Tag Archives: Yorkville

88th Street Jewish Cemetery

An 1897 map shows the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery between Park and Madison Avenues

With the growth of New York City’s Jewish population and the increase in the number of synagogues, some two dozen Jewish graveyards were established in Manhattan between 1825 and the late 1840s. Most of these cemeteries were used for just a short time before their owners acquired new burial grounds at the large, rural Jewish cemeteries created in Brooklyn and Queens in the mid-1800s. By the turn of the century, the only Jewish cemeteries left in the city were those belonging to Shearith Israel, the city’s oldest Jewish congregation. In 1899, the last of Manhattan’s Jewish graveyards—excluding the Shearith Israel grounds—disappeared when “the old Jewish Cemetery” on 88th Street in Yorkville was removed.

This detail from an 1871 lot map shows the four lots that formed the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery. Shaare Zedek owned lots 282 & 283; Rodeph Sholom owned Lots 284 & 285

The cemetery originated in 1840, when Shaare Zedek (Gates of Righteousness)—a Polish Jewish congregation founded in 1837—acquired two lots on the south side of 88th Street, between present-day Park and Madison Avenues, as a burial place for their members. In 1842, a group of German Jews formed Rodeph Sholom (Pursuer of Peace) and in October of that same year acquired two lots adjoining Shaare Zedek’s. The conjoined burial grounds formed an 87-foot x 100-foot cemetery that was cooperatively managed by the two synagogues. In 1856, the sister congregations built a high, thick brick wall around the entire property and erected heavy iron gates at the cemetery’s entrance on 88th Street. At the time this enclosure was built to protect the 88th Street cemetery, Rodeph Sholom had discontinued burials here and was interring their dead at their new cemetery in Queens, Union Field. A few years later, Shaare Zedek established Bayside Cemetery in Queens and also ceased burials at the 88th Street cemetery.

An 1864 newspaper clipping reports a suicide at the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery

By the 1860s, the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery was inactive and soon fell into disrepair. In 1879, a reporter from the New York Times found the brick wall broken and crumbling and observed goats belonging to the neighborhood squatters nibbling the grass and lying on the toppled tombstones that crowded the grounds. Shaare Zedek’s trustees found a buyer for their part of the property in 1881 and made arrangements to remove the bodies, but their plans were defeated by the furious opposition of those with relatives buried there and by Rodeph Sholom’s refusal to sell the adjoining grounds. Finally, in 1899 the two congregations proceeded with the removals and sold their lots. In 1901, The Jewish Messenger announced that William B. Leeds had acquired the 88th Street Jewish cemetery property and planned to erect a private stable on the site. Today, Shaare Zedek and Rodeph Sholom worship at synagogues on the Upper West Side, and a condominium building is at the site of the old 88th Street Jewish Cemetery.

This 1899 Jewish Messenger clipping notes the removal of the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery and laments the loss of the city’s Jewish burial grounds.

A 2018 aerial view with arrow denoting the former site of the 88th Street Jewish Cemetery (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of that part of the Harlem Commons east of the 5th Ave. & Central Park : copied from the original map made by Joseph F. Bridges, City Surveyor, January 1826… (Holmes 1871); Bromley’s 1897 Atlas of the city of New York, Pl 30; New York County Conveyances, Vol 408 p325-327, Vol 1601 p184-185, Vol 430 p153-154, Vol 850 p616-618, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; “The Clinton and Henry Street Congregations,” The Asmonean, Aug 22, 1856; “Suicide at a Graveyard,” The World, May 20, 1864; “Suicide,” The Jewish Messenger, May 27, 1864; “An Up-Town Cemetery,” The Jewish Messenger, Mar 7, 1879; “Some Old Grave-yards,” New York Times, May 18, 1879; “Selling a Cemetery, The Jewish Messenger, Jun 17, 1881; “Old Graves to be Disturbed,” The Sun, Nov 14, 1892; [No title], The Jewish Messenger, Feb 3, 1899; “Brevities,” The Jewish Messenger, Dec 14, 1900; “Finance and Trade, “ The Jewish Messenger, Apr 26, 1901; Laws of the State of New York, Passed at the One Hundred and Twenty-Third Session of the Legislature, Begun Jan 3rd 1900 and Ended April 6th 1900, Chap. 34; Rise of the Jewish Community of New York (Grinstein 1945); Within the Gates: A Religious, Social and Cultural History 1837-1962 (Monsky 1964);  Dust to Dust: A History of Jewish Death and Burial in New York (Amanik 2019); Our History – Congregation Shaare Zedek; Our History – Congregation Rodeph Sholom 

Mendelssohn Benevolent Society Cemetery

Snippet from the Mendelssohn Benevolent Society’s charter and by-Laws, 1914

From the time Jews first settled in colonial New York until well into the 19th century, synagogues had a monopoly on Jewish burials and controlled all the city’s Jewish graveyards. But as New York’s Jewish population grew from a few hundred residents in the 1820s to about 40,000 by mid-century, some new immigrants eschewed the synagogues to form independent groups that provided benefits to their members, including graves and funeral arrangements. One of the first of these was the Mendelssohn Benevolent Society, formed in 1841. The objectives of the Society included “mutual relief of the members thereof, and their families, when in sickness, want, and destitution or distress,” and to acquire “a suitable burial ground” and defray funeral and burial costs for members and their families. Membership was open to any Jewish male between the ages of 21 and 45, who was a resident of New York City and “in full possession of all his mental and physical faculties, and of good character.”

An 1871 map shows the three lots (delineated in red) Mendelssohn Benevolent Society acquired in 1845 on 87th Street, east of Fourth (now Park) Avenue. Only the strip along the eastern edge of the property was used for burials (approximate boundary denoted here by dashed line)

In May of 1845, Mendelssohn Benevolent Society purchased land on the south side of 87th Street, between today’s Park and Lexington Avenues, and used part of this property as the Society’s cemetery. Society members and their families were interred here until 1851 when the Society purchased new burial grounds at Salem Fields Cemetery in Brooklyn. In 1858, the Society sold their property on 87th Street, excluding the “strip of land running along the whole of the easterly side” of the premises, 21.2 feet fronting on 87th Street and 100.8 ½ feet in depth, which was reserved by the Mendelssohn Benevolent Society and their successors “for a burying ground forever.” As part of the transfer, the new owner agreed to build “a good and substantial fence” on the westerly side of the burial ground and “forever keep it in good repair.”

This entry from from one of the city’s Bodies in Transit registers records the removal of remains from Mendelssohn Benevolent Society Cemetery to Salem Fields in 1878

Mendelssohn Benevolent Society retained their cemetery on 87th Street until March of 1878 when they removed the remains to their plot at Salem Fields and sold the 21.2 ft x 100.8 ½ ft burial ground property.  Mendelssohn Benevolent Society was still active in 1941 when 400 people attended their 100th-anniversary dinner at the Hotel Astor. However, like the majority of organizations of its kind, the Society declined as members died off and were not replaced by a new generation and is now defunct.

A 2018 aerial view shows the site of the former Mendelssohn Benevolent Society Cemetery; arrow denotes approximate location (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Map of that part of the Harlem Commons east of the 5th Ave. & Central Park : copied from the original map made by Joseph F. Bridges, City Surveyor, January 1826… (Holmes 1871); New York County Conveyances, Vol 465 p439-440, Vol 762 p621-624, Vol 1445 p407-408, Kings County Conveyances, Vol 285 p178-182, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; Bodies in Transit Register IX:1874-1880, Municipal Archives, City of New York; Mendelssohn Benevolent Society Charter and By-Laws, 1914; “Group Marks 100th Year,” New York Times, Oct 12, 1941; Rise of the Jewish Community of New York (Grinstein 1945); Dust to Dust: A History of Jewish Death and Burial in New York (Amanik 2019); Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City (Meade 2020)

Anshe Chesed Cemeteries

A ca.1979 photo of Anshe Chesed’s Norfolk Street Synagogue; built in 1849, it is the oldest surviving synagogue in NYC (MCNY)

Anshe Chesed (People of Kindness) was New York City’s third Jewish congregation, formed in 1828 by a group of German, Dutch, and Polish Jews that seceded from B’nai Jeshurun. First meeting in rented quarters on the Lower East Side, in 1849 they built a synagogue on Norfolk Street and by the 1850s were the largest Jewish congregation in the United States. The ability to meet burial needs was crucial for fledgling synagogues to retain their members and attract new congregants; accordingly, Anshe Chesed made acquisition of burial grounds for its congregation a priority. In 1830 they acquired a lot on Sixth Avenue, just north of 45th Street, for their first graveyard; in 1846 they purchased land for a second graveyard on the south side of 89th Street, near present-day Madison Avenue. 

Anshe Chesed’s 45th Street Cemetery, denoted as “Jews’s Burial Ground” on this 1859 map

In the 1850s, both of Anshe Chesed’s Manhattan cemeteries closed to new interments and the congregation acquired new burial grounds at Union Field Cemetery in Queens. By this time their Manhattan graveyards were in poor condition. In 1853, a committee of the congregation’s trustees found four coffins partially uncovered at the 45th Street Cemetery and the fence surrounding the graveyard “in a very bad state.” In 1856, the trustees again alluded to “the poor state of our burial places in [45th] and 89th Street” when suggesting that “removing the corpses from those places to our new cemetery would be a good deed as the would not be disturbed there.” They let the matter drop after making inquiries to rabbinical advisors in London, who instructed them that “removal of the dead from the burial place was prohibited” by Jewish law.

An 1871 map shows the lots (delineated in red) Anshe Chesed acquired in 1849 for its second burial ground on 89th Street

In 1874, Anshe Chesed merged with another group, Adas Jeshurun, to form congregation Beth-El. Following the consolidation, Beth-El trustees decided to finally give up the old Anshe Chesed graveyards on 45th and 89th Streets. Beth-El notified relatives in March of 1875 “that the proper permit from the Health Department had been obtained, and that unless they removed their dead in due time, the Trustees would see to such removal.” Representatives of several families who had relatives interred in the grounds received a temporary injunction to stop the removals, but the courts eventually decided in favor of the trustees.

Remains from the 45th Street cemetery were removed to Union Field Cemetery in May 1875, as reported by The Jewish Messenger: 

The work of the exhumation has been conducted with some decorum. Excepting the few graves that, from their location, were recognized by relatives, there was nothing to distinguish the remains that were dug out—the tombstones having been thrown down and piled up against the wall of the adjoining houses—and the bystanders were shocked to see skulls and scattered bones, the sole remains of people who had once lived and moved on earth.

In March 1880, Beth-El proceeded with removing graves still present at the 89th Street cemetery. The New York Herald described the work of exhuming “the Hebrew dead” from the burial ground: 

The plot is only 104 by 100 feet, being a portion of the original cemetery, and is almost hidden from view by squalid shanties and squatters’ huts. Within this narrow limit, however, it is estimated that upward of two hundred interments were made; but, owing for the lapse of time (for after 1852 there were no burials) it is not probable that the names of more than one-half of the dead can be ascertained. The graves not marked with tomb stones have been carefully numbered, and where it is impossible to ascertain the names these numbers will mark the remains in their new resting places in Union Fields. 

Today, Anshe Chesed’s heritage continues at two Manhattan congregations: Emanu-El, which absorbed  Beth-El in 1928, and Ansche Chesed, formed in 1876 by a group that broke off when the original Anshe Chesed became Beth-El in 1874. Anshe Chesed’s 1849 Norfolk Street Synagogue, now the Angel Orensanz Center, is the oldest surviving synagogue in New York City.  Americas Tower is now at the site of Anshe Chesed’s 45th Street cemetery; Saint David’s School and other residential and commercial buildings occupy the site of the congregation’s 89th Street graveyard.

2018 aerial photos showing the Anshe Chesed cemetery sites today (NYCThen&Now)

Sources: Perris’ 1859 Maps of the City of New York,Vol 6, Pl 97;  Map of that part of the Harlem Commons east of the 5th Ave. & Central Park : copied from the original map made by Joseph F. Bridges, City Surveyor, January 1826… (Holmes 1871); New York County Conveyances, Vol 266, p471-472, Vol 475 p630-632, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; Bodies in Transit Register IX:1874-1880, Municipal Archives, City of New York; “Removal of Jewish Cemeteries,” New York Times, March 22, 1875; “Removing the Dead,” The Jewish Messenger, Mar 26, 1875; “A Congregational Controversy,” New York Times, Mar 29, 1875; “The Health Report,” New York Times, Apr 14, 1875; “The Right to a Grave,” New York Tribune, Apr 17, 1875; “Our Gossip,” The Jewish Messenger, May 28, 1875; “Reinterring Jewish Dead,” New York Times, Feb 28, 1880; “Exhuming Hebrew Dead,” New York Herald, Mar 11, 1880; “Temple Beth-El,” The Jewish Messenger, Mar 12, 1880; Rise of the Jewish Community of New York (Grinstein 1945), Appendix 8; Anshe Slonim Synagogue (originally Anshe Chesed Synagogue) Designation Report (Landmarks Preservation Commission 1987); The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook (Olitzky & Raphael 1996); Dust to Dust: A History of Jewish Death and Burial in New York (Amanik 2019); Prepare for Death and Follow Me:”An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City (Meade 2020)

Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery, 89th Street

Removal notice for Shaar Hashomayim’s 89th Street cemetery that appeared in the New York Herald in 1875

In 1849, Congregation Shaar Hashomayim of Manhattan purchased land on 89th Street to serve as a burial place to supplement its earlier graveyard in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The five lots acquired for $900 in 1849 were situated on the north side of 89th Street, near present-day Madison Avenue. By 1875, when the congregation decided to transfer the remains to new plots in Cypress Hills Cemetery, approximately 100 bodies were interred in Shaar Hashomayim’s 89th Street cemetery.

Though not identified as a cemetery, this 1871 map shows the five lots (delineated in red) Shaar Hashomayim acquired in 1849 for use as a burial ground

Shaar Hashomayim was one of several Jewish congregations that exhumed remains from their old burial grounds in the late 1800s, an act that was denounced by the Jewish public and press. The editors of The Jewish Messenger took Shaar Hashomayim to task when the congregation began removing their 89th Street cemetery, asserting that “there is absolutely no reason for this desecration. The old cemetery could, with very little expense, have been put in such a condition as to continue an object of grateful reverence. Had the members of Shaar Hashomayim retained any of the old Jewish feeling, they would have hesitated before disturbing the remains of their parents and other relatives.” The editorial goes on to claim that the only motive for emptying the cemeteries was to sell the land at a profit, and pleads with congregations not “to follow their example of contempt for the departed.” Today, an apartment building stands at the site of Shaar Hashomayim’s 89th Street cemetery.

A 2018 aerial view shows the site of the former Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery on 89th St (NYCThen&Now)

Sources:  Map of that part of the Harlem Commons east of the 5th Ave. & Central Park : copied from the original map made by Joseph F. Bridges, City Surveyor, January 1826… (Holmes 1871); New York County Conveyances, Vol 525, p214-216, “United States, New York Land Records, 1630-1975,” FamilySearch; “Shaar Hashomayim,” New York Herald, Nov 21, 1875; “Special Notices—Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, New York Herald, Nov 22, 1875; “Disturbing the Dead,” The Jewish Messenger, Nov 26, 1875; Dust to Dust: A History of Jewish Death and Burial in New York (Amanik 2019)