Photos courtesy of Mary French
In a city as tight as New York, it’s no surprise we’ve long struggled to figure out what to do with our dead, from acres-wide cemeteries to those wedged into forgotten slivers of city blocks. The city now boasts 140 cemetery sites, and Mary French has visited them all. Mary is the author of the New York City Cemetery Project, a chronicler of “the graveyards of this great city.” Though cemeteries may come with dark connotations, Mary sees them as prime opportunities to understand the history of New York. As she explains on her website, “For those with a passion for culture and history and a curiosity about the unknown, cemeteries are tantalizing spots that provide a wellspring of information about individual lives, communities, religions, and historic events.”
On NYC Cemetery Project you can read the histories of existing and long-gone cemeteries and the interesting New Yorkers living six feet under, alongside a trove of historic photos and maps. It’s a labor of love (and intense research) for Mary, who has a background in anthropology and library science. With 6sqft, Mary explains what first attracted her to the cemeteries of New York and what it’s like delving into their past. She also explains why she thinks many might be lost to the pressures of development in New York.
Read the interview
Zoom of the 1852 Dripps map of Manhattan, showing the proximity of downtown cemeteries, via David Rumsey Map Collection
Most New Yorkers spend some time underground every day as part of their daily commute, but some spend eternity beneath our streets, and in a few cases occupy some pretty surprising real estate.
Manhattan cemeteries are tougher to get into than Minetta Tavern without a reservation on a Saturday night because as far back as 1823, New York forbade new burials south of Canal Street. In 1851 that prohibition was extended to new burials south of 86th Street, and the creation of new cemeteries anywhere on the island was banned. But thousands of people were buried in Manhattan before those restrictions went into effect. And while some gravesites remain carefully maintained and hallowed ground, such as the those at St. Mark’s in the Bowery Church on Stuyvesant Street, Trinity Church on Wall Street, and St Paul’s Church at Fulton and Broadway, others have been forgotten and overlaid with some pretty surprising new uses, including playgrounds, swimming pools, luxury condos, and even a hotel named for the current occupant of the White House.
MSG reimagined as a cemetery (L); Memorial walls in the subway stations (R). Via DeathLab
The rant that traveling via Penn Station is enough to kill you just took on a whole new meaning. Untapped Cities shared this vision from Columbia University’s DeathLab (yes, this is a group dedicated to dealing with death in the city) that reimagines Penn Station and Madison Square Garden as a giant cemetery and public space. The general idea is to be more eco-friendly and accessible. Not only will the human remains be used to fertilize the gardens, but family members and the general public will be able to record digital memories to be stored on a central server.
Learn more about this proposal
You may have noticed when driving from Queens to Brooklyn that at some point you find yourself surrounded by a sea of headstones in every direction. The city’s “cemetery belt”–reportedly visible from space–stretches for two and a half miles along the Queens/Brooklyn border and is so populous that there are more than twice as many dead people in Queens than living ones. What’s up with this cemetery city?
Find out why the dead outnumber the living in Queens
Each decade in the New York metropolitan area about 500,000 people are buried in cemetery plots, taking up a dwindling amount of land and outputting cremation smog into the air. With this growing issue in mind, a trans-disciplinary research and design group at Columbia University known as DeathLab has been working for the past five years to reconceive “how we live with death in the metropolis.” One of their proposals is Constellation Park, a system of hundreds of burial pods suspended under the Manhattan Bridge that together create a twinkling public park. Atlas Obscura shared the design, which, if built, could reportedly accommodate around 10 percent of city deaths a year.
The surprising reason why these pods twinkle
Photo via gsz via photopin cc
Does this time of year get you thinking about where you’d like to spend the afterlife? Would a swanky Manhattan address be to your liking? If so, you’d better act fast. There are only two burial plots left on the island and they’re currently on the market for $350,000 each.
Daily Intelligencer reports that the New York Marble Cemetery (not to be confused with the New York City Marble Cemetery–more on that here) in the East Village has two available family vaults that can hold about a dozen descendants (“each generation gains some space as the previous ones turn to dust”). The Trinity Cemetery & Mausoleum on West 153rd Street has a few inground burial plots vacant, but they’re reserved for “VIPs;” those at the Marble Cemetery are the only ones being freely sold.
More on what could be your forever home
Photo via Plowboylifestyle/CC
Not so surprisingly, Manhattan has a slew of cemeteries, graveyards and built-over potter’s fields (for unclaimed bodies). Madison Square Park was originally used as a potter’s field, as was Bryant Park. And though these swaths of land served many purposes over the years, it took an eternity before they were lovely public parks. From the late 1600s, burial grounds were generally confined to what would now be just south of City Hall, but more began popping up further uptown during the 1800s as the city’s population grew in leaps and bounds.
With Halloween upon us, tis’ the season for checking out if living near one might give a buyer a bit of a ghostly scare or whether it takes an eternity to sell when the living room window overlooks tombstones marking coffins buried six feet under.
Hear what experts say, and then learn about the city’s most notable graveyards.
Do homes near cemeteries sell at a discount in NYC?
In the spirit of Halloween, yesterday we took a look at whether or not living near a cemetery affects real estate prices in New York. Apparently, on average, homes close to cemeteries were slightly smaller, but sold for more due to a higher cost per square foot. And though this is what the research suggests, we want to know your thoughts. Would it totally spook you to look out your window and see tombstones instead of tenements or would you not bat an eye if your dream apartment just happened to be steps away from coffins?
Images: New York Marble Cemetery via ShellyS via photopin cc (L); Calgary Cemetery in Queens (R)