Here lies a youth in prime of life By death was snatched away. His soul is blest and gone to rest, Though flesh is gone to clay. He is gone forever his life’s sun is set. But its golden beams linger to comfort us yet. He has gone in the fulness of beauty and youth, An emblem of virtue, a witness for truth. Strangers, remember, you must die.
This poignant epitaph, concluding with a bleak reminder to the living, is from the gravestone of Samuel Cornell, who died in 1841 at the age of 20. His was one of four markers that were found by the Queens Topographical Bureau in 1923 in a plot located at today’s Little Neck Parkway and Nassau Blvd. Along with Samuel Cornell’s monument, the 67’ x 74’ graveyard had tombstones for John Cornell (d. 1847), Atletter Ann Herrick (d. 1849) and Emeline Penny (d. 1850). The site was a known burying ground of the Cornell family, who were among the earliest English settlers in Little Neck. The small cemetery, with the four markers still present, was discovered again in 1952 when a shopping center was built at the site. The remains from the graveyard were likely moved to the cemetery at Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, where other members of the Cornell family are buried.
The Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows, Queens, is a colonial-era burial ground used by Dutch families who settled in the area. The Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the cemetery in 1919, identifying 77 graves with headstones dating from 1730 to 1872 for members of the Brinckerhoff, Adriance, Hoogland, Snedecker and other families. When the descendants of these families moved out of the area, the old graveyard was abandoned, neglected, and eventually taken over by the city. In the mid-20th century, the city sold the land at public auction to a developer, but plans to build on the site have been blocked for decades by Brinckerhoff descendants and the Queens Historical Society. Today, no headstones are visible at the 45-by-120-foot cemetery, which is nestled between one-family homes on 182nd Street, north of 73rd Avenue. The site is covered with brush but is kept free of garbage by neighborhood caretakers. In May 2012, the Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association issued an urgent appeal for landmarking the cemetery to protect it from development. Update: The city declared the Brinckerhoff Cemetery a landmark on August 14, 2012.
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.
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.
In 1762, John and Thomas Willett and their wives sold a 120-acre farm in South Flushing, Queens, to the then Lieutenant Governor of the Province of New York, Cadwallader Colden. The Willetts were a family of English ancestry who became prominent in the Flushing area during the late 17th century. Upon conveyance of the Willett farm to Colden, a reservation was made in the deed of “a certain antient burying place, fenced in with a stone fence or stone ditch (wherein the Family of the Willets have hitherto been interred) to and for the use of the Family of the said Willets to bury and deposit their dead from henceforth forever.” Lt. Governor Colden named his new estate Spring Hill and built a large home near the public highway at the northern line of the farm, just a hundred yards or so west of the Willett burying ground. When Colden died in 1776, he was buried at Spring Hill, presumably in the old Willet graveyard. After Colden’s son David forfeited the Spring Hill estate in 1783 because of his loyalty to the British during the Revolution, the property passed through several owners, finally becoming part of the 250-acre Durkee family estate that was acquired by Cedar Grove Cemetery Association in 1893. A large portion of the nonsectarian Cedar Grove Cemetery, including much of the area that had formerly been the Spring Hill estate, later was used to create a separate cemetery for the Jewish community, Mount Hebron. Today the Willett graveyard is located at the northwest corner of Mount Hebron Cemetery.
When local historians visited the Willett graveyard in the late 19th century, boulders and a thick cluster of trees marked the site. Present were a half a dozen headstones, most broken and covered with moss and weeds. All of the gravestones, which dated from 1722 to 1797, were for members of the Willett family. No trace of Cadwallader Colden’s gravesite was found. Some later sources stated that the Willett graveyard had been graded over and had completely vanished, but a 1935 article in the Long Island Daily Press reported that it was still present within a hedge just inside the gates of Mount Hebron. This small hedged plot, containing the tombstones of Elizabeth Willett (d. 1773) and S. Willett (d. 1722), can be found today about 200 feet east of Mount Hebron’s main entrance.
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.
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.
Mount Neboh is one of several Jewish cemeteries clustered near the Brooklyn-Queens border in Glendale, Queens. Founded in 1886, 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 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.
In a 1934 article in the Leader-Observer, a longtime resident of Ozone Park described the area’s old community burying ground, remnants of which still exist at present-day Redding Street, Albert Road, and 149th Avenue in Queens:
In a little-known and seldom-visited corner of Ozone Park is one of the oldest burying grounds in New York . . . 15 years ago I often walked out there with my son, who was then a youngster, and we would wander about, reading the inscriptions on the stones and listening to the music of the birds that made the place their home. In those days there were only a very few houses near it . . . The plot even then had long been neglected, but without the usual sad results of neglect. Without man to spoil, nature ran riot . . . in the summer time the whole place was a glorious profusion of violets, lilies of the valley, tiger lilies, and even roses. To this little paradise had repaired the birds that had gradually been chased out of the more settled sections, so that in a few minutes the casual visitor would see ten or a dozen different varieties of brilliant multi-colored songsters . . . Taken all in all, it seemed to me then the most fitting resting place for those pioneers of old I had yet seen . . . The names on these ancient . . . stones were almost all Dutch, names that today are well known. Vanderveers lay there, and Van Wycks along with many others who gave meaning to the wilderness that once was this part of the country.Today all is changed. I walked out there a few days ago, for the first time in about 10 years, and I was shocked. Since that time the Crossbay boulevard has been laid; a big cash-and-carry supermarket stands nearby; a development company has hedged in the little burying ground with raucously new brick houses. Where the birds used to sing by the old pipe line, autos now roar by in an unending stream on the Sunrise highway. But what shocked me most was the condition of the cemetery itself. The birds are gone, and the flowers. The shrubbery that once gave the moss-covered stones a decent privacy are now but a bedraggled collection of broken weeds. Even the stones are gone. Where they went I do not know . . . Of the several hundred monuments that were standing ten years ago, not more than a dozen remain . . .
This community cemetery was set aside as a burying ground about 1680 and was situated at the junction of two colonial highways—the Old South Road that crossed southern Queens from east to west, and the Road to Jamaica Bay, which later became Woodhaven Boulevard. Each neighboring family, among them the Ryders, Van Wicklens, Durlands, and Stoothoffs, was allotted a share in the burial ground at the time it was established. Known today as the Southside Burial Ground, the old graveyard has been referred to by a number of names over the years, including the Van Wicklen Cemetery, Aqueduct Cemetery, and Homestead Cemetery. The half-acre burial ground was used and remained intact until the housing boom and street construction that began in the 1920s destroyed much of it. About half of the cemetery was lost when 149th Avenue was extended through the southern portion of the site, and most of the monuments had disappeared by the 1930s. In 1935, Long Island Daily Press reporter Sarah Wilford called the Southside cemetery the “most desolate in Queens,” after workmen chopped down all the trees at the site and burned it over to clear it of vegetation. What remained of the cemetery gradually became a dumping ground. Concerned citizens of the area fought for decades to protect and preserve the burial ground, and today the NYC Parks department manages the site. Four gravestones still exist in the northern section of the old graveyard, which remains on the east side of Redding Street, between Albert Road and 149th Avenue. A remnant of the southern portion of the cemetery also exists in the park on the other side of 149th Avenue; although no stones are present in this section, it is distinguished by a chain-link fence that separates it from the adjacent ball field.