There’s an area of Brooklyn and Queens that, by my count, contains at least ten distinct, contiguous cemeteries and at least two public parks. I’m not sure of their origin, except that several seem to have been established around the same time. Were they originally more distant then merged together as their boundaries grew? Or was this simply viewed as a good spot for a cemetery?
At any rate, I saw only two of them on my visit — my first visit, that is; if nothing else, I want to return to see Harry Houdini’s grave in nearby Machpelah Cemetery! And I suspect the others have hidden historical gems as well.
First on my itinerary was Cypress Hills Cemetery, where I had a vague notion of attempting to find three notable gravesites: those of artist Piet Mondrian and of the “spiritualist” sisters Margaret and Kate Fox. I failed in both attempts, since the cemetery map I found online was not very detailed and signs on the lots didn’t seem to line up with it. After a while, I gave up and just wandered.
A few notable gravesites were labeled, so I know that I saw the final resting places of Wallace Turnage, an escaped slave who write a memoir about his experience; and Thomas Downing, whom the blog The Oyster’s My World refers to as the “Black Oyster King of New York,” among others. I also recognized, as one always does in New York cemeteries, names that corresponded with city streets; in this case, Ten Eycks and Pitkins.
The cemetery unfortunately does not permit photos of individual graves without the family’s permission, which is why all of mine are distant!
Much of the cemetery lies on a hill, for an excellent view of the city beneath. In the picture below, you can see the track of the J/Z subway line, with the buildings of Brooklyn beyond.
One section of the cemetery — which I got to by exiting and walking past another cemetery, though there may be an internal route I didn’t stumble across — is a national cemetery, with its attendant identical, carefully-aligned stones.
About a half-hour minute walk away is the entrance to the Evergreens Cemetery (also sometimes known as the Cemetery of the Evergreens). It’s also home to the graves of some notable people, such as Anthony Comstock, who lent his name to the infamous Comstock Law.
The cemetery entrance leads to a lane of mausolea…
…but that quickly opens into a broad field of gravesites.
Here, too, you can get a glimpse of the city outside, though because the interior of the cemetery dips into a valley rather than rising to a hill, the Evergreens Cemetery feels more isolated than the Cypress Hills Cemetery.
When I first entered the cemetery, I wondered where the “Evergreens” name came from; all I saw were deciduous trees. Then I turned a corner and…
…evergreens everywhere! I don’t know whether the cemetery got its name from the evergreens (which are mostly on the smaller side) or whether people started planting them there after it’d been named, but it’s a nice touch.
I just said that if you’re only going to visit one New York City cemetery, it should be the one at Trinity Church. That’s still true, but if you’re a veteran NYC traveler, both the Evergreens Cemetery and Cypress Hills Cemetery deserve to be on your list for consideration.
The major drawbacks are that they’re not quick to get to from Manhattan (although they are easy to get to) and that the information available to visitors is scant. Cypress Hills has a main office that’s not open on Sundays, and I’m curious whether it would have provided more information than I could find online.
Maybe I should create a list of the best NYC cemeteries for tourists?
Location: Cypress Hills Cemetery: Main entrance at 833 Jamaica Avenue, Brooklyn; Evergreens Cemetery: Main entrance at 1629 Bushwick Avenue, Brooklyn
Nearest Public Transit: Cypress Hills Cemetery: J at Cypress Hills; Evergreens Cemetery: L at Bushwick Av – Aberdeen St or J/Z, A/C, L at Broadway Junction
Estimated Timespan: You could easily spend an hour wandering each cemetery.
Websites: Cypress Hills Cemetery; Evergreens Cemetery