Beyond The Grave #4: Trinity Church Cemetery

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Is it strange, when visiting a vibrant city, to seek out the local dead? Why do cemeteries – full of old stones and ancient history - attract so many modern travelers? Momondo asked our city bloggers to unearth an explanation and give us the low-down on the neighborhood necropolis. You'll read about the best burials in Berlin, the most entertaining interments in Prague, the graves of American heroes in New York and a cemetery with a magnificant view of Istanbul plus tips on what JP Sartre likes on his Paris grave and about Soeren Kierkegaard's and Karl Marx's last resting places in Copenhagen and London. Are you ready to go beneath the surface?

Trinity Church Cemetry 


It seems odd to visit a cemetery as a tourist, and odder still to sit on a bench and eat your lunch there. But I don't think the dead care, and if they do, they probably appreciate the company. So it's perfectly okay to drop by the cemetery at New York's Trinity Church for a look around, or to find respite from the chaos of the city. After all, this is Manhattan. The rules are different here. Space is at a premium, and if a cemetery is the only place amid a forest of skyscrapers to find a peaceful patch of earth, we're going to take advantage.

In any case, you'd be hard-pressed to find a lovelier or more interesting cemetery than the one at Trinity Church on Broadway at Wall Street. It's got some of the deepest history to be found in our young country, having opened in 1697 and containing the graves of American heroes such as Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and naval engineer Robert Fulton. But it's my favorite New York cemetery for personal reasons.

I didn't know anybody who is buried there personally - most of the deceased were laid to rest back in the 18th century - but it's a place where my girlfriend and I would occasionally meet for lunch back when we first started dating, years before we married, months before the nearby World Trade Center was destroyed, changing the neighborhood forever.
Trinity Church Cemetery is a pretty, somber, and somewhat eerie place. The headstones are weathered and tilt at angles, as the earth has shifted beneath then over the centuries. Personal histories are carved into stone in a font that brings to mind Edward Gorey stories.

I visited recently to have another look. It was a bitter cold Tuesday in November. I arrived thinking I'd snap a few photos and leave, having done my journalistic duty, but I immediately felt compelled to slow down and walk the stone paths deliberately, quietly reading the inscriptions on some of the headstones.
Here Lies the Body of Dr. Richard Ayscough, Born May 1723, Who departed this life May 29, 1760, Aged 37 years

Here Lies the Body of James Browne, who departed this life Jan'ry 22, 1759, aged 70
I felt a lump in my throat when I read the inscriptions on the crumbling headstones of some of the younger residents, such as little Isabella, "daughter of John & Isabella Osborn, who died Jan'ry 7th 1803, Aged 5 months & 4 Days." Young David George Rhoads was only six years old when he died on September 23, 1817. Life was harsh back then.

My hands became cold and I labored to keep taking photos. The sound of the nearby traffic faded from my consciousness. The aroma of roasted nuts wafted over from a sidewalk vendor. I became lost in thoughts of life and death. A handful of people walked through the graveyard, some stopping to look at the monuments, others simply taking advantage of the shortcut between the American Stock Exchange and Broadway. I was happy to see a blue-collar worker take a seat on a bench amid the graves and slowly unwrap a sandwich to eat for lunch. He's as welcome here as anyone. The dead are glad for his company.

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by New York City Diary 26. Nov 2008
New York City Diary » New York » Go See & Do
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