14 October 2013

New York Marble Cemetery

Hidden away in the busy East Village is what appears at first to be a large garden or private park. But a closer inspection of the surrounding stonewalls reveal marble plaques bearing familiar names: Auchincloss, Ogilvie, Scribner, Comstock, Olmsted. These are just some of the roughly 2,100 people who call the New York Marble Cemetery their final home.

Founded in 1830, the cemetery was popular with prominent 19th-century families, so much so that shortly after developer Perkins Nichols built the New York City Marble Cemetery, which I visited a few years ago (read more here), down the street.

Instead of graves with tombstones, the bodies lie in their caskets ten feet below in a series of marble vaults (156 in total) that can be accessed via hidden access shafts. The plaques seen above indicate the exact location of each family’s vault. Sadly, more than half of those first interred in them in the early days of the cemetery were children, a grim reminder of the high morality rates of the time. Today, descendants of the original vault owners may use them if they wish although the last person to rest here was Charles Janeway VanZandt in 1937.

While there may be no sculptures or memorials to the dead, the cemetery is filled with flowers and trees as well as benches on which to rest, reflect, and enjoy a tiny bit of quiet while surrounded by  in the middle of a bustling city.

The New York Marble Cemetery is not open to the public on a regular basis. I was fortunate to visit on a day that it was during Open House New York. For more information, visit here.

And speaking of cemeteries, readers of this blog are familiar with my fondness for visiting the dead. Some of the other cemeteries I’ve posted about are Woodlawn Cemetery (here), Trinity Church Cemetery (here and here), the Third Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue (here), the Granary Burial Ground in Boston (here), and the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio (here). All Photos by Michele.

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