Tag Archives: Staten Island cemeteries

St. Peter’s Cemetery, West New Brighton

Tombstones in St. Peter’s Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)

St. Peter’s Cemetery is the oldest Catholic burial ground on Staten Island, founded in 1848 by its namesake parish. The first Catholic parish on Staten Island, St. Peter’s was established at New Brighton in 1839, and the congregation built their church on a plot of land overlooking the Upper New York Bay. Soon after completing their church, St. Peter’s parish bought about three acres of land on the west side of Clove Road, in West New Brighton, for burial purposes. As graves filled, St. Peter’s Cemetery expanded in 1878 with the acquisition of three additional acres and again in 1898, when the parish purchased five acres on the opposite side of Clove Road for new graves. The grounds on both sides of Clove Road were further enlarged during the 20th century to bring St. Peter’s Cemetery to a total of 25 acres of burial space, holding 50,000 graves.

At left is a detail from an 1853 map showing the original St. Peter’s Cemetery parcel on the west side of Clove Road; at right is a 1917 map depicting the enlarged St. Peter’s Cemetery, with sections on both side of the road
Father Capodanno’s grave at St. Peter’s Cemetery, May 2020 (Larry Gertner/HMdb.org)

Some prominent figures are laid to rest at St. Peter’s Cemetery, including Civil War general Patrick Henry Jones, early baseball player Matty McIntyre, champion boxer Frankie Genaro, World War II Medal of Honor recipient Joseph F. Merrell, and three Staten Island borough presidents. Most notably, there is the grave of Father Vincent Capodanno, currently a candidate for sainthood. A U.S. Navy chaplain killed during the Vietnam War, Father Capodanno was struck down by a burst of machine-gun fire while attempting to aid and assist a mortally wounded Marine corpsman during heavy fighting on September 4, 1967. In 1969 he was a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor, and in 2006 was declared a Servant of God, the first step in the canonization process. Father Capodanno’s resting place at St. Peter’s Cemetery is now a pilgrimage site for Staten Island’s Catholic community. Here believers pray at the modest granite headstone marking the Capodanno family plot, and ask for the help and protection of the fearless “grunt padre.”

A view of St. Peter’s Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)
2018 aerial view of St. Peter’s Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

View more photos of St. Peter’s Cemetery

Sources: Butler’s 1853 Map of Staten Island; Bromley’s 1917 Atlas of New York City, Borough of Richmond, Pl 26; The Catholic Cemeteries of New York,Historical Records and Studies 1; The Leonard Manual of the Cemeteries of New York and Vicinity (1901); Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006); St. Peter’s Parish History (St. Peter, St. Paul & Assumption Parish); Patrick Henry Jones: Irish American, Civil War General, and Gilded Age Politician (Dunkelman 2015); “The Story of Matty McIntyre, Ty Cobb, and an Old-Time Baseball Feud,” Staten Island Advance, Jan 3, 2019; “50 Must-Dos for Boxing Fans,” Boxing News, May 23, 2019; “Obituary—Pfc. Joseph F. Merrell Jr.,” Daily News, Jul 23, 1948; “M’Cormack Pallbearers,”Brooklyn Times Union, Jul 13, 1915; “Staten Island Mourns as President Cahill is Buried,” Daily News, Jul 18, 1922; “Obituary—Cornelius A. Hall,” Daily News, Mar 10, 1953; “Obituary—Rev. Vincent Cappodano,” Daily News, Sep 16, 1967; “Remembering Father Vincent Capodanno,” Staten Island Advance, Sep 4, 2020; Father Capodanno Guild

Merrell Cemetery

View of Merrell Cemetery, 1932 (NYPL)

Between 1889 and 1902, Staten Island historian William T. Davis located 21 homestead graveyards across the borough. Today only two of these private family burial grounds are preserved. One of these, Merrell (or Merrill) Cemetery on the north side of Merrill Avenue west of Richmond Avenue in Bulls Head, is still owned by family heirs and was used into the late 20th century.

Merrell Cemetery is a remnant of the 250-acre plantation owned by John Iyon Merrell (1740-1818), which stretched from Bulls Head to the Arthur Kill. Iyon Merrell was a descendant of Richard and Sarah Merrell, who emigrated from Warwickshire, England, in 1675 and settled on Staten Island. Prominent and influential, the Merrell family held land in the area for many years and intermarried with the Decker and Braisted families, as well as with other local clans. Merrell family heirs formed an association to ensure continued care of their family burial ground and in July 1903 rededicated the site after a cleanup and beautification that included installation of a sign at the entrance bearing the words “MERRELL CEMETERY 1675—1903.”

Detail from a 1917 map showing Merrell Cemetery at Bulls Head, Staten Island

In 1923, William Davis and his colleagues recorded about 30 marked graves in the half-acre Merrell Cemetery, the earliest dating to 1794.  They speculated there likely were many more unmarked graves at the site, possibly dating to the late 1600s. The cemetery had a frontage of 78 feet along Merrill Avenue, extended 280 feet in a northerly direction, and was “well kept up with privet hedges along the sides of the long rectangular lot.”

Headstone marking the grave of Gertrui Merrell, the oldest known interment in Merrell Cemetery (FACSI)

Although Merrell Cemetery fell into periods of neglect over the decades, descendants were interred here throughout the 20th century. The last known burial occurred in 1996 when Ruth Merrell was laid to rest alongside her husband John. In recent years the cemetery has been in legal limbo as the family association that holds the deed for the property became defunct and the site was abandoned. Merrell Cemetery is now maintained by Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island. A number of the early gravestones first recorded by William Davis over a hundred years ago are still present at the site. Among them is the rough-hewn fieldstone marking the grave of Iyon Merrell, carved with the inscription “I.Y.M. D.1818.”

View of Merrell Cemetery, April 2017 (Mary French)
Location of Merrell Cemetery, adjacent to P.S. 60 on Merrill Ave (NYCityMap)

Sources: Bromley’s 1917 Atlas of the City of New York, Borough of Richmond, Staten Island, Pl 37;“Homestead Graves,” Proceedings of the Natural Science Association of Staten Island, Special No. 9, 1889; Staten Island Gravestone Inscriptions, Vol 1 (Davis et al 1924); Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910); Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island  (Salmon 2006); “Sarah Jane Braisted,” Richmond County Advance, Mar 28, 1903; “Merrell Cemetery,” Richmond County Advance, Jul 18, 1903; “Enthusiastic Meeting,” Richmond County Advance, Aug 08, 1903; “The Abandoned Graveyards of Staten Island,” Chronicles of Staten Island 1(9), 1987; “Debris and Inaccessibility to Graves a ‘Disgrace’ at Merrell Family Cemetery,” Staten Island Advance, Jan 4, 2012

United Hebrew Cemetery

Numerous stones left atop these monuments at United Hebrew Cemetery attest to frequent visits (Mary French)

In contrast to many of New York City’s Jewish burial grounds, which often have a deserted air about them, United Hebrew Cemetery on Staten Island hums with activity. On an average day, cars line the cemetery’s roadways, paths are filled with family and friends visiting their departed loved ones, and a yarmulke-wearing manager zips around the grounds on a golf cart. The cemetery’s history begins when the United Hebrew Cemetery Association of New York City incorporated in 1906. The association later acquired 67 acres on Arthur Kill Road in the Richmond section of Staten Island and opened to burials in 1908. United Hebrew now is the resting place of 40,000 Jews from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In its early years, United Hebrew sold plots to about 200 burial societies and benevolent associations. Today its grounds are sold directly to families or individuals, and recent emigration from the former Soviet Union has resulted in an increase in burials over the past few decades.

The Drobniner Holocaust memorial at United Hebrew Cemetery (Steven Lasky/Museum of Family History)

Among those interred at United Hebrew Cemetery are countless people touched by the Holocaust and monuments found throughout the cemetery memorialize those who suffered or died under Nazism.  The Holocaust memorials are dedicated to specific towns that lost their Jewish population to the Nazi regime and their collaborators, or to the many Jews themselves who once inhabited these towns. A monument in the Eishishok Society plot at United Hebrew commemorates more than 4,000 Jews of the Lithuanian shtetl of Eishyshok who were massacred by German troops in 1941. Another large monument, erected by the Drobniner Benevolent Society, commemorates 3,000 Jews from the town of Drobnin, Poland, who were gassed and cremated at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Buried at the foot of the Drobniner monument are ashes brought from Auschwitz in 1961 by one of the camp’s survivors, Rabbi David Foffer.

Burial site of ashes from Auschwitz interred at the foot of the Drobniner monument (Steven Lasky/Museum of Family History)
Listing for United Hebrew Cemetery in a 1910 directory of NYC cemeteries
Location of United Hebrew Cemetery on Arthur Kill Road in Staten Island (OpenStreetMap)

View more photos of United Hebrew Cemetery

Sources: “Incorporations Filed,” Buffalo Courier, Nov 2, 1906; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910), 164-165; Annual reports of the Board of Health of the City of New York, 1900-1925; “Rites for Nazi Victims,” New York Times, Nov 27, 1961; “Jewish Cemeteries Recall Era of Immigration, Times of Suffering, Moments of Forgiveness,” Staten Island Advance, Jul 26, 2005; Carved in Granite: Holocaust Memorials in Greater New York Jewish Cemeteries (Poplack 2003); “Holocaust Memorials of New York and New Jersey,” Museum of Family History; OpenStreetMap

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’s Cemetery, Grasmere

St. Mary’s Cemetery, Grasmere, May 2017 (Mary French)

When Burton Kaplan and NYPD detective Stephen Caracappa met, they followed a protocol designed to prevent detection. If Kaplan, the envoy of Lucchese crime family underboss Anthony Casso, wanted to meet Caracappa, he pulled up outside Caracappa’s mother’s house on Kramer Street in the Grasmere section of Staten Island and beeped his horn. Kaplan would then proceed down Kramer Street to a  cemetery there that was nearly always empty. Surrounded by a chain-link fence, the headstones in the graveyard were modest, the surnames mostly Italian. Kaplan would get out of his car and wait for Caracappa. The two men would walk and talk along the pathways between the graves. The cemetery rolled into a small rise overlooking the neighborhood and affording a view of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. It is the place where Caracappa received hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for orchestrating—along with his partner, detective Louis Eppolito—eight gangland murders between 1986 and 1990. The infamous “Mafia Cops” were convicted in 2006 and died in federal prison.

A 1907 map shows the two sections of St. Mary’s Cemetery on Parkinson Ave.

The graveyard where Kaplan and Caracappa met for their late-night criminal rendezvous was St. Mary’s Cemetery, one of the oldest Catholic cemeteries on Staten Island. The Roman Catholic parish of St. Mary’s was established in 1852 in Rosebank by Father John Lewis. In 1862 Father Lewis purchased seven acres of land located on the former Leonard Parkinson estate, about two miles southwest from St. Mary’s Church at Rosebank, and laid it out as a cemetery. This hilltop parcel is bounded by today’s Parkinson Avenue and Kramer Street. In 1905 St. Mary’s Cemetery expanded with the purchase of a separate three-and-a-half-acre parcel nearby on Parkinson Avenue and Old Town Road (now Reid Avenue). St. Mary’s parish closed in 2015 and merged with St. Joseph’s of Rosebank; St. Mary’s Cemetery is now managed by the parish of St. Joseph and Mary Immaculate.

During their grim exchanges at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Kaplan and Caracappa passed by the graves of some 20,000 Catholic locals laid to rest here. Among them are Pvt. Thomas B. Wall, who died of battle wounds received in the Philippines and was buried at St. Mary’s with military honors in 1900; Rev. James F. Mee, pastor of St. Mary’s parish from 1889 to 1908, whose monument marks the apex of a central knoll in the old cemetery; and Vietnam war hero Nick Lia, killed in action in 1968. Marine Lt. Lia has a Staten Island park named in his honor and and a memorial scultpure of him stands at Wagner College, where he was a football star.

St. Mary’s Cemetery, Old Section, May 2017 (Mary French)
St Mary’s Cemetery, New Section, May 2017 (Mary French)
A 2018 aerial view of St. Mary’s Cemetery

View more photos of St. Mary’s Cemetery

Sources: Robinson’s 1907 Atlas of the Borough of Richmond, Pl 14; Annals of Staten Island (Clute 1877), 299-300; “Soldier Buried With Honor,” The Sun, Apr 9, 1900; [Notice], Richmond County Advance, June 17, 1905; Fairchild Cemetery Manual (1910), 150; Realms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island (Salmon 2006), 154-156; Italian Staten Island (Mele 2010), 86-87; The Brotherhoods:The True Story of Two Cops Who Murdered for the Mafia (Lawson & Oldham 2006); United States v. Eppolito, 436 F. Supp. 2D 532 (E.D.N.Y 2006)