery until 2015, when the church closed and the congregation combined with Our Lady of Mount Carmel in West Brighton. St. Mary of the Assumption Cemetery is still an active burial ground, now managed by Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Detail from an 1874 atlas of Port Richmond showing St. Mary’s church and cemetery situated on the south side of Prospect St (today’s Walker St).

Less than an acre in size, St. Mary of Assumption Cemetery is located on the south side of Walker Street, just east of the MLK Expressway in Elm Park. Though the site may have been used for burials beginning in the 1850s when the mission was established at the site, there is little evidence of its early history—the cemetery’s 19th century burial records have been lost, and the tombstones standing today date from the late 1800s to the present. Names on the tombstones reflect the changing demographics of the area—earlier burials are largely Irish, while more recent markers represent the Italian and Polish families who settled on the North Shore in the 20th century.

Obituary for an 1891 interment in St. Mary the Assumption Cemetery

Among the lifelong locals buried at St. Mary of the Assumption Cemetery is former city magistrate John Croak. Of Irish ancestry, Croak was born in Elm Park in 1846, received his early education in Staten Island’s public schools and his legal training at Albany Law School, where he was a classmate of U.S. President William McKinley. When Staten Island became part of Greater New York in 1898, Mayor Van Wyck appointed Croak the first city magistrate on Staten Island, an office he held until his retirement in 1920. An active member of St. Mary’s the Assumption parish throughout his life, Croak died at his home on Richmond Terrace in 1930.

A view of tombstones in St. Mary of the Assumption Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)
A 2018 aerial view of St. Mary the Assumption Cemetery (NYCityMap)

View more photos of St. Mary of Assumption Cemetery

Sources: Walling’s 1859 Map of Staten Island; Beers 1874 Atlas of Staten Island, Sec 3; 1878 Sadliers’ Catholic Directory, 115; Annals of Staten Island (Clute 1877), 300; History of Richmond County (Bayles 1887), 433-434; Staten Island and Its People (Leng & Davis 1930-1933), 1:485, 5:287;  Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910), 152; Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006), 157; Richmond County Cemeteries (NYGenWeb); “Obituary,” Richmond County Advance, Aug 1, 1891, 5; “John Croak Dies at 82,” New York Times, Sep 3, 1930