simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: Cold Stone
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Thursday, 18 October 2007

Cold Stone

I've walked the East Village for decades, but was completely unfamiliar with these cemeteries until recently, when I visited as part of Open House New York. The New York Marble Cemetery (1830) and the New York City Marble Cemetery (1831) are the two oldest non-sectarian burial grounds in NYC. The older of the two, the New York Marble Cemetery, is very easy to miss. The entrance/walkway is a narrow alley between two buildings on 2nd Avenue (at what was once known as 41½ Second Avenue) with two iron gates leading to a unique secret garden cemetery. No gravestones were placed on the ground; instead, marble plaques set into the cemetery’s long north and south walls give the names of the families interred nearby. All burials are in 156 below-ground vaults made of solid white Tuckahoe marble. In response to fears about yellow fever outbreaks, legislation had outlawed earth graves, so marble vaults the size of small rooms were built ten feet underground in the excavated interior of the block bounded by 2nd Ave, 2nd St., 3rd St. and the Bowery. Access to the 156 family vaults is by the removal of stone slabs set below the grade of the lawn. Approximately 2,060 people are buried there. Most of the interments took place between 1830 and 1870; the last was in 1937. This cemetery was initially so popular, a second, the New York City Marble Cemetery was opened around the corner on 2nd Street (bottom two photos). There are many similarities between these two independent cemeteries (such as the underground vaults) but this one may be readily seen through a handsome iron fence with gate, extending along its south side on East Second Street between First and Second Avenues. It is surrounded by a high brick wall and by houses and tenements on three sides. Also, there are a few large grave stones. What's interesting about these cemeteries, is that at the time of their establishment the area was anticipated to develop into a fashionable district. In fact quite the opposite happened with the area becoming dominated with tenements and the cemeteries neglected. Eventually they gained landmark status. And the neighborhood finally improved. But that's another story ...


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