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New York Underground: The Secret Stories of Cemeteries

PODCAST The following podcast may look like the history of New York City cemeteries — from the early churchyards of the Colonial era to the monument-filled rural cemeteries of Brooklyn and Queens.

But it’s much more than that. This is a story about New York City itself, a tale of real estate, urban growth, class and racial disparity, superstition and architecture.

Cemeteries and burial grounds in New York City are everywhere — although by design we often don’t see them or interact with them in daily life.

Calvary Cemetery, October 2021. Photo by Tom Meyers

You see them while strolling late night through the East Village or out your taxi window headed to LaGuardia Airport. Some of your favorite parks were even developed upon the sites of old potter’s fields.

Why are there so many cemeteries on the border of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens? Why are 19th century mausoleums and tombstones so fabulously ornate? And why are there so many old burial grounds next to tenements and apartment buildings in Greenwich Village? 

Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery. Photo by Greg Young

Featuring four tales from New York City history, illustrating the unusual relationship between cemeteries and urban areas.

— The Doctor’s Riot of 1788
— The tragic monument of Charlotte Canda
— The shocking grave robbery of retailer A.T. Stewart
— The remarkable discovery in 1991 of a long-forgotten burial ground

Listen Now – New York Underground


For a vivid look into the individual cemeteries of New York City, we highly recommend you pay a visit to the website Cemeteries of New York City, created and maintained by Elizabeth D. Meade, PhD.

It also includes an interactive map which beautifully illustrates the ‘cemetery belt’ of Brooklyn and Queens. You can also find older, smaller family cemeteries around the city and the sites of burial grounds, now vanished.


Rudolph Cronau, View from Greenwood Cemetery, 1881. (Courtesy Green-Wood Cemetery)
The Doctor’s Riot of 1788 — Wood engraving of New York rioters trying to break their way into a doctor’s dissection area.
Stereoscopic view of the Charlotte Canda site, New York Public Library

FURTHER LISTENING

After you’ve listened to this show on the history of New York’s many cemeteries, dive back into the back catalog and listen to these shows referred to on the show:


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The Richard Upjohn gate at Green-Wood Cemetery. Photo by Greg Young
Marker to the Revolutionary War, Green-Wood Cemetery.
Nothing beats Green-Wood Cemetery in the fall. Photo by Greg Young
The Charlotte Canda monument. Photo by Greg Young

Trinity Churchyard (Photo by Greg Young
Ancient gravestones at Trinity. Photo by Greg Young
Flatbush Dutch Reformed Churchyard, taken October 2020. Photo by Greg Young
Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum, located in Washington Heights.

Inside the African Burial Ground visitors center. Photo by Greg Young
Inside a discovered vault underneath Washington Square Park, 2015. New York City Department of Design and Construction
Green-Wood volunteers re-inter remains at Washington Square Park. Read more at Real Estate Weekly.

4 replies on “New York Underground: The Secret Stories of Cemeteries”

Richard Carman was my Great great great great grandfather, mentioned as the developer who sold the Cemetery to Trinity Church. Though from my research a few years ago I thought he had been a member of the church and donated it. Either way, I enjoy your podcast and listen to it often, and was delighted to hear my ancestor mentioned on your show!

I’ve been to Greenwood Cemetery a few times. Oncdca few people I went with brought lunch. Seems odd, but it was a destination l picnic spot. I think those days are gone. It was so hot that day. Higgins of Higgins Ink has a mausoleum that is commanding, too. It s high on a hill and faces out towards New York Harbor.

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