Image source: Seth Tisue on Flickr
Passing through Queens on such major arteries such as the Long Island Expressway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway or the Jackie Robinson Parkway, you can’t help but notice an abundance of cemeteries in Queens. Although there are definitely more living than deceased residing in our borough, it’s staggering to know that millions of souls have been laid to rest here.
In the early 19th century, residents of Manhattan began to realize that there was not enough room to bury the dead on their island, especially with the advent of a handful of epidemics. By 1847 the New York State Legislature passed the Rural Cemetery Act, which authorized non-profit organizations (churches and societies) to form commercial cemeteries outside Manhattan. The result was the founding of several new cemeteries in Queens in the 1840s and 50s, and then again around the turn of the 20th century.
Many interesting and famous individuals – literary figures, politicians, jazz greats – have been interned here in Queens. Most of these cemeteries are open to visitors seven days per week and, on the websites of many of the larger venues, you can search for interments by name.
Calvary Cemetery, 49-02 Laurel Hill Boulevard, Woodside (GMAP), second entrance in Blissville, LIC.
Founded in 1848 by Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mott Street, this massive site, visible from the LIE, the BQE and Queens Boulevard, is owned by the Roman Catholc Archdiocese of NY. Calvary is made up of four sections, which explains why you might sometimes see sections of it referred to as “New Calvary” or “First Calvary.” Three million people are buried here including three generations of Robert F. Wagners and mobster Mickey Spillane (among many others of his ilk).
Image source: sakraft1 on Flickr
Just to the east of Calvary is Mount Zion, a Jewish cemetery founded in 1893. There is a memorial to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire here, and it’s the final resting place for author Nathaniel West and composers Marvin Hamlisch and Lorenz Hart.
Mount Olivet began as the graveyard for an Episcopalian congregation, but has since become non-sectarian. Established in 1850, its 71 acres were designed in the Garden Cemetery style, and makes for a scenic visit. Nearby is the Fresh Pond Crematory and Columbarium (niche burials), founded in 1884. Get your urns here.
Image source: Jim.henderson on Wikimedia Commons – Mausoleum at St. Michael’s
Saint Michael’s is nestled in a triangle between the east-west split of the B.Q.E. and the Grand Central Parkway. This is another site founded by an Episcopal church, in this case, St. Michael’s on the Upper West Side, but is now open to all faiths. The Reverend Thomas McClure Peters founded the cemetery in 1852, intending it to be for the poor, who could not afford proper burial. Ragtime composer Scott Joplin is buried here.
RIDGEWOOD, MIDDLE VILLAGE, ST. ALBANS
In 1842 the Second Street Methodist Episcopal Church on the Lower East Side established this burial ground that hosts primarily individuals of German, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak heritage – they call it a “non-sectarian cemetery with a Methodist Heritage.” Great views of the Manhattan skyline.
Ahavat Chesed/Central Synogogue, 52-22 Metropolitan Avenue, Ridgewood (GMAP)
Abutting the Methodist Cemetery is the Ahavat Chesed, founded in 1850 by the Central Synogogue. The main gate bears a charming arched sign that reads “Linden Hill.”
This extraordinarily rambling, rustic and elegant cemetery was the brainchild of wealthy industrialist Dr. Reverend F. W. Geissenhaimer, established in 1852. Much of this property has yet to be used – it’s like encountering a lovely meadow. Their are numerous family mausoleums and towering statues. Interned here are many victims of the infamous 1904 General Slocum disaster, a ferry wreck that claimed the lives of 1,021, mostly German Lutherans, real estate developers Cord Meyer and Frederick Christ Trump, father of Donald.
This is a big, well-organized cemetery with a grand front gate, an official burial ground of the Roman Catholic Church. Many, many persons known to be associated with organized crime are interned here, including John J. Gotti himself. But also of interest are Geraldine Ferraro, who ran for Vice President with Walter Mondale, and artist/photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
Old Montefiore Cemetery, 121-83 Springfield Boulevard, Springfield Gardens (GMAP)
Montefiore is home to more Jewish mobsters than you’d think ever existed.
GLENDALE, OZONE PARK
There is a large cluster of cemeteries right at the Brooklyn-Queens border in the neighborhoods of Bushwick, Brooklyn and Glendale, Queens.
Image source: Tony Fischer Photography on Flickr
While the official address for Cypress Hills is in Brooklyn, it’s partially in Glendale, and you can enter on the Queens side at Cooper Avenue and 68th. Nestled to the west of sprawling Forest Park, the Jackie Robinson Parkway runs directly through this site, which makes for a lovely ride amongst green rolling hills. The cemetery opened in 1851 and was designed park-style for maximum aesthetic enjoyment. Many significant African American figures are buried here, including Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Arturo Schomburg and the great Jackie Robinson. Also at rest here are film legend Mae West and artist Piet Mondrian.
The first internment took place here in 1906 and this mere 100 acres of land is home to a good number of renown Jewish writers, musicians, scholars, religious figures and philosophers, including author, Sholem Aleichem, founding editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, Abraham Cahan and Jacob Adler, a major contributor to Yiddish theater.
Other Jewish cemeteries clustered here are the Mount Lebanon Cemetery, 78-00 Myrtle Avenue, Glendale (GMAP), founded in 1914; the once highly-sought Mount Neboh Cemetery, a mere 14 acres with 15,000 interments; the rather unkept Machpelah Cemetery, 82-30 Cypress Hills Street, Glendale (GMAP), final resting place of magician Harry Houdini (here’s a great video of the site); Beth El (New Union Field) at 80th Avenue and Cypress Hills Street (GMAP); and Mount Judah Cemetery, 81-14 Cypress Avenue, Ridgewood (GMAP), incorporated in 1908, burial place of many prominent rabbis, including Lazar Rabinowitz.
Just south in Ozone Park is a trio of Jewish cemeteries, Bayside, Acacia and Mokom Sholom, all located at 80-07 Pitkin Avenue, Ozone Park, (GMAP). Bayside and Mokom Sholom were both founded in 1865 by congregations in Lower Manhattan, Shaare Tsedek and Darech Amuno, respectively. Unfortunately both of these sites have suffered from disrepair owing to neglect. This is a visit for someone with an adventuresome spirit.
FLUSHING, KEW GARDENS
Established in 1853, Flushing Cemetery is home to jazz royalty including Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie as well as Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., developer of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, and the founder of Sardi’s restaurant, Vincent Sardi.
This is a pristine cemetery, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, nestled between Kissena Golf Course and Francis Lewis High School.
At the junction of the Van Wyck Expressway and the Long Island Expressway, just east of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, is the Mount Hebron Cemetery, founded in 1909. Mount Hebron developed as many of the other Jewish cemeteries of the time did, by selling land plots to various societies, which would be represented by gated-off “villages” within the greater cemetery. Many still operate in this manner today. Comedian and actor Alan King is buried here.
At this same junction, visible from both the Van Wyck and the LIE is the 200-acre Cedar Grove Cemetery, founded in 1893, which also served religious societies, but of many faiths. This is the site of the Willets family graveyard, one of the first prominent Quaker families in Flushing.
There is a lot of community pride in Kew Gardens for the Maple Grove Cemetery, which was established in 1875 by a group of Brooklyn businessmen. The Cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places and there’s an Images of America book on the topic. The developers were successful in getting a Kew Gardens stop on the Long Island Rail Road in order to get people there with ease. Buried here is the wife of social activist and photographer Jacob Riis, Elizabeth.
This intimate graveyard sits behind the historic Quaker Meeting House and is home to members of the Bowne family, prominent businessmen, high-ranking elected officials and progenitors of The Flushing Remonstrance. Apparently Quakers did not, before 1820, use headstones, so it’s difficult to say how many individuals are buried here, but it is moving to see simple evidence those that are, knowing the legacy of freedom they left behind.
For a listing of private and family graveyards and Native American and African American sites, see Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens from 1932.
If we’ve missed any that you know of, please let us know.