14 October 2010

What Lies Beneath

This past weekend I got the chance to visit a site normally closed to the public, the New York City Marble Cemetery. It was opened for two days as part of Open House New York and boy was it up my alley.

I’ve always had a fondness for old cemeteries. The beauty of the tombstones, the stories that lie amongst the rows, the solitude, these things have always appealed to me. When I was a little girl I read a book in which the heroine lived next to an old cemetery and that became my wish (something which I still wouldn’t mind).

The New York City Marble Cemetery (not to be confused with the New York Marble Cemetery around the corner) was begun in 1831 and became home to many prominent deceased New Yorkers. One of the first people interred was President James Monroe, who passed away shortly after the cemetery was opened (his body was later moved to Virginia in 1858). Residents of the cemetery include three former New York City mayors, a Revolutionary war hero, and the founder of Roosevelt Hospital.

During Open House, the cemetery appeared more like a small park; neighbors sat in plastic chairs scattered across the grounds while dogs ran around chasing balls. Unlike most cemeteries, there are no rows of headstones, just a few monuments and grave markers. But look down, and you will discover that the grass is peppered with marble slabs that mark the location of the underground vaults. The slabs are worn and sunken and many are hard to read but they still stand as a testament to an earlier time in New York history.

The New York City Cemetery is only opened a few days a year so be sure to check their events page on their website for dates. It's worth a visit even if you have no dreams of living next to a cemetery.

UPDATE: A few days after my visit, a package of explosives was found in the cemetery and the bomb squad had to be called in. Crazy.

Photos by Michele.

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