Tag Archives: Jewish cemeteries

Washington Cemetery

A view of Washington Cemetery, Jan 2016 (Mary French)

Washington Cemetery made news in 2008 when it sold its last available burial plot, becoming the first of the city’s operating cemeteries to run out of space. This Brooklyn burial ground has continued to attract media attention over recent years, often presented as a symbol of the city’s cemetery overcrowding problem and as a harbinger of the coming loss of burial options for New Yorkers as graveyards reach capacity. The elevated platform of the F train’s Bay Parkway stop offers striking views of Washington Cemetery’s grounds, and from here the situation is evident—the landscape is jam-packed with tombstones and new graves have been squeezed into every available space.

Location of Washington Cemetery in Midwood, Brooklyn (OpenStreetMap)

There have been about 200,000 burials in the 100-acre cemetery, which is divided into five sections stretching between Ocean Parkway and 19th Avenue in the Midwood neighborhood. As the cemetery ran out of land, its parking lots and roadways were all converted to graves and narrow paths—now coffins are unloaded on the busy streets outside the cemetery and carried in on foot. Several hundred graves at the cemetery do sit empty, but cannot be used—most were purchased over a century ago by burial societies that are now defunct and reselling these kinds of plots is a complicated and rarely used procedure.

An 1861 ad for Washington Cemetery (Brooklyn Daily Eagle Feb 11, 1861)
An 1861 ad for Washington Cemetery (Brooklyn Daily Eagle Feb 11, 1861)

James Arlington Bennet, a lawyer, educator, and author who gained some notoriety in 1844 as Joseph Smith’s first choice as a running mate in the Presidential election, founded Washington Cemetery in the 1840s from a portion of his estate.  Officially incorporated in 1850 as a nonsectarian cemetery aimed at the middle classes (early ads claimed it was the “cheapest in the state”), in 1857 Washington Cemetery was consecrated as a Jewish burial ground and Jewish burial societies, congregations, and individuals purchased the vast majority of its plots. Today it is Brooklyn’s largest Jewish cemetery. Founder J. Arlington Bennet and his heirs (who managed the cemetery after Bennet’s death in 1863) are among the small number of non-Jews interred here.

Visitors at the grave of Yiddish playwright Jacob Gordin, Washington Cemetery,  ca. 1920s (CJH)
Visitors at Jacob Gordin’s gravesite, Washington Cemetery, ca. 1920s (Center for Jewish History)

Although the names of Washington Cemetery’s more prominent denizens are generally unfamiliar to us today, some were celebrities of their time. Yiddish playwright Jacob Gordin, known as the “Jewish Shakespeare,” was buried here in 1909; beloved by the Jewish East Side community, 20,000 mourners thronged city streets during his funeral. A crowd of 10,000 showed up at the cemetery in 1934 when Hollywood actress Lilyan Tashman was interred in the family plot. The fans, mostly women, caused a melee, jumping over hedges and knocking down tombstones as they fought to snatch up floral wreaths and to get a glimpse of the casket.

View of entrance on Bay Parkway, 1970s (BPL)
View of entrance on Bay Parkway, 1970s (Brooklyn Public Library)

View more photos of Washington Cemetery

Sources: “Consecrating a Jewish Burial Ground,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec 30, 1857; “The Washington Cemetery,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sept 6 1867; “Jewish Cemeteries Plots in NYC a Nightmare,” Vos Iz Neias, June 19, 2008; “City Cemeteries Face Gridlock,” New York Times, Aug 13, 2010; “A Grave Situation,” The Brooklyn Ink, March 28, 2011 “Graves’ End”, BKLYNR, Apr 18, 2013; : “Thousands Honor Gordin’s Memory,” New York Times June 14 1909; “10,000 Riot at Bier of Lilyan Tashman,” The Pittsburgh Press Mar 24, 1934 p. 12; OpenStreetMap

Mount Judah Cemetery

Mount Judah Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens (OpenStreetMap)

Mount Judah Cemetery is one of several Jewish burial grounds clustered along the Brooklyn-Queens borderline. Located just off the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the 37-acre cemetery is divided into two sections that straddle Cypress Avenue in Ridgewood, Queens. It was incorporated as Highland View Cemetery Corporation in 1908 and the first burial took place there in 1912. Among the 54,000 individuals buried at Mount Judah are two young men who represent the range of human experience—they led very different lives that, sadly, each ended in violence and turmoil.

Jacob Orgen
Jacob Orgen

In the early 1920s, there were two gangs fighting for domination over the Jewish Lower East Side, one led by Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen and the other by Nathan “Kid Dropper” Kaplan. Their feud was considered one of the bloodiest New York City had known at that time, resulting in at least 20 killings and concluding with Kaplan’s murder in 1923. With Kaplan’s death, Orgen, at just 21 years old, became one of the city’s major labor racketeers and bootleggers.

The sole black sheep in a respectable immigrant family, Orgen’s criminal career began in 1917 as a knife fighter and, later, gunman, for gangster Benjamin Fine. Orgen was arrested 14 times and served four terms in prison over the next decade. On October 15, 1927, three gunmen shot and killed Orgen, and wounded his bodyguard Jack “Legs” Diamond, in a barrage of gunfire near the corner of Delancey and Norfolk streets on the Lower East Side.  Over 1,500 people gathered the next day for his funeral, including his grieving family, mob associates who had come to play their last respects, and police detectives looking for his killers (no one was ever convicted of the crime). His grave is in the Krashnosheltz society’s section at Mount Judah, and his mother and father lie nearby.

Orgen is laid to rest in the Mount Judah Cemetery in Queens as his grieving mother looks on (Daily News)
Jacob Orgen is laid to rest at  Mount Judah Cemetery in 1927 as his grieving mother looks on (Getty Images)
Jacob Orgen's grave at Mount Judah Cemetery, Jan. 2016.
Jacob Orgen’s grave at Mount Judah Cemetery, Jan. 2016 (Mary French)
Andrew Goodman
Andrew Goodman

Just across from the Krashnosheltz society’s gate at Mount Judah is the B’nai Wolf Goodman Family plot, which includes the graves of Andrew Goodman and his parents. Goodman was from an intellectually and socially progressive family who lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. During the summer of 1964, when he was a 20-year-old anthropology student at Queens College, Goodman volunteered for the Freedom Summer project, a campaign to register black voters in the Deep South.

On Goodman’s first day in Mississippi, he and two other civil rights workers, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, disappeared when they went to investigate the burning of Mount Zion Church in Philadelphia, Miss. Their bodies were found six weeks later in a nearby earthen dam. They had been abducted, shot, and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The national outrage in response to their deaths helped bring about the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1966, Goodman’s parents created the Andrew Goodman Foundation to encourage social action. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner found near Philadelphia, Miss., in Aug. 1964.
The bodies of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner found near Philadelphia, Miss., in Aug. 1964 (FBI)
Andrew Goodman's grave at Mount Judah, Jan. 2016.
Andrew Goodman’s grave at Mount Judah Cemetery, Jan. 2016 (Mary French)

Sources: Mount Judah Cemetery; “‘Little Augie’ Slain by Rival Gangsters,” New York Times Oct. 16, 1927; “Funeral of ‘Little Augie’…,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Oct. 17, 1927; “Gangland Pays Last Tribute to Little Augie,” New York Herald Tribune Oct. 18, 1927; The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America (A. Fried, 1993); “Slain Rights Workers Mourned by Thousands at Services Here,” New York Times Aug. 10, 1964; “Three Who Mattered,” New York Daily News, June 21, 2014; Andrew Goodman Foundation.

Cedar Grove Cemetery & Mount Hebron Cemetery

In 1893, Cedar Grove Cemetery Association acquired the 250-acre Durkee farm in South Flushing, Queens, to establish a nonsectarian burial ground.  A portion of the property had formerly been the Spring Hill estate of colonial politician Cadwallader Colden, whose 1763 home was used as the cemetery’s offices until it was demolished in 1930.  Colden is believed to have been buried in the 18th century Willett Family Burial Ground that was near Colden’s home on the Spring Hill estate.

Cedar Grove Cemetery in 1913 (Hyde 1913)
A view of Cedar Grove Cemetery, ca. 1905 (Library of Congress).
A 1925 view of the Spring Hill home of Cadwallader Colden. Built in 1763, Colden’s home served as an office building for Cedar Grove Cemetery until it was demolished in 1930 (NYPL)

When Union Cemetery in Brooklyn was sold in 1897, the remains of approximately 30,000 individuals were reinterred in a 10-acre plot at Cedar Grove Cemetery.  In 1909, some of Cedar Grove’s property was used to establish a separate cemetery for the Jewish community, Mount Hebron, which grew to occupy much of Cedar Grove’s original grounds. Now comprising 50 acres, Cedar Grove is a multi-ethnic cemetery that is the final resting place for over 65,000 individuals of diverse nationalities and religions.  Mount Hebron, with over 217,000 interments and 200 acres, has become one of New York City’s largest Jewish cemeteries.  It is home to a number of famous figures, including photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt, comedian Alan King, and mob boss Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, and the Yiddish Theatrical Alliance is among the hundreds of Jewish societies who have burial grounds there.  Mount Hebron is also the intended resting place of entertainer Barbra Streisand, who built a family mausoleum there in the 1990s.

The grounds of Cedar Grove and Mount Hebron cemeteries, located on the south side of the Horace Harding Expressway in Flushing (OpenStreetMap)
A view of Cedar Grove Cemetery, April 2011. The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park can be seen in the background (Mary French)
Cedar Grove is the final resting place of individuals of many different nationalities and religions (Mary French)
Mount Hebron Cemetery is noted for its Yiddish theater section (Mary French)
A view of Mount Hebron Cemetery, April 2011 (Mary French)

View more photos from Cedar Grove Cemetery.

View more photos of Mount Hebron Cemetery.

Sources:  Cedar Grove Cemetery; Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s (NYPL); Genealogical Notes of the Colden Family in America (Purple 1873), 8-10; “City Road Tracks to Flushing,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Feb 4, 1894; “Twenty Thousand Bodies,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle Jan 18, 1898; Wolverton’s 1891 Atlas of Queens County, Long Island, Pl. 29;  Hyde’s 1913 Atlas of the Borough of Queens 3:Pl 19; “Colonial Governor Lies in Unmarked Grave,” Long Island Daily Press Aug. 29, 1935; Mount Hebron Cemetery; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910), 30, 92; The Jewish Communal Register of New York 1917-1918, 336; The Story of Yiddish (Karlen 2008), 112-113; “Yiddish Theater Bids Farewell to Shifra Lerer,” New York Times, Mar 15, 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)
Monuments at the gravesites of recent Jewish immigrants at New Mount Carmel (Mary French)

View more photos of Old Mount Carmel Cemetery.

View more photos of New Mount Carmel Cemetery.

Sources:  Mount Carmel Cemetery; 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

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.

Salem Fields Cemetery

Mausoleums line the winding paths at Salem Fields Cemetery.
Mausoleums line the winding paths at Salem Fields Cemetery. (Mary French)

Salem Fields cemetery was founded in 1851 by Manhattan’s Congregation Emanu-El and became the preeminent Jewish burial ground of late 19th-early 20th century New York. Emanu-El, New York’s City’s first Reform congregation, was established in 1845 by assimilated, wealthy German Jews and their prosperity is displayed in their burial grounds. Covering 45 acres in the Cypress Hills area at the Brooklyn-Queens border, the cemetery’s undulating landscape features winding paths lined with the grand mausoleums and monuments of upper-class families such as the Warburgs, Seligmans, Guggenheims, Lewisohns, and Loebs.

Salem Fields contains about 80,000 interments.  In addition to the family plots and individual graves for Emanu-El’s members, several smaller congregations and benevolent societies also have burial grounds at Salem Fields.  The cemetery’s massive stone entryway at the corner of Cypress Hills Street and Jamaica Avenue, which includes offices and a small chapel, was added in 1915.

The richness of Salem Fields’ family crypts has tempted graveyard bandits to its grounds on a number of occasions.  In 1976, thieves stole nine bronze doors from mausoleums in the cemetery, cut them into sections, and sold them to junk dealers for $250 per foot.  At least half a dozen Tiffany windows have also been stolen from Salem Fields, the most notorious case occurring in the 1990s, when Alastair Duncan, an art dealer and one of the world’s leading experts on Tiffany stained glass, was convicted of conspiring in the theft of a window from the Glaser-Bernheim mausoleum.  Duncan sold the nine-foot-tall, 500-pound window to a Japanese collector for $220,000.

The Guggenheim mausoleum at Salem Fields Cemetery. Designed by architect Henry Beaumont Herts, it is shaped like the Tower of Winds in Athens. (Mary French)
Location of Salem Fields Cemetery in East New York, Brooklyn. A small portion of the property crosses over into Queens (OpenStreetMap)
The main entrance to Salem Fields Cemetery, at the corner of Jamaica Ave and Cypress Hills St (Wikipedia).
The main entrance to Salem Fields Cemetery, at the corner of Jamaica Ave and Cypress Hills St (Wikipedia).

View more photos of Salem Fields Cemetery.

Sources: “Salem Fields Cemetery,” New York Times, Sept 3, 1877; “$70,000 Gateway and Chapel Planned by Temple Emanu-El,” New York Times, Sept 5, 1915; The Rise and Progress of Reform Judaism . . . 201-205 (Myer Stern, 1895); “Third Man Seized in Cemetery Theft,” Long Island Press, Sept 2, 1976; “A Passion for Graveyard Art That Took a Criminal Turn,” New York Times, Sept 5, 1999; “A Tiffany Window Is Stolen at Cemetery,” New York Times March 19, 1997; “E. New York Cemetery Vandal Hunted,” New York Daily News, July 10, 2002; The Jewish Contribution to Modern Architecture, 1830-1930 426-427 (Bedoire 2006); Riker’s 1852 Map of Newtown; NYC GIS; OpenStreetMap

Fourth Shearith Israel Cemetery / Beth Olom Cemetery

The Calvert Vaux chapel at Beth Olom.
The Calvert Vaux chapel at Beth Olom. (Mary French)

Following the closure of its First, Second and Third cemeteries in Manhattan during the first half of the 19th century, in 1851 Congregation Shearith Israel established a seven-acre cemetery in the Cypress Hills area that straddles the Brooklyn-Queens border.  The Fourth Shearith Israel Cemetery is one of three burial grounds that form Beth Olom Cemetery, which is co-owned by Shearith Israel along with two other Manhattan synagogues.  B’nai Jeshurun, NYC’s second-oldest Jewish congregation, founded in 1825 by a faction that seceded from Shearith Israel, has a four-acre burial ground within Beth Olom; Shaaray Tefila, an offspring of B’nai Jeshurun that formed in 1845, has two acres.  Beth Olom is located on the west side of Cypress Hills Street, just south of Jackie Robinson Parkway, in the Ridgewood-East New York neighborhoods. About half the property lies in Queens and the other half in Brooklyn.

Several thousand members of Shearith Israel, B’nai Jeshurun, and Shaaray Tefila are interred at Beth Olom, including a number of the congregations’ spiritual leaders. Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1932-1938, is buried in the Shearith Israel cemetery at Beth Olom, as is his uncle and namesake, Benjamin Nathan, a vice president of the New York Stock Exchange whose 1870 murder remains one of the city’s famous unsolved crimes.  Poet Emma Lazarus, whose sonnet “The New Colossus” is inscribed at the base of The Statue of Liberty, is also interred at Beth Olom. The chapel near the entrance to the Shearith Israel section at Beth Olom is the work of Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of Central Park. Commissioned in 1882, the small, red brick chapel is the only religious building that Vaux is known to have built.

Location of Beth Olom Cemetery, which includes the Fourth Shearith Israel cemetery and burial grounds of B’nai Jeshurun and Shaaray Tefila (OpenStreetMap)
The divisions of Beth Olom Cemetery in Queens (top) and Brooklyn (bottom), 1905 (Hyde 1905)
Entrance to the Fourth Shearith Israel Cemetery at Beth Olom. (Mary French)

Sources: Ullitz’s 1898-99 Atlas of the Brooklyn Borough…Vol. 1, Pl. 44; Hyde’s 1903 Atlas of the Borough of Queens Vol. 2, Pl. 29; Hyde’s 1905 Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn Vol. 4, Pl. 10; Portraits Etched in Stone 141-142 (de Sola Pool, 1952); “Benjamin Nathan Cardozo (1870-1938),” Judicial Notice 6, Jan 2009, 3-18; “The Criminal Record: The Nathan Murder,” New York Herald Tribune, Aug. 2, 1870; Country, Park & City: The Architecture and Life of Calvert Vaux 285 (Francis R. Kowsky 2003); AIA Guide to New York City 779 (White et al 2010); NYCityMap; OpenStreetMap