Tag Archives: St Paul Churchyard

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

A Guide to New York City Cemeteries

The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian's Guide to New York City CemeteriesThe Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries by Carolee Inskeep

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In its history, New York City has dug up and covered over dozens of burial grounds. Carolee Inskeep tracked them down. Written encyclopedia-style, The Graveyard Shift lists hundreds of graveyards, along with years of usage and some brief historical information. Since Inskeep’s book is designed for family historians, she includes information on where records can be found and contact information.

My chief complaint about the text is that it includes no illustrations: no photos of famous New Yorkers, no beautiful gravestones, no historic photos or other ephemera. The loss is more keenly felt since the little cover photo of a graveyard chock-full of simple crosses and grieving muses — with the Empire State Building rising behind — is really perfect for the book. In my edition, the photo is neither identified or credited. I am guessing it’s taken from Queens. Please correct me if that’s wrong: it’s a place I’d love to see for myself.

You can order your own copy of The Graveyard Shift from Amazon: The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries

View all my reviews

Lower Manhattan, April 2002

After Mason and I crossed Broadway, we stumbled upon a memorial to the firefighters lost when the World Trade Center collapsed.  Bright chains of origami cranes decorated the fence around an old brown church.  Beside them hung tattered “missing person” flyers.  Amongst the ephemera fluttered faded navy blue T-shirts, each silk-screened with a different fire company badge.  My eyes stung, burned by the eloquence of those empty shirts.

Around the corner, we peered through the big iron fence into the churchyard.  In the afternoon light, the grass glowed intensely green.  Dense trees raised a verdant canopy above the old stones.  I longed for the sense of peace inside, but a big padlock held the fence closed.

I wound my fingers through the bars and gazed at the old headstones.  The graveyard seemed strangely familiar.  Not until we came home and I looked through my files did I realize this was St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Churchyard.  A photograph clipped from the Boston Herald captured the tranquil cemetery snowed over by debris fallen from the Twin Towers.  Papers and torn insulation drifted against the old, irreplaceable monuments.  A volunteer in a hazmat suit wheeled the junk out by the wheelbarrow load.

The Graveyard Shift:  A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries reports that St. Paul’s Churchyard historically had its own ghost.  After Shakespearean actor George Frederick Cooke died destitute in 1812, his skull was allegedly sold to pay his bills.  Rumor says that he appeared, posthumously, as Yorick in Hamlet.  His ghost prowled amongst the stones, seeking his head.

Unable to enter the church or the cemetery, Mason and I moved on.  Another block farther along, a huge destruction zone gaped.  Dust stirred up by the earthmovers hung motionless in the air.  Entirely by accident, we’d reached Ground Zero.

Mason huddled against a nearby skyscraper to look furtively into our guidebook.  “The subway station should be right here,” he insisted.

Should be, but was gone.  Our guidebook had been published pre-9/11. The station we wanted had vanished into the crater of the World Trade Center.

Mason recovered sooner than I could.  He led me up the shadowy canyon of a street between skyscrapers to another subway station.  From there, we had an easy ride uptown.

Collapsed on the subway seat, I had the same sick feeling that came over me outside the Genbaku Domu in Hiroshima.  The realization that thousands of people had shrieked in the face of death — right where I’d stood — nearly reduced me to tears.  I’d wanted to visit the World Trade Center site, pay my respects, but not like this.  Not by chance.


Looks like I’ll have to wait until September 2012 to visit the museum dedicated to the tragedy.  The monument opens this weekend: http://www.911memorial.org/