An interesting place I visited in Spring, but did not had time to blog about until today, is The New York Marble Cemetery, located at 41 and 1/2, Second Avenue, in the borough of Manhattan. It is a small burial ground in Manhattan's East Village, and it is the oldest public non-sectarian cemetery in New York City.
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An informational plaque located on the front gates.
The cemetery is usually open to visitors on fourth Sundays, April through October, from 11 until 3, as well as several other weekends throughout the year - check the schedule on this link.
Most of the cemetery is shielded from the avenue by the buildings that have sprung up around it over the years. Enter from 2nd Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets through a circa 1908 wrought iron gate. It leads to a walkway that is one hundred feet long leading to a circa 1854 gate with cast iron decoration .
Once inside you can see a large open garden space covered by grass. An exhibition about the history of the cemetery was going on at the time of my visit. The cemetery was incorporated in 1831 in response to fears about yellow fever outbreaks at the time, when legislation had outlawed earth graves. Marble vaults the size of small rooms were built ten feet underground in the excavated interior of the half acre of land that comprises the cemetery.
According to the cemetery's web site: "Half of the older caskets were tiny, holding children aged six and under. Contagious diseases such as scarlet fever, measles and whooping cough, as well as infections for which there were not yet antibiotics (erysipelas, pneumonia, cholera, etc.) contributed to a level of early mortality fortunately forgotten in most parts of the world. What would be termed symptoms today were then considered primary causes of death: dropsy (edema), congestion or inflammation of the lungs or brain, and dysentery or diarrhœa. For adults, the leading cause of death by far was tuberculosis, then known as consumption or phthisis pulmonalis. A surprising number of people who reached maturity, however, lived into their eighties and nineties, and invariably died of 'old age.' "
The walls of the cemetery are made from Tuckahoe marble, which was also used for the vaults, plaques and lintels, and gave the cemetery its name. Unfortunately, the marble is relatively soft material and many of the walls are rapidly disintegrating from time and acid rain. Funds are being raised by the cemetery's board of trustees for the constant upkeep and renovations needed to preserve the cemetery.
All of the vaults are underground and the only name and vault makers are tablets like these on the walls.
Please enlarge this photo of a diagram that shows what the procedure for burial in the underground vaults would entail.
Above and below are part of the display in the cemetery the day I visited that shows portraits of the many of first people buried in the New York Marble Cemetery.
One of the illustrious people buried in the cemetery is Doctor David Hosack, 1769-1835. He was one of New York's most famous citizens of the time. Hosack was a founder of several New York institutions that survive to this day, including Bellevue Hospital and The New York Historical Society, and was a friend and confidante of some of the more distinguished citizens of the early Republic, including General Alexander Hamilton. As the attending physician at the General’s duel with Aaron Burr in 1804, he cared for Hamilton in his last hours on earth. When Hosack bought a vault at the marble cemetery a few years before his death, other early New Yorkers flocked to do the same and, before too long, the cemetery had became the place to be buried in Manhattan.
By 1838, rural cemeteries, such as Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, quickly became the preference of most New York families, and soon the use of the Marble Cemetery declined. Most of the 2,070 interments took place between 1830 and 1870. Now the cemetery’s quiet, half-acre grounds are available for rent for appropriate private or corporate events.
I found it a fascinating place to visit and another unexpected quiet green space amongst the bustling city streets. It was interesting to reflect upon the men and women buried there who were so influential in early New York history. Although I've lived in New York City my entire life I am constantly amazed by new discoveries that I make sometimes just by walking down a different street. There is always something new to learn in this great city!