Tag Archives: New York City cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #98: the New York Marble Cemetery

The entrance to the New York Marble Cemetery

The entrance to the New York Marble Cemetery

The New York Marble Cemetery
41-1/2 Second Avenue
New York City, New York 10003
Contact information: P.O. Box 315, New York City, New York 10159
Founded: 1831
Size: half an acre
Number of interments: 2080
Open: the fourth Sunday of the month, between April and October, from noon to 4 p.m.

I stumbled across this cemetery last summer while wandering Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The gate in the middle of the block was locked, but the graveyard looked so green and enticing… It seemed to be reachable only by passing two sets of locked gates, which stood on either end of a shadowy alley between two brick apartment buildings. If I read the cemetery’s homepage correctly, it’s open six days a year—unless you rent it for a small private party or as a film location.

The cemetery isn’t easy to find, since it doesn’t appear on Google Maps, MapQuest, or About.com’s maps of the area. Sometimes called the Second Avenue Cemetery, it’s bounded by Second Avenue, Second Street, Third Street, and Bowery.

IMG_1412The historic plaque on the exterior Second Avenue gate names the New York Marble Cemetery as “the oldest public nonsectarian cemetery in the city.” After in-ground burials were banned inside city limits, the New York Marble Cemetery was opened as a hygienic alternative in 1831. At the time the cemetery opened, Second Avenue stood on the northern edge of development. Several churchyards in the area already existed, so the developers had the sense that people would be happy to bury their dead this far from the center of town.

In fact, the 156 belowground vaults of Tuckahoe marble (the same brilliantly white marble as used in the U.S. Capitol) sold so quickly that the New York City Marble Cemetery (no relation) opened around the corner.

Through the gate of the New York Marble Cemetery

Through the gate of the New York Marble Cemetery

It was believed that these vaults, which lay completely beneath the sod, would prevent the spread of Yellow Fever. The vaults, which are the size of small rooms, are built in pairs 10 feet below the surface. They can only be accessed by removing the stone slabs that lay beneath the lawn. No catacombs or passages connect them.

Of the more than 2000 burials in the cemetery, most took place between 1830 and 1870. The first was a child of Dr. Post in 1830. The last was apparently Charles Janeway Van Zandt in 1937, although descendants of descendants of the original vault owners may request to be buried in their family vaults. When I visited, a sign on the gate said that two of the vaults had apparently never been used and no hereditary owners can be found, so the cemetery was planning to reclaim them.  I wonder what they’ll sell for now.

When the cemetery opened, gravestones were considered gauche. The vaults have only ever been marked by marble slabs on the walls – and those slabs only list the names of the vaults’ purchasers. In many cases, the people named on the walls are actually buried elsewhere, having been taken up by their families and reburied in newer, more fashionable cemeteries. It’s estimated that the Marble Cemetery lost up to a third of its interments when Brooklyn’s Green-Wood and the other rural cemeteries opened after 1838.

Unfortunately, the Tuckahoe marble is soft and susceptible to weathering. The original plaque that proclaimed the Marble Cemetery as a “place of interment for gentlemen” has not survived. Restoration is an ongoing concern for the cemetery.

Among the prominent New Yorkers once buried here are Mayor Aaron Clark, Congressman James Tallmadge (who also served as president of New York University), Uriah and Charles Scribner of the publishing family, and Benjamin Wright, the father of American Civil Engineering, who planned the Erie Canal.

The cemetery is both a New York City landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Useful Links:

The Marble Cemetery’s homepage

The Atlas Obscura feature on their tour of the Marble Cemetery

GPS information from cemeteryregistry.us

My review of The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries

Other Manhattan graveyards on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #11: the General Grant National Monument

Cemetery of the Week #41: Trinity Churchyard

Cemetery of the Week #65: the African Burial Ground

Cemetery of the Week #75: St. Paul’s Churchyard

New York Cemetery Explorations with Atlas Obscura

The entrance to the New York Marble Cemetery

Sunday, October 14
Catacombs and Other Curiosities: A Walk in Green-Wood Cemetery
Autumn Cemetery Exploration Series – Join Atlas Obscura resident cemetery expert Allison Meier for an exploration of some of Green-Wood Cemetery’s more offbeat corners, such as the rarely opened catacombs and monuments both beautiful and strange in a wander through the Brooklyn cemetery’s 478 acres.

Saturday, October 20
A Beautiful Death in the Bronx: Walk the Art and Stories of Woodlawn Cemetery
Autumn Cemetery Exploration Series – Cemetery expert Allison Meier leads a journey to historic Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to discover its lavish mausoleums and ornate memorials, as well as some of the captivating stories of the more than 300,000 people who now call its 400 acres their eternal home.

Sunday, October 28
New York Marble Cemetery & East Village Burial Sites
Autumn Cemetery Exploration Series – Join Allison Meier for an afternoon of East Village burial ground exploration starting at the unusally off-limits New York Marble Cemetery.

Saturday, November 11
Preserving History: A Visit to Bayside Cemetery in Queens
Autumn Cemetery Exploration Series – Join Allison Meier for an exploration of the mid-19th century Bayside Cemetery in Ozone Park, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in New York City.

Tickets & more information

Cemetery of the Week #75: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard

Exterior of St. Paul’s, with the bell tower and obelisk

Saint Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Churchyard and Vaults
209 Broadway
New York, New York 10007
Telephone: (212) 233-4164
Founded: 1766
Size: a small city block
Number of interments: approximately 1000
Open: Monday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Chapel opens at the equivalent time each morning, but closes an hour later.

Standing in the shadow of the new World Trade Center at the southern tip of Manhattan, St. Paul’s Chapel had seen a lot of changes since it was founded as a country church in 1766. When Andrew Gautier built the chapel in the Georgian Classical Revival style, it was surrounded by farmland and orchards.

In 1776, fire swept through Manhattan, destroying Trinity Church farther up Broadway. St. Paul’s was saved by a bucket brigade, which makes it the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhattan and the only remaining colonial-era church in New York City.

After his inauguration in April 1789, George Washington came here to pray. His pew has been preserved beneath the earliest known painting of the Presidential Seal.

The chapel’s steeple was added in 1794. Reports of the time called St. Paul’s the “most elegant and imposing church edifice in the city.” Its bells were added over a number of years, but the first was installed in 1797. In 1831, they tolled for former President James Monroe, whose funeral service was performed inside.  He was buried for a while in the New York Marble Cemetery, then later moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

The exterior of St. Paul’s Chapel, with the Montgomery monument

Permanent New Yorkers has a very brief listing on St. Paul’s Churchyard, but says it is the final resting place of Revolutionary War hero General Richard Montgomery. His monument is on the outer wall of the chapel, facing Broadway. Montgomery was the first American officer to die in the Revolutionary War, killed during the Battle of Quebec in 1775. The Continental Congress ordered his monument, making it the first public memorial in the States.  Decades after his death, his bones were removed from the garrison in Quebec and reburied under the chapel’s portico.

Also remembered here is Irish patriot Thomas Addis Emmet, who was exiled for trying to free Ireland from outside rule, a crime for which his brother was hanged. Emmet’s grave says that he suffered for his country, but found a new home in the US. He served as the Prosecutor General of the State of New York, defending Robert Fulton’s steamship patents in court. He is buried in the graveyard of St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery.

A green space in the city.

Actually buried in the graveyard are lesser known patriots, including the man who forged George Washington’s combat sword, the chief doctor during the Revolutionary War,  soldiers who served in the Revolution, and the printer who founded the New York Journal.

A sign relates the story of George Frederick Cooke, an actor who died in 1812. In life, he was best known for his portrayal of Shakespeare’s Richard III, which was viewed by an audience of 2000 in New York. His protégé, British actor Edmund Keane, erected Cooke’s tombstone in the churchyard. In 1821, his skull was stolen from his coffin. The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries (my review is here) reports that, “Cooke is said to wander around St. Paul’s Churchyard, looking for his head….Some believe that his skull is used in stagings of Hamlet.”

Broken tombstones

The Graveyard Shift also estimates that burials ended in the cemetery in 1823, when a ban was passed on interring anyone south of Grand Street. However, interments in the vaults probably continued until 1851, until those were banned as well. The stones in the pretty, tree-shaded graveyard are in bad shape, whether the slate has broken over the years of winter or the images have been rubbed away.  Grave rubbings of the fragile stones are now forbidden.

After surviving the fire of 1776 and the intervening years of change and acid rain, St. Paul’s Chapel escaped destruction once again when the World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, 2001. Although its graveyard was drifted with debris from the towers, the chapel served as a shelter for 14,000 volunteers who slept in their clothing in the pews as they combed through the wreckage for survivors, then victims. The rescue workers were fed, offered counseling, and given a place to rest, free of charge, at St. Paul’s. These intense eight months are commemorated by an exhibit inside the chapel called Unwavering Spirit.

The World Trade Center rises again.

The congregation continues to work for peace and serves as a place of pilgrimage for all people.

Useful links:

St. Paul’s homepage

St. Paul’s Stands, a slide show of the 9/11 damage of the churchyard

Tombstones of St. Paul’s Churchyard

New York City Cemetery Project listing

Historical images of the Chapel and Churchyard

The CemeteryRegistry.us listing for St. Paul’s Churchyard

Cemetery Travel links:

My recent visit to St. Paul’s

My first visit to St. Paul’s, in April 2002

Graveyards of Colonial New York City on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #41: Trinity Churchyard

Cemetery of the Week #65: the African Burial Ground

A Good Guide to the Cemeteries of New York

Permanent New Yorkers: A Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of New YorkPermanent New Yorkers: A Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of New York by Judi Culbertson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the second of Culbertson and Randall’s “Permanent” series, exploring the permanent residents of Paris, California, Italy, and London. This one feels like it covers a vast amount of territory, from offering multiple tours of Green-Wood and Woodlawn to capsule suggestions of quick trips to the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, Belmont Racetrack, and the Quaker Cemetery of Brooklyn.

Some of the choices are strange. There’s a scant paragraph about the New York Marble Cemetery, which holds the remnants of 40 cemeteries that were destroyed to make room for the City’s growth. It makes me wonder if the authors found the cemetery closed when they visited, as I did in June. Strawberry Fields in Central Park rates more description, even though the authors admit that John Lennon’s ashes aren’t buried there. The Hart’s Island Potter’s Field is included for the sake of completeness, I suppose, even though I’d be surprised if most tourists could or would want to try to visit it.

Which may be the split between the authors’ intention for this book and the way I want to use it. It’s not a guidebook, in that it doesn’t include cemetery addresses, opening hours, or suggestions for how to visit the cemeteries listed inside. It doesn’t include enough photographs of the graves or graveyards and spends page after page on biographies of people like Judy Garland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Malcolm X. Maybe it’s meant to be an armchair travel book.

My quest for the perfect New York City cemetery guide continues — but this was an excellent reference to read in the hotel room between cemetery explorations.

You can find used copies at Amazon here: Permanent New Yorkers: A Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of New York.

Click on the Book Review category in the blog’s right column to see all my cemetery book reviews.

Cemeteries of New York on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #11: General Grant National Monument

Cemetery of the Week #17: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #33: The Old Dutch Burying Ground

Cemetery of the Week #41: Trinity Churchyard

Cemetery of the Week #53: Green-Wood Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #65: the African Burial Ground

Cemetery of the Week #75: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard

Weekly Photo Challenge: Near and Far

St. Paul’s Churchyard, Manhattan

The challenge for this week is to show perspective.  I like this photo because it captures both proximity and distance, but also spans time from the colonial graveyard to 21st-century Manhattan outside the cemetery gates.

I took this photo on my iPhone on our first day in New York City.  We were jet-lagged and it was hot (or at least, it seemed hot to people used to San Franciscan summer).  My daughter dragged her feet and whined about having to visit a cemetery.

Stories always make her perk up and connect to the places we visit, so I told her briefly about the 9/11 attacks.  I pointed out the skeleton of the new World Trade Center rising nearby.  I told her about the planes and the firemen and the people who died.  I told her about the photo I’d seen of this churchyard snowed over with debris fallen from the towers:  insulation and financial papers and children’s drawings, things blown out of the offices above.  I told her about the rescuers who’d slept in the church while they searched for survivors and the empty t-shirts that hung on the fence when I visited last time, eloquent memorials to the first responders who were lost when the towers fell.

St. Paul’s Churchyard stands as a symbol to me.  My feelings are complicated, threaded with horror and sadness, but at the heart, I felt compassion and connection there.  The graves are old. They endure.  The world swirls around them, but here, in this shaded green place, a traveler found peace.  May the world find peace as well.

Cemetery of the Week #75: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard