30 October 2010

Here Lies the Body

In the heart of New York’s financial district stands Trinity Church whose gothic spires make a striking juxtaposition with the surrounding modern buildings. Originally built in 1698 (the church is in its third incarnation; the first was destroyed in a fire and the second was damaged from snow), Trinity received its charter from King William III in exchange for an annual rent of one peppercorn to the crown. 

While the church is beautiful, it is the surrounding Trinity churchyard that holds my interest. A quiet oasis away from the crowds, the grounds contain the remains of Revolutionary War heroes, Congressmen, and famed inventors. 

Alexander Hamilton's grave.

Probably the most famous resident of the churchyard is Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury and a founding father who lost his life in a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. I wonder what Hamilton thinks about being across from a men's clothing outlet store? More interesting than his monument, in my opinion, is the simple grave of his wife, Eliza, who lies next to him. She outlived her husband by 50 years, always defending his image and refusing to the end to acknowledge his philandering or his responsibility in the duel. She died at the incredibly old age of 97.

Many of the tombstones, because of age and wear, are difficult to read. But you can still make out the names on some and the designs that help date them. Skulls or death’s heads, a common symbol in the 1700s, were stark reminders of death and suffering. Later in the century cherubs, who were kinder in appearance (sometimes downright funny), replaced the skulls, offering up reminders of the rewards to be found in heaven.

Although there are many famous graves at Trinity, the smaller stones tell the stories of other New Yorkers who, while maybe not remembered today, are still important to New York history. 

Dear readers, as promised, I will try to write something other than cemetery reviews next time round.
Photos by Michele.

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