With today being Halloween, we thought we would take a look at … dead bodies in the Village! You can tune out the ominous laughter you may be hearing right about now, today’s post is actually about some fabulous historic cemeteries in the East and West Village.
In early New York City history, burials took place on private property or church burial grounds. It was not until the mid-1800s that commercial cemeteries were created. In 1852, the Common Council of New York City passed a law banning burial within city limits, fearing that buried remains were to blame for yellow fever epidemics. The law was passed before consolidation of New York City into the five boroughs in 1898, and therefore many burial grounds remain in the outer Boroughs. But cemeteries in Brooklyn all date before 1849, as the City of Brooklyn outlawed cemeteries in that year.
There are a handful of cemeteries still extant in the East Village. The New York Marble Cemetery (a New York City landmark and listed on the State and National Registers) was incorporated in 1831 and was the first non-sectarian burial place in New York City open to the public. It is located at 41 1/2 Second Avenue. Because of suspicion that earth burials contributed to disease, marble vaults constructed of Tuckahoe Marble were built ten feet underground in the excavated interior of the block bounded by Second Avenue, Second Street, Third Street and the Bowery. The New York City Marble Cemetery (an individual landmark and listed on the State and National Registers), was begun shortly after the NY Marble Cemetery, just around the corner on Second Street between First
and Second Avenues. Like its Second Avenue counterpart, the NYC Marble Cemetery was a fashionable place to be interred, and contains the remains of many important New Yorkers. It has vaults made from Tuckahoe Marble as well, but did allow for the erection of markers and monuments. Accordingly, these two cemeteries look quite different. St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, located within the St. Mark’s Historic District, at the corner of East 10th Street, Stuyvesant Street, and Second Avenue, has burial vaults in both its east and west yards. Peter Stuyvesant, the last Director-General of the New Netherland colony, was interned in a vault below the original chapel, which stood on the site where the current church stands. The site contains the remains of many historic New Yorkers. And while full-body burials are no longer allowed, the church still interns cremated remains. Incidentally, Time Out New York just named the church one of the most haunted places in Manhattan due to sitings of Peter Stuyvesant’s ghost. Stuyvesant fans should check out the St. Mark’s Historic Landmark Fund’s 3rd Annual Peg-Leg Peter Scavenger Hunt.
The Second Cemetery of the Congregation Shearith Israel (part of the Greenwich Village Historic District) is the only extant cemetery remaining in Greenwich Village. It is located on the south side of 11th Street, east of 6th Avenue. Shearith Israel was the only Jewish congregation in New York City from 1654 until 1825 and its members were mainly of Spanish and Portuguese origin. The cemetery was much bigger in 1805, when the cemetery first opened, but was cut into its current triangular shape when 11th street was laid in 1826. At that time, plots that blocked the new street pattern were re-interred at the Congregation’s Third Cemetery on West 21st Street.
Of course, there are historic burial grounds within Manhattan where graves were removed, such as the potters field that was turned into a parade ground and later, Washington Square Park. In 2008, a renovation of the park revealed remains of several intact burial plots by archeologists working on the renovation and in 2009, a gravestone was uncovered during continued renovations. Remains were also unearthed during excavation for the Hudson Square Trump Residential Hotel in 2006, a project which GVSHP opposed due to numerous zoning issues. The remains were most likely from the burial ground of the Spring Street Presbyterian Church, a staunchly abolitionist church built in 1811 on the site. The Church of St. Luke in the Fields, on Hudson Street, moved all the remains buried in their churchyard after the original congregation moved to a new church in Harlem in 1891. Clement Clarke Moore, who many consider as the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” (familiarly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) was originally interred in one of the vaults at St. Luke’s, as he was one of the congregation’s founders. But that’s another holiday.
For those interested in learning more, the New York City Cemetery Project has great information on historic and current cemeteries city-wide.