Back in January I wrote several diaries about my great-grandmother Eva. She came to Brooklyn from what is now Ukraine in 1911, when she was 16. In October 1912, when she was 17, she married my great-grandfather. Their first child, a boy named Adam, was born ten months later, in August 1913, a century ago this week. He lived only a few hours. They later had four more children (including my grandmother), all of whom lived to adulthood.
My aunt, one of the most tender-hearted people I know, often thinks of their first child, Adam, who was born, and died, more than 40 years before she was born. It always bothered her that we did not know where Adam was buried. My great-grandparents are buried in a plot in Queens, but that wasn’t purchased until my great-grandfather died in 1940. Nearby, in the same cemetery, is a section for babies who died and my aunt always mentioned Adam when we went there.
Last summer I took from my grandparents’ house (which we’re preparing to sell) a metal box full of documents. It contained all sorts of insurance policies and other assorted legal documents, but it also contained…a folder of cemetery deeds. In that folder was a 1929 letter from a Brooklyn funeral home specifying the exact plot where Adam is buried. It’s in Most Holy Trinity Cemetery, in Brooklyn near the Queens border. At Christmas my wife and I went there, and it was well worth the trip.
The cemetery began as the parish cemetery of the Roman Catholic Most Holy Trinity Church in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The parish, which has a stunning church building, was founded in 1841. In New York in those days, the parish lines also were very strict. These days, you can just go to a different church if you don’t like your local parish because the building’s ugly, or the pastor’s a jerk, or the music is boring. In those days you couldn’t, any more than you could send your property taxes to the next jurisdiction instead of where you lived. The lines on the map being sacred, you’d have to move. Many people did move a lot within New York City in those days, but I’m not sure parishes were the reason.
In the early days, parishioners were buried in the churchyard beside the original church. As soon as 1851, when most parishioners were still of German descent, the parish relocated the bodies from the churchyard to a larger tract of land to the east, on the Brooklyn-Queens border in an area where some two dozen cemeteries are crammed together. Three decades later, the current church building was built on the site of the original churchyard.
This fact, combined with the facts that the church has a number of a (now closed) byzantine network of hidden passages on four levels and that several people have died suddenly there over the years, has led many people to claim that the church is haunted. It's said that, even when it's sure there's nobody else in the building, loud footsteps can be heard in it (My question is how you can tell there's nobody else in the church; it's pretty large and still has four levels).
But I digress. This is about the cemetery, which the parish administered for many years, but today it is run by Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Befitting the cemetery’s origins, most of the names there are German or Polish, the two major ethnic groups within the parish and its neighborhood. But what makes the cemetery so unique is that, until very recently, all of the markers are made of hollow metal or wood. Only in the last couple of decades has Catholic Cemeteries allowed placement of some flat stone markers.
His great-granddaughter, however, said she is not aware of him owning the land at any point. She claims the land, which used to belong to the (much larger) neighboring Cemetery of the Evergreens, was sold directly by that cemetery to the parish. Because the land was wet, stone markers would sink. Thus the parish came to the tinsmith, not the other way around.
My grandmother’s brother Adam, the one she never knew, is buried in a section that must have been popular among poorer people. I so surmise because, in a pretty large area, there are only two or three grave markers. Using one in the same row as Adam as a reference, I found the spot where he is buried, unmarked. I left a pile of pebbles and a tall stick, which the security guy told me might be taken out by a lawnmower in the spring. Doesn’t matter. I know the spot.
I remember that President Kennedy’s son Patrick (born in August 1963, 50 years after Adam) died fifty years ago today, also soon after being born. He was buried in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts. These days President Kennedy’s parents and a fair number of the family are at rest in the same plot there, but in 1963 they were all living. Patrick was the only person buried at Holyhood. President Kennedy visited the grave one night in the fall of 1963 and said, “He seems so alone here.” When President Kennedy was killed in November, Patrick’s body was moved to Arlington to be near him.
Visiting Most Holy Trinity I had similar thoughts about Adam, but there doesn’t seem to be any feasible way to move him closer to other relatives. All the family plots in New York are full. I find some comfort in thinking that he’s had nearly a century to get accustomed to a very unique place, and we now know where to find him.
So, open thread... Let's hear about the most unique cemeteries you've come across, or anything else that strikes your fancy.