Sunday, May 17, 2015

New York Marble Cemetery

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

By 1831, New York City was about two hundred years old, and had experienced many disease epidemics. Believing that disease was spread by "miasmas," or noxious vapors of decaying organic matter, such as dead bodies, the city passed legislation outlawing earth graves. In response, Perkins Nichols built the New York Marble Cemetery (NYMC) for "gentlemen" and their families to be buried in. Marble vaults the size of small rooms were built ten feet underground in the excavated interior of the block bounded by Second Avenue, Second Street, Third Street and the Bowery. Protected by twelve feet high walls of Tuckahoe marble stones, no markers were on the ground. Rather, the vaults and their owners were identified by marble plaques in the North and South walls.

Goold Hoyt, 1769-1842

But I was not aware of any of this. While researching my ancestor Goold Hoyt, 1769-1842, I found that he and his wife, Sabina Sheaff Hoyt, 1790-1860, had memorials on the website, Find A Grave, and were interred in the NYMC. Thinking it to be a typical cemetery I requested photos of their gravestones. The photographer who responded told me about the underground vaults with the corresponding plaques. Now my interest was piqued, and I contacted the cemetery and received a reply from the extremely knowledgeable Anne W. Brown. 

To say that I was astonished when I read Anne's reply would be an understatement. I learned that I shared ownership of the vault, located in the now pricey East Village area, and purchased by Goold in 1830 for $250, with all of his other descendants, numbering over 100. Because I am his descendant, I have the right to be buried in the vault, as do all the others, ad infinitum. Here's what I wrote to Anne in an email after receiving her letter about the ownership: "I received your letter yesterday, and I must tell you that it left me pleasantly speechless for quite some time. I am still mulling over the impact of the thought that my 4th great-grandfather purchased a vault in 1830 that I now share the use and ownership of with other descendants ... I also did not realize that the cemetery is not supported by public funds or maintained by the city and I was amazed to read of the Luquer family's important leadership and guidance since 1915. What a remarkable story." (note - refers to the 2011 Newsletter, which be found on the NYMC website).

The garden
As mentioned, the cemetery receives no public funding, but is managed by a dedicated Board of Trustees. Since my first inquiry, and due to their concerted efforts, led by President Caroline S. DuBois, contributions have funded repairs to the two century old walls as well as the ongoing beautification efforts to the garden that allow it to be rented for special events, thus generating more income for repairs. Lots has been done, but more repairs are needed.

Ready for the 2015 Owners Meeting

I've been privileged to attend the owners' meeting with my cousin, Preston C. Adams, who grew up with me in Montana, but now lives in New York City, for three years in a row (2013, 2014 and 2015). My contribution to the repairs has been to become the Newsletter Editor as well as keeper of the database that contains the names of the vault owners and neighbors. 

Through our mutual interest in family history, I met some cousins for the first time this year. We share a special bond because we are descendants of the same people. What a treat to meet like minded folk who are related to me.
Cousins - L-R: Kathleen E Schofield, Lily Redmond, Preston C Adams, Joan Redmond
When you are in the area, I hope you'll stop by this beautiful and serene oasis in the bustling metropolis, and view it for yourself. The cemetery is open on the fourth Sunday of each month, May - September, and for Open House New York in October. The cemetery's website lists the dates on the "Map, Schedule & Tours" page. 

But don't just take my word for how special the NYMC is. Here are some other articles about it: Atlas Obscura, the New York Times, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (which gave the cemetery a village award in 2014). 

And, while you are in the neighborhood, you might as well go around the corner to Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, a bookstore that features out of print and antiquarian cookbooks, as well as really cool kitchen items. A great place to spend a few hours.

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