Take a photo tour of the crypts underneath St. Patrick's Old Cathedral (slide show)

The landmark Catholic church, completed in the 19th century, is home to underground tombs occupied by notable New Yorkers.

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Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury


This week, we told you all about the secret places and things to do in New York City—the odd buildings, underground mysteries and little-known scandals that make this metropolis so darn interesting. And now, we've got a more in-depth look at one of those secrets: the crypts beneath St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral.

The cathedral property was originally purchased in 1801 by the trustees of St. Peter’s Church (the first Catholic church in New York), to be used as a cemetery for members of the faith. Thanks to the rapid growth of the city's Catholic population, the trustees decided to construct a cathedral on the land, and it was completed in 1815. But by the middle of the 19th century, burials in Manhattan were outlawed for health reasons—corpses weren’t being buried deep enough, and groundwater was being contaminated—and, with a few exceptions, no one has been interred on the church's grounds since. 

But that doesn't mean St. Pat's hasn't been used for funerals; since the 1820s, many of its members have been buried in the underground crypts, which are enclosed tombs made with brick and cement. Among those buried within are captains of industry, merchants, bankers and lawyers. All of the vaults and coffins are hermetically sealed to avoid decomposition gases entering the cathedral above. Below, check out a photo tour of the crypts and learn some of the spot's spooky secrets.

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    General Thomas Eckert’s family tomb is the first you see when entering from the lower chapel. Eckert worked in telegraphy at the U.S. war department, and served as an important point person during the Civil War. (Rumor has it that President Abraham Lincoln wrote the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation at Eckert’s desk in the war building so no one could disturb him.) He was also appointed the Assistant Secretary of War, and later served as the president of Western Union. The crypt features a small shrine covered with photos of Eckert.

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    Eckert's tomb is accessed via these black metal gates; his name appears in sans-serif script over the door frame.

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    The green ceiling tiles are the same tiles from the Grand Central Terminal ceiling, which was constructed around the same time as Eckert's tomb. The lightbulbs are original Thomas Edison bulbs. There was also a line for gas lighting, as well as ventilation. Buried along with Eckert are his second wife and her parents. In addition, the crypt included open spaces that were most likely for children that the couple never had.

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    The Eckert family crypt is among the most ornately decorated of all the tombs underneath St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. The entire crypt cost $81,000 to build—a large sum of money at the time.

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    Also buried in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is Countess Annie Leary, who was never married but received a large inheritance from her father. She was known for her charitable work: The heiress helped Italian immigrants to the neighborhood, opening schools and soup kitchens for them. Because of her charitable work, Pope Leo XIII gave her the title as a papal countess.

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    There is one open crypt reserved for Monsignor Nicola Marinacci, a 102-year-old priest who currently lives in an assisted-living facility. He recently stopped by the cathedral to see his eventual resting spot.

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    The crosses above most of the crypts aren’t holes; they’re merely decorative.

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    The crypts below St. Patrick's Old Cathedral

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    The crypts below St. Patrick's Old Cathedral

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    The crypts below St. Patrick's Old Cathedral

  • Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

    The crypts below St. Patrick's Old Cathedral

Photograph: Nadia Chaudhury

General Thomas Eckert’s family tomb is the first you see when entering from the lower chapel. Eckert worked in telegraphy at the U.S. war department, and served as an important point person during the Civil War. (Rumor has it that President Abraham Lincoln wrote the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation at Eckert’s desk in the war building so no one could disturb him.) He was also appointed the Assistant Secretary of War, and later served as the president of Western Union. The crypt features a small shrine covered with photos of Eckert.


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