The Cemeteries of New York 1872

The First Grave

Hudson continued at his anchorage about a week, and on the 6th of the month dispatched a boat to explore the harbor. The little crew passed through the Narrows and took a view of the green hills of Manhattan, after which it sailed out toward Newark bay. On their return an unfortunate collision occurred between the party and the natives, and an English sailor named John Coleman was struck in the neck by an arrow and killed. Two others were wounded. Coleman had long been associated with Hudson on the seas, and his death was greatly regretted. It is probable that the sailors were the first aggressors. A grave was dug on Sandy Hook, and on the 9th of September he was mournfully interred, and the spot has since been known as" Coleman's Point."

The bustling glittering cities of the living stand in such close proximity to the silent but more populous ones of the dead, that this sketch of Manhattan would be quite imperfect, were no mention made of the places where rest the eight generations that have successively peopled the gay metropolis. The Burial-places of Manhattan were for many years connected with the separate churches, and as late as 1822 there were twenty-two of these church burying-grounds south of the City Hall.

In 1794 the Potter's Field was located at the junction of the Greenwich and Albany roads. This was at a later period removed to what is now Washington square, from whence it was removed to Kandall's, then to Ward's, and finally to Hart's Island. The negro burying-ground was long at the corner of Broadway and Chambers street on the site now occupied by A. T. Stewart's wholesale store. In 1729, a Jewish cemetery was laid out near what is now Chatham square. The land was given by a Mr. Willey of London to his three sons, then New York merchants, to be held in trust as a place of burial for the Jewish nation " forever" But so uncertain are the securities of earth, that the place has now long been covered with stores and warehouses.

In 1813, all burials below Canal street were prohibited. The plan of erecting marble cemeteries farther up town was now proposed, and two were constructed between Second and Third streets, Bowery, and Second avenue, with 234 and 156 vaults respectively. They were constructed entirely of stone, and calculated to receive a large number of bodies. It was however, soon discovered that this plan must be a failure. In 1842, the plan of rural cemeteries was fully inaugurated by the laying out of Greenwood, which had been incorporated in 1838. In 1847, a general law was enacted by the Legislature, conferring upon voluntary associations the right of establishing rural cemeteries, which was soon followed by the laying out of Cypress Hill, Ever Green, New York Bay, Calvary, and others. In 1842, the Trinity corporation purchased thirty-six acres of ground, on Tenth avenue and One Hundred and Fifty-fifth street, of Mr. Carman, for a cemetery, which is the only one now in use on the island. This cemetery has recently been much injured by the laying out of the Public Drive, which passes through it, ruining many of its vaults, and convincing us that the land should never have been devoted to a cemetery. The grounds are richly shaded and kept in good cultivation. Here sleep the remains of Bishops Wainright and Onderdunk, of Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration, of Madame Jumel, Aaron Burr's last wife, of Audubon, the renowned naturalist, of John Jacob Astor, and many other distinguished personages.

The vault of President Monroe is seen, though his remains were several years since removed to Virginia. John J. Cisco, of Wall street, and other living capitalists, conscious of coming doom, have here erected granite or marble structures for their last earthly homes. Land has now become very valuable in this locality. The grounds were originally obtained for $14,000, but the corporation has refused $80,000 for the water front simply.

In 1851, an ordinance was passed prohibiting all burials on the island south of Eighty-sixth street, except in private, vaults and cemeteries.

New York Bay Cemetery

It is situated, as its name implies, on the New York Bay, in the State of New Jersey, two and one-half miles from the Jersey City ferry. The cemetery now comprises about fifty acres of level land, is nearer the City Hall than any other, and contains the mouldering forms of over 50,000 persons.

Greenwood Cemetery

The oldest and most noted of all our rural cemeteries contains four hundred and thirteen acres of land, purchased of over sixty different owners. The grounds are situated in Brooklyn on Gowanus heights, about two and a half miles from South ferry, the higher portions of which were crimsoned with the blood of the slain at the noted battle of Long Island, fought August, 1776.

The surface, graded at immense expense, is beautifully undulating and diversified, producing constant and gratifying changes of scenery. Seventeen miles of broad carriage-roads constructed of stone, and covered with gravel, bordered with paved gutters, and fifteen miles of foot-paths, nearly all of which are covered with Scrimshaw concrete pavement, free from dust, mud, and weeds, conduct the visitor to every part of the grounds. The entrance-ways are all elegant, the northern, completed in 1863, being the most imposing. Its outer gate, closed only at night, opens on Fifth avenue, and is the principal way of access to the vast population of New York and Brooklyn. The gateway, reached by an approach, graded at great expense, is an elaborate Gothic edifice, massively constructed of the best New Jersey sandstone, is 132 feet long, 40 feet deep, terminating above in three pinnacles, the central of which is 106 feet high. The deep triangular recesses of the pediments above the gateways are filled on both sides with groups of sculpture formed of Nova Scotia sandstone, representing the Saviour's entombment and resurrection, the resurrection of the Widow's Son, and the raising of Lazarus. Still higher are figures in relief representing Faith, Hope, Memory, and Love. A bell tolls with each passing procession, and a clock marks the speed with which we are gliding to eternity. The grounds are being enclosed
with an iron fence, and otherwise constantly improved. About six thousand are annually interred here, and at the close of 1870 the whole number of interments amounted to 150,000. It is the most favorite resort outside of New York, its finely wrought vaults and over 2,000 monuments, some of which have cost large fortunes, attracting much attention.

The monument of Charlotte Canda is perhaps the most noted of all, though those of D. H. Lewis, De Witt Clinton, Colonel Vosburgh, and others, are very imposing. Here clergymen, merchants, bankers, and common laborers find a space and think not of the amount of marble that marks their resting-place. Mr. Peter Cooper, Kev. H. W. Beecher, and many others, have selected the place for their final repose beneath the shades of the sighing willows. The receipts last year amounted to over $250,000, and the expenditures to $247,000. The permanent fund for the improvement of the cemetery, arising from the sale of lots, legacies, donations, etc., amounts to nearly three-quarters of a million, and is certain to be considerably increased.

Cypress Hill Cemetery

It is situated on that elevated ridge north of the Brooklyn and Jamaica turnpike, known as the " backbone of Long Island." It lies partly in Kings and partly in Queens counties, is about five miles from the ferry at Peck Slip, and comprises 400 acres. About half of the grounds are still Covered by a natural forest, and the other portions profusely set with trees and shrubbery, thus blending with the wild luxuriance of nature the chaste embellishments of art. A brick arch, surmounted by a statue of Faith, and supported by two beautiful Lodges, forms the front, or southern entrance. The view from the elevated portions of this cemetery is very extensive, presenting, besides nearly every variety of landscape scenery, a bird's-eye view of the surrounding country, and the neighboring cities. Brooklyn, New Fork, Jersey City, the majestic Hudson, and the Palisades are spread out with panoramic grandeur; farther to the north rise the hills of Connecticut, and to the south, far as the eye can extend, stretches the broad Atlantic, bounded by the horizon. Over 85,000 interments have been made in these grounds since 1848. The forms of 4,060 of our brave soldiers lie sleeping here, in a section set apart exclusively for them. About 35,000 bodies have also been transferred to these grounds, from old burying-grounds in New York city and Brooklyn. The Sons of Temperance, the Odd Fellows, the Masons, and the Metropolitan Police have set apart sections for the members of their fraternities. Family lots measuring 16 by 25 feet may be secured here on the payment of from $125 to $250, according to location.

Cemetery of the Evergreens

The cemetery is situated east and about three and a half miles from Williamsburgh, covers the western termination of the mid-island range of hills, and affords numerous varieties of surface and natural ornament. The eye of the visitor is greeted with hills, dells, lakes, lawns, interspersed with a rich growth of cultivated and forest trees. This cemetery, which is also one of the largest, has not yet become as noted as the two preceding, but is sure to increase in popularity.

Calvary Cemetery

Calvary Cemetery, laid out in August, 1848, and situated in New town, Long Island, is owned by and devoted exclusively to the Roman Catholic church. The grounds comprise seventy-five acres, and already over 183,000 interments have been made.

Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn Cemetery, situated in Westchester County, eight miles north of Harlem Bridge, was incorporated December 29,1863, and contains over 300 acres. The late Rev. Absalom Peters was the chief agent in the laying out of these beautiful grounds. The rapid march of the city northward led him to seek the establishment of a large cemetery, which should be to upper New York and Westchester what Greenwood had long been to lower New York and Brooklyn. This cemetery is easily reached by the Harlem Railroad. It was laid out in 1865, since which over 8,000 interments have been made. The grounds are now being rapidly improved, and the last report showed an increase of 65 per cent, over the interments of the previous year. Several other cemeteries are also in use. To these silent monumental cities of the dead, about 25,000 are being annually consigned, whose places in the gay and busy world are filled by others, who, after a brief and uncertain struggle, yield in turn to the great destroyer. An occasional visit to these spots of solemn grandeur, linked so closely to our very being, must be attended with the best results, to a reflective mind. One cannot linger amid such scenes, and consider that beneath this surface of exquisite adornment moulder the remains of the brilliant, the wealthy, the good, and the gay, without having his ambitions for worldly advantage greatly sobered, and his whole mind improved. "

Here are the wise, the gen'rous and the brave ;
The just, the good, the worthless, the profane ;
The downright clown, and perfectly well-bred ;
The fool, the churl, the scoundrel, and the mean ;
The supple statesman, and the patriot stern ;
The wreck of nations, and the spoils of time."


Website: The History
Article Name: The Cemeteries of New York 1872
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


 New York and Its Institutions, 1609-1873 by J.F. Richmond, Publisher: E.B. Treat-New York 1872.
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