Today we think of cemeteries as spooky, haunted places that we avoid, or as sad, depressing spots reserved for funerals. But they were once quite the opposite–in fact, they were the earliest incarnations of public parks. In New York City, burials took place on private or church property up until the mid-1800’s when commercial cemeteries began popping up. And in the East Village there are two such early burial grounds hidden among the townhouses and tenements–the New York Marble Cemetery (on the west side of Second Avenue just above Second Street) and the New York City Marble Cemetery (on the north side of Second Street between First and Second Avenues).
Though their titles are extremely similar and they’re located less than a block apart, the two cemeteries are operated separately and have their own unique history. And during openhousenewyork weekend, we were lucky enough to take a peek beyond the cast iron gates and into these important pieces of the East Village’s past.
Explore the Marble Cemeteries
Before there were sports bars and college dorms, there were bratwurst and shooting clubs. In 1855, New York had the third largest German-speaking population in the world, outside of Vienna and Berlin, and the majority of these immigrants settled in what is today the heart of the East Village.
Known as “Little Germany” or Kleindeutschland (or Dutchtown by the Irish), the area comprised roughly 400 blocks, with Tompkins Square Park at the center. Avenue B was called German Broadway and was the main commercial artery of the neighborhood. Every building along the avenue followed a similar pattern–workshop in the basement, retail store on the first floor, and markets along the partly roofed sidewalk. Thousands of beer halls, oyster saloons, and grocery stores lined Avenue A, and the Bowery, the western terminus of Little Germany, was filled with theaters.
The bustling neighborhood began to lose its German residents in the late nineteenth century when Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe move in, and a horrific disaster in 1904 sealed the community’s fate.
Read our full history of Kleindeutschland