Visit the borough's burial grounds for pleasant strolls and fantastic views, and to see the final resting places of the great and the good.
Mon Jul 26 2010
At 365 acres, Calvary is one of the largest cemeteries in the country, but it’s the panoramic city views that make this Catholic tract worth a visit. Bounded by highways and Newtown Creek, its long rows of obelisks blend into the skyline at the horizon, as if the Chrysler Building were marking another tomb. It sprawls in two separate portions around the BQE—a bike is useful—and the southern, older half dates to 1848, when most burials were of Irish immigrants from lower Manhattan. By the 1990s, Old and New Calvary had a total of 3 million burials, almost as many as the population of Queens, including a fair share of gangsters; appropriately, Vito Corleone’s funeral in The Godfather was filmed here. 33-52 Greenpoint Ave between Bradley and Gale Aves, Long Island City (718-786-8000)
Flushing Cemetery and Martins Field
The pretty grounds of Flushing Cemetery (163-06 46th Ave between 163rd and 164th Sts, Flushing; 718-359-0100) opened in 1853, host some major souls: Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Bernard Baruch all lie here. You won’t find any boldface names across the street at the unrelated Martins Field (46th Ave between 164th and 165th Sts, Flushing; nycgovparks.org), but it’s the final—and unmarked—resting place of hundreds of African- and Native Americans who were shut out of white cemeteries in the 19th century. Turned into a playground in the 1930s, the site has only recently become a memorial and park.
The Lawrence Cemetery
One of many small family plots tucked around the borough, the wooded Lawrence holds 40 graves dug between 1832 and 1939, though the prominent Lawrence family has owned this land since 1645. Today the landmarked site is maintained by the Bayside Historical Society and is open only by appointment. Arrange a visit to see the eternal home of its most famous resident, 1830s New York mayor Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence; others include a president of the New York Stock Exchange and a Civil War colonel. 216th St at 42nd Ave, Bayside (718-352-1548, baysidehistorical.org)
Mount Olivet Cemetery
In 1884, this once-boggy corner of Queens made local headlines when a ghost was spotted with a carving knife, wailing into the night; 50 shotgun-toting citizens failed to track it down. Today this landscaped “garden cemetery” makes for a more pleasant stroll, with shady paths winding through its 71 acres. One spirit we’d actually like to see is legendary stride pianist James P. Johnson. Having died in 1955, he’d lay in an unmarked grave here until 2009, when fans raised enough money to finally buy him a headstone. 65-40 Grand Ave at Remsen Pl, Maspeth (718-326-1777, mountolivetcemeterynyc.com)
Filled with thousands of burials dating to 1668, including Revolutionary and Civil War veterans, this overgrown, 4.5-acre lot includes the 1857 Chapel of the Sisters, built by local resident Nicholas Ludlum in memory of his dead daughters. His descendant Cate Ludlam leads the volunteer Prospect Cemetery Association today, and points to a hand-carved mica slab as a favorite tombstone: “It says 1728, YE9DE, THO* WIGGENS, and in the fall at sunset it sparkles.” Ludlam happily gives tours by appointment; gates are usually locked, except during public events, such as monthly jazz concert that starts in September. York College Campus, 94-15 159th St between Beaver Rd and Liberty Ave, Jamaica (prospectcemeteryassociation.org). For cemetery tours, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For neighborhood tours, go to prospectcemeteryassociation.org: Sept 11, Oct 9 1--3pm; free.
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