A look at some female ghosts of Astoria, Queens, in New York City.

Note: There’s discussion of chattel slavery after the 26 minute mark.

Highlights include:
• The American president who was supposedly shot on his way to see a haunting
• A ghost who disappears if she stops knitting
• A lady in white and a hag who haunt the same block
• A shameful side of Astoria’s history

Episode Script

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

Garfield Ghost

  • “Garfield’s Ghost Hunt: Was About to Visit a Haunted House When Shot” The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900:
    • So, for a bit of background, for those of you who, like me, forgot what president James A. Garfield’s deal was: he was the president who was shot by an assassin 4 months after his inauguration in 1881, and died 2 months later.
      • I’m not gonna get into a ton of detail about his assassination, though one fun fact is that the gunman purchased the gun specifically because he thought it’d look good in a museum. Back then, presidents weren’t guarded, so Garfield was taking the train to NJ from DC, so  the assassin shot him in the train station in FC.
    • Let’s get into this article. Basically, there once was a newspaperman name Eugene Virgil Smalley, who was notable because he looked exactly like Garfield and had lots of similar interests. The two of them became friends.
    • To read from the article:
      • But the resemblance was not merely physical. They had many habits of mind and sympathies in common, a circumstance, among others, which made them warm friends. There was in Garfield’s rather poetic temperament a strong vein of mysticism, a fondness for the occult which needed little cultivation to have led Guiteau’s victim into paths which other men of great talent and strong imagination have followed until led by them into strange faiths and delusions. Theophile Gautier says there is in every man’s mind a certain dark chamber where bats of superstition lurk, only needing the right kind of prod to set them fluttering their uncanny wings, obscuring the reason with all sorts of dark shadows and queer phantoms.
      • In the case of Garfield this dark chamber was large and the door was easily opened, if a discreet and sympathetic hand touched the spring.
      • . . . At about the time of Gen. Garfield’s inauguration there was much stir among New York spiritualists over certain strange occurrences said to be taking place in a house in Astoria. The owner of this, a hard-headed business man who had amassed a large fortune in the distinctly material occupation of making pig iron, had had the misfortune the winter before to lose a very beautiful daughter whom he idolized. She died in Florida after a lingering illness. The shock utterly shattered her father’s nerves. He brooded upon his loss until it became the fixed idea of his life.
    • The article goes on to say that the man tried to distract himself with work, but as soon as he got home every day, he felt devastated again.
    • However, one day, he was absorbed in thinking about something work-related, and for once didn’t have his daughter on his mind when he got home. I’ll read some more of the article:
      • She was quite out of his mind when he walked into the large front parlor and started to go through the open sliding doors to the rear parlor, the windows of which overlooked the lawn reaching down to the river.
      • And by one of those windows in her favorite nook sat his daughter. So real, so true to life, in every detail of feature and pose was the vision, that, with his mind for the moment unburdened as it was from the sense of his loss, he for an instant felt no surprise at seeing her where he had seen her hundreds of times before. He advanced a step toward her, whereat she looked laughingly and brightly at him, but held up a warning finger which brought him to a standstill with, fr the first time, a realization of all that had befallen.
    • The article continues, saying he told himself he must have imagined it. He closed his eyes, rubbed them, opened them again, but his daughter was still there. However, she was doing something strange:
      • “both her hands [were] now busy weaving a curious filmy lace which rolled slowly to her feet in a sort of fleecy spray which dimmed and melted out of sight.”
    • I don’t know if this is ectoplasm or what?
    • He tried to come closer, his daughter raised a finger in warning, and then kept creating this “ghostly lace” and it seemed like whenever she stopped making the lace, she started to dim, and when she restarted making it, she became more solid.
    • So then word of this apparition got out, and Smalley heard of it, as did a bunch of spiritualist mediums. Tons of them came. To read from the article:
      • “Every night, there were seances at the Astoria house. Mr. Smalley was present at nearly all of them for several weeks. . . . He wrote column after column in his New York paper concerning the events at the Astoria house–each story very striking in its minute simplicity of detail and quite like a chapter out of “Spirite” in the delicate beauty of the manifestations.”
    • Smalley became more and more interested, so of course he mentioned this ghost to his friend, Garfield.
    • Garfield wanted to see the ghost, but now that he was president, there was no real way for him to visit. But Garfield was about to give a commencement speech at Williams College, and Smalley said that on his way back to DC, he could spend a night in NYC and come to the Astoria house in secret.
    • So all the arrangements were made. A famous medium was hired for the evening, and supposedly Garfield was really looking forward to the visit. But on his way out of DC, at the train station, he was shot, and that led to his death.
    • It was said that the haunted house in Astoria continued to be haunted. But now it was haunted not just by the daughter. There were supposed sightings of Napoleon, Shakespeare, and other famous people who fraudulent mediums tended to claim to see. But now the host of ghosts was joined by Garfield’s spirit.
    • The man who lived there believed in the ghosts, who supposedly comforted him and made him feel less alone, until his eventual death.
  • I looked for the articles that Smalley wrote about this haunting, but couldn’t find anything after searching through multiple archives. However, I did find that there’s a lot of stuff about places that Garfield supposedly haunts, including the gothic castle that houses his remains in Cleveland, Ohio.

The White Lady of Astoria

  • First, a woman in white definition: White Lady – Wikipedia
  • The Newtown Pentacle, a great blog run by Mitch Waxman, reports stories of hauntings here in Astoria at 44th street between Broadway and 34th avenue. Here are some of the stories he’s documented:
    • “My former neighbor, a sensitive “lifer”, when confronted with “Have you ever seen a Ghost?” related that there was an apparition on the entire block. A lady in white who moved from house to house. He continued on, saying that his mother, himself- and his tenants- had experienced apparitions. Indeed, the subject was well known amongst the generations of children that had grown up here, and that the phantom was called “The White Lady”. The following text is used with permission, and comes from that stalwart friend…
    • My mother’s story is this:
    • When my brother and I were very small, around 2 and 5 or 3 and 6 respectively, we both had high fevers and were sleeping in my mother’s bed. My mother said she heard someone walk down our hallway, and she assumed it was my father, as he worked late into the night.  She then says she smelled very sweet perfume, and felt someone sit down on the edge of the bed (she was sitting with us, watching over us).
    • She never saw anybody, but rather felt a presence.  She said she knew it was the presence of a ‘lady’—with the resonance of the word being someone higher in society, graceful and composed. The presence let it be known to her–how I dont know– that she was there for a good reason; that she was there because she was worried about my brother and I, and would watch over us and protect us.  My mother added that she thought the ‘lady’ was the wife of the person who owned the land way before our house was built, but Im not sure if that was heresay she might have picked up on in future years.”
    • “My tenant’s  story:
    • My tenant stopped and asked me one day in front of the house. He asked me if we had a ghost  living there, and before I told him, I asked him what he meant.  He said he dreamt about a ‘lady’.  I asked him to describe her, and he said her hair was done up in an old fashioned bun, she was older, her hair was white, and she wore a dress that was cinched around the neck, the way they wore in earlier years.
    • He also said that he had once peered outside the backyard window, and saw someone looking up at him intently. He said that it was a spirit guide.
    • My tenant has told me he is sensitive to phenomenon.  He even described meeting a woman and immediately ‘knowing’ that the woman was pregnant.  He in fact asked her, and she said yes.”
    • “My ghostly experience, front bedroom 1st floor.
    • Well, it was the first night staying in that apartment. I spent the day helping my girlfriend move the rest of her stuff in. And put a large mirror up at the foot of the bed facing north (toward broadway).
    • So anyway, somehow I awoke between 2 and 3am (at least I feel like I was awake), and saw a kind of a dark shadowy figure move/walk from one side of the room toward the foot of the bed staring at me. Seemed like an older women or a deadly looking middle-aged women with long hair past shoulders staring me down as she crept toward the foot of the bed. She lowered down slowly as if she was going to go under the bed but went out of sight at my feet. Almost instantly I felt my feet tingle and begin to shake like I was shivering and then both legs entirely.
    • I tried to kick my legs to make it stop but it only made it worse as my legs were basically shaking out of control and woosh it went up my trunk to my neck and my whole body was shaking and my head flexed backward hard into the pillow. I called out for my girlfriend, but my face muscles were very tight – “help… help… me…” which felt like I was wide awake- I know I was.
    • I began to also feel a pull toward the bottom the bed and toward the wall that the mirror was on. And as soon as it felt like it was going to throw my body off the bed or across the room or through into the mirror, whoosh it left down through my body and out my feet and was standing at the foot of the bed staring at me smiling/kind of laughing at me, and turned toward the mirror and walked through.
    • That’s it, I was wide awake for 2 hours trying to contemplate if that really happened or what. Nothing like that has ever happend before or since.
    • The only other thing that happened was a couple of weeks later- a glass picture frame seemed to jump off the wall and shattered on the ground in the middle of the night at 3 or 4 am. The same day I put a 2nd mirror up in that bedroom.”
  • The Queens Chronicle reported the supposed explanation for this:
    • “On this eastern Astoria stretch, several residents have reported spotting a woman wearing a high-collared dress with her white hair in a bun — she’s known as the White Lady of Astoria. Sometimes, according to those who have spotted her, she appears with a sick child, and witnesses often smell lavender when she’s spotted.
    • The White Lady, Carter says, is believed to be Elizabeth Hallet.
    • William Hallet, Hallet’s third husband, purchased land in Astoria after he and Elizabeth fled from Connecticut because she had divorced her second husband due to his being insane. Insanity, though, wasn’t a legal excuse for separation back then so Elizabeth was technically guilty of polygamy, which was punishable by death.
    • Hallet’s descendants were later killed by slaves who were not allowed to go to church — it’s believed the slayings were Queens’ first capital murders.”
  • DoNYC has this claim about the white lady:
    • ” This spirit, known as “White Lady of Astoria” was killed by her two slaves around 1705. Her ghost is said to haunt the 44th Street block to this day, and can sometimes be spotted with another ghost-like figure of a small child.”
  • The NY post did a writeup of the White Lady as well, based on Mitch Waxman’s research:
    • According to Andrea Janes, founder of the Boroughs of the Dead walking tours, the “White Lady of Astoria” is a Mrs. Hallet, whose family was killed by their two slaves around 1705. The pregnant mother, after finding her husband and two children murdered, ran away and ended up drowning while trying to cross a marsh.
    • While the Hallet farmhouse is long gone, her ghost is said to haunt the row houses that were erected on a 44th Street block in the early 20th century — though she’s seen as a benevolent spirit.
    • “One friend, who described [the ghost] sitting with her and her brother when they were ill, described it as a comforting experience,” said Waxman, who runs the history Web site the Newtown Pentacle and lives a block away from the homes. Waxman said that residing in a haunted neighborhood is preferable to living on top of a chemical factory. “I’d rather have the White Lady of Astoria than benzine.”
  • I’ve talked before about the dark history of slavery in NYC. I think I talked about that in the episode I did talking about Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel, and their hauntings. And the reason why I felt it was important to talk about it was that it’s essential context when thinking about the history of an area from a paranormal perspective. NYC–the city, its wealth, etc–was built by enslaved people.
  • Slavery existed in NYC until 1827, which is way longer than many other places in the northeast. There was even a literal slave market in the financial district, at Wall Street and Pearl Street, which was open for 51 years and which sold black people and indigenous people of all genders and ages.
    • History of Long Island City, New York by J. S Kelsey; 1896:
      • “Negro whippers were appointed in various towns. April 4, 1729, the town of Newtown appointed William Tallier “general whipper ” for the town. Besides being whipped, slaves were often branded in the forehead with a hot iron. On the night of Januarj’ 24, 170S, William Hallett, jr., wife, and five children were murdered by an Indian named “Sam” and a negress, who were slaves of the family. The motive was to secure possession of the land. This extraordinary tragedy absorbed popular attention for a long time, and was influential in legislation for the suppression of slave conspiracies. Speedy, though terrible, punishment awaited the perpetrators of the crime, who were burned at the stake at Jamaica, February 2, 1708. The Hallett home was in the vicinity of what is now known as the “German Settlements.”
      • January 27, 1753, three children and a negro of John Parcells were drowned in the East River.
      • . . . It was many a day after the English and Dutch had selected new homes in a new world — in fact generations passed, before there was a store within the present precincts of this city. Domestic wants were simple and few, and were readily supplied by industry. What was desired beyond home production was found across the river in New York. Purchasers thither went without money, and in place thereof took along for exchange produce, tobacco, beer and negro boys.”
  • John Jay college has a database you can search to find records of enslaved people and enslavers. I looked up records for Newtown, Queens, which is pretty much present day Astoria, and found 11 pages of results, featuring a bunch of familiar names who I’ve talked about before. I will say, too: not all the records are tagged with Newtown, and some may have been tagged with typos, so these numbers are actually artificially under-representing the number of people these families enslaved.
    • Also, as a sidenote: I wish that I could highlight the stories of the enslaved people, rather than just ordering this as a inventory of enslavers and the numbers of humans they owned. However, the records of people who were enslaved are extremely incomplete. For example, when I search for enslaved people’s records in Newtown, Queens, I only get 4 results, and only three of them have names attached: Tom, born in 1754 and enslaved by a man named Charles grant; Nero, no birth year listed, enslaved by a man named William Garden, and Andrew, no birth year, enslaved by a man named Andrew Springsteen. They have no last names. Andrew’s information comes from the records of the New-York Manumission Society, and while I can’t read the manuscript (because it’s handwritten and crossed, which makes it illegible to me), I’m hoping that means that he may have been freed, since that’s what the society’s goals were.
  • The records I found started in 1735, with the record of an unnamed enslaved person who was owned by one Paul Burtus. In most of these records, only the enslavers names are listed.
  • So I wanted to talk about some of the families I’ve discussed who were enslavers.
    • First up, we’ve got a 1790 record of Abigail Alsop, who owned 8 humans. It sounds like the household was made up of 10 non-enslaved people and 8 enslaved people, though it’s unclear to me how many, if any, of the non-enslaved people may have been household servants rather than enslavers.
    • In the 1810 census, John Alsop is listed as owning 4 enslaved people.
      • You may recognize the Alsop name from the episodes about Calvary Cemetery, because the family once had a farm where Calvary Cemetery stands today. And their family cemetery is actually inside Calvary Cemetery. I actually found it a month or so ago–it’s a weird little family cemetery tucked into a chain link fence in the middle of the separate, larger, Catholic Calvary Cemetery. From what I could tell, the headstones in the cemetery only marked the graves of the slave owning family members. I’m not sure where the enslaved people in the household were buried.
    • In the 1810 census, there’s an entry for Cornelious Berrien, who owned 4 enslaved people.
      • I’ve talked about the Berrien family cemeteries, which have been demolished, and then the Berriens also had an island named after them, which is now connected to the mainland and the site of a Con Edison power plant.
    • In 1810, there’s a record of two Blackwell households, enslaving one person per household.
      • You’ll recognize the Blackwells from many episodes–the used to own Blackwell’s Island, now called Roosevelt Island, the former site of the NY Lunatic Asylum, and the current site of the ruins of the old Renwick Smallpox Hospital.
    • Next up, there’s the Hallet family.
      • I couldn’t find the numbers from the early 1700s, when Elizabeth Hallet was supposedly killed, but I found some later census numbers.
      • The 1790 census shows 7 Hallet households, owning between one and 8 enslaved people each, for a total of 21 people who were enslaved by the Hallets of Newtown, Queens.
      • In 1810, there was one Hallett household listed, which enslaved 2 people.
      • You’ll recognize the Hallet family from Hallet’s Cove and Hallet’s Point, which I’ve mentioned many times.
    • Now we’ve got the Lawrence family, of Sarah Lawerence fame. I talked about their family cemetery, which still stands near the north shore of Astoria.
      • According to the 1790 census, their households housed between 1-9 enslaved people each.
      • In 1810, there were 3 Lawrence households, each enslaving between 2-4 people.
    • Now we’ve got the Moore family, who enslaved between 1-8 people per household in 1790.
      • In 1810, there were 6 Moore households, each enslaving between 1-6 people.
      • I talked about the Moore family in the Moore-Jackson Cemetery episode.
    • Next up is the Rapelje family, who I’ve mentioned in a bunch of my episodes focused on local history. The Rapeljes enslaved between 1-7 people per household in 1790.
      • In 1810, there were 7 Rapelye households, each enslaving 1-5 people
  • Then there’s the Riker family. I talked about them in the Riker-Lent-Smith cemetery episodes. In 1790, Jacobus Rycker owned 7 enslaved people.
    • In 1810, there were two Riker households, one which enslaved 3 people, and one which enslaved 5 people.
    • Sidenote, there was also a 1790 entry for a enslaving Lint, though the name was spelled differently, so not sure if it was the same Lent or not. However, in 1810, there’s a correctly spelled entry for a Lent household that enslaved 3 people.

Sources consulted RE: Ghosts of Astoria

Books RE: Ghosts of Astoria

Articles RE: Ghosts of Astoria

  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Sep 4 1869
  • Another Haunted House in Astoria. Evening Post (published as The Evening Post.) (New York, New York)November 23, 1858
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 18 1886
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Wed Dec 27 1893
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Mar 7 1925
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 11 1937
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Courier Fri Feb 2 1900
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900
    Evening Post published as The Evening Post. November 23 1858
  • New York Tribune published as New-York Tribune. November 23 1858
  • Brooklyn Times Union Mon Oct 25 1909
  • The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), February 13, 1921, (SECTION 6)
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Jun 28 1888
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 2 
  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 1
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK)
  • The Appeal Sat Feb 24 1900
  • The Inter Ocean Sun Jan 21 1900
  • The Evening World Wed Nov 29 1893
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Apr 19 1928
  • The Tonganoxie Mirror Thu Jul 19 1883
  • Reading Times Mon Jan 20 1896 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Nov 8 1885 (1)
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK) https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030193/1889-12-30/ed-1/?sp=3&q=astoria+ghost&r=-0.026,0.482,0.453,0.19,0
  • The times (Washington [D.C.]), December 19, 1897: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn85054468/1897-12-19/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.109,0.598,0.884,0.371,0
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.489,0.945,0.683,0.365,0
  • Image 8 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), January 7, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1919-01-07/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.385,0.216,0.487,0.205,0
  • Image 7 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), February 17, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030431/1919-02-17/ed-1/?sp=7&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.569,0.553,0.276,0.116,0
  • Image 10 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), February 10, 1906: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1906-02-10/ed-1/?sp=10&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.719,0.853,0.417,0.223,0
  • Image 4 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), September 30, 1905
  • Image 21 of The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), May 27, 1921: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83045774/1921-05-27/ed-1/?sp=21&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.342,0.678,0.311,0.166,0
  • Image 16 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), October 5, 1904: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1904-10-05/ed-1/?sp=16&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.323,1.204,0.323,0.173,0
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/576215460
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/52695146
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 24: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/59991092
  • https://www.qgazette.com/articles/pages-from-the-long-island-star-journal-9/
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.555,0.033,0.321,0.148,0
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express Tue Nov 13 1894

     

Websites

  • Records of enslaved people in Newtown, Queens: https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=5MCUK448ECO579156B8UL5N69FD4FP9HR01OXX509Z67L48DL4CAXL8EEI52U669I1O38XF12FE61JXWM4Y10N2Z9JAN9LHJU8BN2285018P4549838QC2RQ2L4EH2QX
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_A._Garfield#Assassination
  • http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/33/v33i01p029-034.pdf
  • https://kellykazek.com/2018/06/25/bet-you-didnt-know-about-this-haunted-american-castle/
  • https://time.com/96533/thieves-break-into-james-a-garfields-tomb/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Swedenborg
  • https://newtownpentacle.com/2009/06/13/a-big-dig-in-queens/
  • https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/who-really-ran-the-underground-railroad/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/15-underground-railroad-stops-in-new-york-city/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=1WXJ2370QHI6H9C815459UHS4F9AVG7ZNZ5RH7T39B21KWP081R95709VQVLNQPWX8M9A7IO8M3W22FY550M360BW077FZ21H52A90IQ93SZZS0A870A6XT8EJ4V78I8
  • https://www.6sqft.com/search-over-35000-records-of-slavery-in-new-york/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/before-nycs-slave-market-freedmen-from-africa-were-allowed-to-own-farmland/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/in-the-1700s-there-was-an-official-location-for-buying-selling-and-renting-slaves-on-wall-street/
  • https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://oana-ny.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/old_astoria_map_1873_bg-1024×666.jpg
  • https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://shop.old-maps.com/new-york/towns/kings-queens-cos-ny-1859-town/astoria-new-york-1859-old-town-map-custom-print-queens-co/
  • https://cdn2.bigcommerce.com/n-zfvgw8/wkatj7/products/109812/images/126869/LongIslandCity_Astoria_MiddleVillage_1873_web__84173.1548088614.1280.1280.jpg?c=2
  • https://www.mapsofantiquity.com/store/Antique_Maps_-_United_States/Northeast/New_York/Long_Island/Astoria,_New_York,_verso_Woodside,_Maspeth,_East_Williamsburg,_Newtown/inventory.pl?id=NYO016
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/astoria.jpg
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/halsall7.asp
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necrology/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necology-continued/
  • https://cdn6.picryl.com/photo/1903/12/31/queens-vol-2-double-page-plate-no-30-part-of-ward-two-newtown-trains-meadow-6c7e10-1600.jpg
  • https://www.qchron.com/qboro/stories/you-ain-t-afraid-of-no-ghost-we-ll-see-about-that/article_010ee09d-001f-5505-a643-147da790ecbf.html

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at the fortune telling teacups, which were popular in the early 20th century, and were adorned with symbols meant to aid in interpreting tea leaves.

Highlights include:
• The different varieties of fortune telling teacups
• An attempt at a tea leaf reading

Episode Script for Fortune Telling Teacups

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • • I sort of randomly stumbled upon this topic, as I often do. I of course knew of tasseography, or fortune telling using tea leaves; I’ve known about it ever since reading the Harry Potter books back in the 1990s.
    ○ But I had never heard of using special fortune telling cups to facilitate tasseography. I’ve mentioned that I go down wormholes pretty often–I was reorganizing my tea cabinet, and realized that I wanted to buy some more empty tea tins from Harney and Sons, which is a tea company, so I go to their website, and the tea tins are sold out, but while I was clicking around their website, I saw these weird, fun, extremely expensive goth teacups produced by a company called Miss Havisham’s Curiosities. And while I wasn’t interested in buying a $65 tea cup that said witch on it, I really liked the vintage style design of the cups, so I searched for Miss Havisham’s Curiosities and clicked around on that website. And I just so happened to click on something in their menu that said “Fortune Cups,” and ended up on a page of really cool vintage and vintage-style teacups, which looked almost like normal teacups, except that their insides were covered in symbols. Those symbols included things like rings, ships, keys, eyes, wagon wheels, anchors, hearts, sunbursts, etc. Objects that could have many different symbolic meanings and resonances for different people.
    ○ So when I realized that some of these tea cups were vintage, that really got me interested. They kinda reminded me of Ouija boards, since they’re divination-related consumer products.
    ○ For whatever reason, I’ve never been super interested in tasseography, but the idea of these weird little fortune telling cups really charmed me.
    • Tea leaf reading history
    ○ Romany appropriation?
    ○ There’s a longish history to tasseography, but in the interest of time and staying on topic, I want to focus on tea-leaf reading in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a cursory search, I saw many mentions of tea leaf reading in the 1890s, though wasn’t really seeing mention of cups specifically for that purpose.
    § Predictably, though, much like we saw with Ouija and planchette, the articles focused on women doing tasseography, and depicted women who were interested in that sort of divination as being unhinged, foolish, or frivolous. I also found a pretty racist description of a Black woman who was hired to attend a party on Long Island and read tea leaves for the rich white women there. That was in the May 17, 1890 edition of the Brooklyn Times Union.
    § The Aug 8, 1899 issue of the Wilkes Barre Semi Weekly Record ran a headline about tea leaf reading: “Fate in a Teacup: An Amusing, if Senseless, Diversion for Summer Afternoons” The article goes about how you’d think it would.
    § Basically, it sounds like tea leaf reading was popular because people sat around and talked and drank tea anyway, so why not try to interpret the leaves while you’re hanging out anyway.
    ○ According to a book called Tea-Cup Fortune Telling (author unknown), 1930, the wa that tasseography normally worked was a person would have a white teacup, and into that, they would pour coffee, or tea brewed with loose leaves that weren’t strained out. Then, you put the saucer on the cup, flip it over, drain out the liquid, and you’re left with the leaves or grounds. To read a bit from the book:
    § You must concentrate on the cup, and allow your imagination to have full play, in order to picture the leaves forming into emblems. The reader of the cup should allow her thought to rest upon the person who is waiting to hear his fortune. Do not expect the figures always to have an actual resemblance to the emblems; it is quite sufficient that the leaves suggest these things. Sometimes they are very distinct. Of course the more fertile the imagination of the person who is studying the cup the more will be discovered in it. . . .
    § It is impossible to lay down any definite rule as to interpretation; although every symbol has some general significance, it must have a particular significance in regard to each person. This is the case with regard to dreams, for instance. To dream of coal means very good luck to some people I know; while to others, even in the same family, it is quite the reverse.
    § . . . The handle of the cup represents the house, or the home. Time can be foretold more or less by the position of the leaves. Close to the brim the events are immediate; and the nearness or the distance from the home is judged according to the position of the leaves away from the handle.
    § Leaves at the bottom of the cup generally forebode ill fortune. The left of the handle can be interpreted as to events passed or opportunities thrown away; the right side of the handle as present and future, usually good, except when cloudy or thick.
    § Serpentine Lines indicate roads or ways. If they appear in the clear are sure tokens of some fortunate changes at hand; surrounded by many dots they signify the gain of money, also long life. At the bottom of the cup, or surrounded by clouds, they indicate reverses past or future.
    § Dots signify gain by money and must be interpreted by the surroundings.
    § Circles indicate completion.
    § Wavy Lines show unsettlement.
    § Straight Lines signify a straight course.
    § A Cross Within a Circle indicates imprisonment, detention, hospital or other form of enforced restraint.
    § Dashes generally indicate enterprises afoot, but time must be given for maturity.”
    ○ The book goes on to describe all sorts of symbolism related to tea leaves, and what it means when they appear in different parts of the cup. It’s all very intuitive, and kind of reminds me of dream interpretation meanings.
    ○ So that’s about fortune telling in a regular teacup. Somewhere at the very end of the 19th century, special fortune telling teacups were made, with symbols that aided in tea leaf interpretation.
    • Types of fortune telling cups
    ○ First, want to acklowledge a major source for this: the website The Mystic Tea Room, which has extensive info about fortune telling teacups
    ○ There ended up being several types of fortune telling teacups: symbol cups, astrology cups, and cups that had playing cards printed on the inside called cartomancy cups.
    ○ I wanted to talk about a selection of cups that I thought were interesting or notable.
    ○ I found an article describing one from June 3, 1899 in The Standard Union, a newspaper in Brooklyn. It speaks pretty dismissively, opening with “A new addition for the afternoon tea table where maids do congregate is the future-telling tea cup. This latest addendum to the paraphenalia of the Soothsayer is wide and deep, with its inner surface covered with a network of lines and a border of stars, fishes, scorpions, lions and other signs of the zodiac.”
    ○ in a Feb 3, 1900 edition of the Knoxville Sentinel, which was surprisingly positive, maybe because it was an article about the cup, not about women performing tasseography. It had a nice description of the cup:
    § “The cup and saucer come, packed with tissue paper daintily in a box, with an accompanying book of explanation. The saucer is worked with circles and the cup is divided by geometrical lines, diverging from the center inside, i.e. the bottom, and crossed by circles like a globe. In the spaces thus formed are stars and the signs of the zodiac. The sun is indicated in the bottom of the cup, inside to shed light on the bank of tea leaves in whatsoever square they lie.”
    § Apparently the cup also came with an instruction manual, tho the author said it was unhelpful.
    ○ I think those articles were likely talking abut the Hanley’s Fortuna Cup, which was introduced in 1898 and which I think was the second fortune telling cup patented in the US.
    § The Fortuna Fortune Telling Cup has this sort of globe-like grid of lines, and the interpretation depended on a careful study of the accompanying booklet, which would explain how different placements of the tea leaves indicated different times of year, etc. It looks like it was very complicated, tho also very innovative, and a lot of future cups took inspiration from the Fortuna.
    ○ Aynsley Cup of Fortune Nelros (1904)
    § This was a cup made from bone china, with symbols and writing in red and black paint on the cup and saucer. It feels really Edwardian, with a sort of scalloped rim, curved edges, and a sort of pedestal-style base. Most of the versions of the Nelros have really nice, ornately curved handles.
    § My favorite feature of the cup was that it had a slogan written on the outside: If thou wouldst learn thy future with thy tea, this magic cup will show it thee
    § It was popular enough that there’s a whole chapter about it in the 1946 book Telling Fortunes By Tea Leaves by Cicely Kent
    □ However, while the book included a chapter about the cup, the book recommends only the cup, not the saucer that comes with it. The first page of the chapter says “I am not suggesting the use of the Nelros saucer, for the reason that its signs are somewhat obscure, and students who have no experience in the science of astrology would find it confusing, if used in addition to the cup, in which all needful signs are illustrated.”
    □ I feel very seen in that description, because despite some very earnest efforts, especially over the last 4-5 years, I just barely grasp some astrological stuff.
    § The Nelros Cup of Fortune ended up influencing many future fortune telling cups, such as:
    □ The Taltos Fortune Telling Cup, which was released in 1975. I don’t think the Taltos is as nice looking–it’s a pretty typical 1970s teacup with straight side, rather than the nicely curved Edwardian Nelros Cup of Fortune, and the illustrations are in full color with shading, and the words on the outside are a pretty 70s feeling script font. But despite the cosmetic differences, it’s basically the same cup in terms of content.
    □ There was a 1980 version, the Taltos Fortune Telling Cup by Royal Kendal, which looks basically the same as the other Taltos Fortune Telling Cup
    □ In 1985, there was the International Collectors Guild Zarka Fortune Telling Teacup Set, which also has, in my opinion, somewhat garish colors, though for some reason I find it a bit more charming than the Taltos cups which it’s basically a clone of. This was a Japanese cup that was sold for about 10 years, and you could send off for it from ads in tabloids, womens magazines, and gift catalogs.
    □ Finally, in 2001, Barnes & Noble introduced The Cup of Destiny by Jane Lyle, which is basically a dupe of the Nelros Cup of Fortune, though it sadly does not feature the fun text on the exterior of the cup.
    ® The shape of the Cup of Destiny is more pleasing to me than the Taltos cups, because it’s curved with the little pedestal base type thing, and has the nice little scalloped edges.
    ® It also features black and red paint, with simple, outlined shapes rather than full color illustrations. As a result, it looks a lot more occult than the Taltos cups of the 70s and 80s, which kinda just reminded me of childrens book illustrations or something.
    ® Of course, instead of being made of delicate, translucent bone china from England, it’s restaurant-grade stoneware manufactured in China. But hey, it’s vegan!
    ® I started googling this and discovered, to my surprise, that the Cup of Destiny is still being manufactured and sold today. 20 years seems like a long time to be producing such a niche gift item, but it does seem to be coming back into vogue now. I found it for sale at Urban Outfitters, which really says a lot about the trendiness of divination and occult imagery right now. However, pro tip, you can find it for sale cheaper at Target. I ordered one from Target for like $19.
    ® Okay, enough about modern cups, for now. We’d been talking about the 1904 Nelros Cup of Fortune, so let’s get back to the timeline of fortune telling cups.
    ○ I saw a number of articles in society pages in the 1910s talking about fortune telling cups being used as party favors, or as placecards. This was interesting to me, because while I saw alarmist articles about women doing tasseography and that meaning they were foolish, there didn’t seem to be quite the same moral panic about these fortune telling cups as there were about ouija boards. You know, unlike Ouija boards, the Catholic church didn’t ask someone to write about how the devil works through fortune telling teacups, for example.
    § It seems like these were more of a novelty.
    ○ Aynsley also produced a Cup of Knowledge starting around 1924, it seems, and they ended up making about a zillion permutations of that cup. It differs from the Nelros Cup of Fortune in that it features playing cards on the inside, rather than symbols, and the exterior often featured more ornamental elements, like flowers, ribbons, or solid pretty colors, rather than the fortune telling slogan.
    § In 1924, an event called the British Empire Exhibition was held in Wembley, England, and at least five china manufacturers made special fortune telling cups as souvenirs of the event. Aynsley produced several versions of the Cup of Knowledge featuring roses on the sides.
    § In 1937, they produced a souvenir Cup of Fortune to commemorate the coronation of King George VI–he’s the guy who Colin Firth played in The King’s Speech
    § There was one made in 1939 for the royal visit to Canada
    § Aynsley wasn’t the only manufacturer to make these commemorative cups, but I’m using them as an example because there were SO many versions of the Cup of Knowledge
    ○ Zancigs Cup of Destiny (1926) manufactured by Anchor http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Zancigs_Cup_of_Destiny
    ○ And now we get to the part where I need to give a disclaimer about cultural appropriation and racism when it comes to fortune telling cups and divination and witchy things in general.
    § This is a huge topic, one that I can’t do justice to here, but in general, if you run in occult or witchy circles at all, you know this is a big issue. And you’re probably very aware that people still constantly use the racial slur for Romani people when talking about witchy stuff–like for example, there’s plenty of that on instagram, or in etsy vendors shop names or product names, etc. It’s common enough that some people still may not be totally aware that it’s a racial slur–at least in the US, it’s considered a racial slur. I know this can vary from country to country, but there are about a million Romani people living in the US, and I live in the US, so in this context, it’s a slur. There are reasons behind that that are beyond the scope of this episode, but just google it if you want to know more.
    § Because of that, since the 19th century, the term Romani has been widely in use in English instead of the racial slur. But many people, I’d say in particular a certain type of witchy white, NON-Romani woman, still use the racial slur to describe themselves because they seem to think it means “free spirited” and “witchy” in an exotic way. You’ll also see that sort of language–either the slur, or the term Romany being used in an appropriative way, just to make a fortune telling product seem more authentic or exotic. So in a bit, I’ll talk some about the so-called “Romany” fortune telling tea cups that were produced in the 1930s.
    § Then, also, I saw this in both the Ouija board research that I did last year, and in the fortune telling cup research, but caricatures of Chinese people, and appropriations of Chinese culture, tend to be used for a similar purpose. I also saw a lot of that with Indian culture in the Ouija board. So. Not good.
    ○ I found a May 1931 article from the AP about a fortune-telling tea cup designed by a woman named Genevieve Wimsatt, the editor of one of the first English-language womens magazines in China. Her cup was adorned, supposedly, with Chinese symbols from antiquity, though I always find that kind of claim dubious. The article went on to describe how the teacup was used:
    § “When a fair bridge player drains her cup the other players look on with eager eyes to see if the tea leaves adhere to a duck, rabbit, or a piece of bamboo.”
    § I found an etsy listing for this cup, which was sold but you could look at the pictures, and it has a saucer with a yin yang in the center, where the cup goes, and then the saucer is edged with depictiosn of the animals of the chinese zodiac. The interior of the cup is covered in lots of little pictures, and the exterior shows a charactature of a chinese man holding something that looks like a narrow white flag or pennant.
    § I actually found her 1928 patent paperwork for the cup, and here’s the story behind the man on the cup:
    On the outside of the cup is the figure of Lu Tung Pin, the patron genius of fortune tellers, with his famous sword, the demon slayer,
    and his fly-whisk, the cloud sweeper, accompanied by the live red bats of happiness. The saucer is bordered with the twelve cyclical animals of Chinese geomancy.
    § The patent also explains exactly how to use the cup, which is pretty complicated, and has to do with where the leaves are, what animal on the saucer Lu Tung Pin’s fly-whisk points to, etc.
    ○ In the 1930s, there were a couple cartomancy cups called the Romany Cup of Fortune, one made in the US and one made in the UK.
    ○ In the course of researching all of this, I I ordered a fortune telling teacup, though it hasn’t arrived yet.
    § I got the Red Rose Cup of Fortune, which was made of bone china with 22K gold symbols, lettering, and trim, and was produced in England by Taylor & Kent in the 1964.
    § There are three versions of the Red Rose Cup of Fortune, which are numbered–I ordered set #1.
    § I’ve heard these cups described as promotional items, or “premiums” sold with Red Rose tea, so I’m assuming they were given away for free with some tea purchases.
    § You can find those pretty cheaply online–even with tax and shipping, the one I got was $30. As far as I can tell, these are some of the cheapest fortune telling cups you can buy these days.
    • Weird fortune telling cup stories
    Fortune telling cups today

 

Sources consulted RE: Fortune Telling Teacups

Books RE: Fortune Telling Teacups

Articles RE: Fortune Telling Teacups

  • 15 Jul 1893, Page 32 – The Railroad Telegrapher at Newspapers.com
  • Asheville Gazette News Sat Jul 16 1910
  • Baxter Springs News Thu Nov 16 1911
  • Beatrice Weekly Times Thu Nov 8 1900
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat May 17 1890
  • Buffalo Courier Sun Mar 8 1925
  • Buffalo Courier Wed Aug 3 1910
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express Sat Feb 1 1896
  • Chattanooga Daily Times Sun Jan 8 1899
  • Evening Star Sat Aug 1 1896
  • Fall River Daily Globe Tue May 23 1899
  • Great Bend Tribune Wed Mar 6 1907
  • Knoxville Sentinel Sat Feb 3 1900
  • Logansport Pharos Tribune Fri May 27 1898
  • Monrovia Daily News Fri Jan 17 1913
  • Monterey Daily Cypress Fri Aug 26 1910
  • Oakland Tribune Wed May 6 1931
  • Saskatoon Daily Star Wed Jul 5 1922
  • Star Tribune Fri Dec 1 1893
  • The Bessemer Herald Sat Feb 17 1912
  • The Daily Republican Fri Jul 26 1918
  • The Daily Telegram Sat Nov 8 1919
  • The Decatur Herald Thu Feb 1 1923
  • The Evening Herald Mon Sep 30 1912
  • The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Thu Feb 7 1895
  • The Honolulu Advertiser Thu Jan 7 1892
  • The Morning Astorian Sun Apr 19 1896
  • The Newcastle Weekly Courant Sat Jan 4 1896
  • The Ottawa Citizen Fri Aug 2 1901
  • The Ottawa Journal Mon Oct 24 1898
  • The Ottawa Journal Sat Dec 9 1899
  • The Ottawa Journal Sat Jan 26 1924
  • The Pomona Progress Sat Jul 15 1916
  • The Record Thu Aug 18 1927
  • The Standard Union Sat Jun 3 1899
  • The Winnipeg Tribune Thu Sep 13 1928
  • The Winnipeg Tribune Wed Sep 6 1922
  • Times Herald Fri May 20 1910
  • Wilkes Barre Semi Weekly Record Tue Aug 8 1899
  • Wilkes Barre Times Leader The Evening News Fri May 22 1908

Websites

  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/The_Museum_of_Fortune_Telling_Tea_Cups_and_Saucers
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/fortune-telling-tea-cups
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/tea-room-police-raids-new-york-psychics-fortune-telling
  • https://blog.etsy.com/en/short-stories-aynsley-nelros-cup-of-fortune/
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Fortune_Telling_Postcards_by_Fred_C._Lounsbury
  • https://www.sipsby.com/blogs/news/the-history-of-tea-leaf-reading
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasseography
  • Genevieve Wimsatt’s cup: https://www.etsy.com/listing/504597242/genevieve-wimsatt-chinese-fortune?show_sold_out_detail=1&ref=nla_listing_details
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Genevieve_B._Wimsatt
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Chinese_Fortune-Telling_Teacup
  • https://patents.google.com/patent/US1729235A/en
  • https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/antique-1931-chinese-fortune-telling-1863286616
  • 1920 patent for fortune telling cup: https://patents.google.com/patent/US1342223A/en?q=fortune+telling+cup&oq=fortune+telling+cup&sort=old
    Patent for disposable fortune telling cup, 2007:
  • https://patents.google.com/patent/JP2007030981A/en?q=fortune+telling+cup&oq=fortune+telling+cup
  • Combination scale and fortune-telling machine patent: https://patents.google.com/patent/US1774622A/en?q=fortune+telling+cup&oq=fortune+telling+cup&sort=old&page=1
  • Fortune telling game patent 1935: https://patents.google.com/patent/US2008357A/en?q=fortune+telling+cup&oq=fortune+telling+cup&sort=old&page=1
  • https://www.grimoire.org/teacup/
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Cup_of_Fortune_(1964)_Red_Rose
  • Cup of Destiny: https://www.urbanoutfitters.com/shop/the-cup-of-destiny-book-teacup-set?
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Zancigs_Cup_of_Destiny
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Taltos_Fortune_Telling_Cup_(1975)_Jon_Anton
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Taltos_Fortune_Telling_Cup_(1980)_Royal_Kendal
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Cup_of_Destiny_(2001)_Jane_Lyle_/_Barnes_and_Noble
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Courtney_Locke
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Aynsley_Cup_of_Knowledge_Art_Nouveau_Roses_Small
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Category:Cartomancy_Cups_and_Saucers
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Category:Cup_of_Knowledge_(2)_Aynsley
  • https://rogueandwolf.com/products/ouija-mug
  • https://us.killstar.com/products/zodiac-cup-saucer
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Killstar_Zodiac
  • https://us.killstar.com/products/cosmic-tea-cup-saucer
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Killstar_Cosmic
  • https://www.etsy.com/search?q=fortune%20telling%20cup%20vintage
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/1004265916/antique-aynsley-nelros-cup-of-knowledge?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=fortune+telling+cup+vintage&ref=sr_gallery-1-22&organic_search_click=1&frs=1
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/886884943/vintage-fortune-telling-cup-and-saucer?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=fortune+telling+cup+vintage&ref=sr_gallery-1-25&organic_search_click=1&sca=1
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/601068536/vintage-fortune-telling-cup-saucer-tarot?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=fortune+telling+cup+vintage&ref=sr_gallery-1-24&organic_search_click=1&sca=1
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/574694054/vintage-fortune-telling-cup-saucer?ref=shop_home_recs_2
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/611875919/vintage-royal-kendall-fortune-telling?ref=shop_home_recs_3
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/627658306/vintage-jon-anton-fortune-telling-cup?ref=shop_home_recs_4&sca=1
  • https://www.misshavishamscuriosities.com/store/p497/Vintage_Rosebud_Fortune_Cup_and_Saucer.html#/
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/905492926/rare-authentic-aynsley-1920s-the-nelros?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=fortune+telling+cup+vintage&ref=sr_gallery-1-49&organic_search_click=1&frs=1&cns=1

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at the caladrius, a fancy legendary bird that could supposedly diagnose and heal illnesses. Plus weird info about medieval bestiaries, and more.

Highlights include:
• A weird supposed cure for blindness
• A visit to the Cloisters
• A video game that makes you feel like a wizard
• A bit of unicorn lore

Other stuff I mentioned:
The Last Unicorn youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M57VN_b9FRM
Atlas of the Mysterious in North America by Rosemary Ellen Guiley: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1460616.Atlas_of_the_Mysterious_in_North_America
Waltz of the Wizard: https://www.aldin.io/waltzofthewizard/

Episode Script

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • Cloisters
    • Unicorn tapestries
    • Narwhal/unicorn horn cup
  • The Last Unicorn: Death and the Legacy of Fantasy youtube video by chromalore
    • Unicorn lore
    • The movie
    • 80s fantasy movies in general
    • And in speaking of unicorn lore, I read a fun little description of a unicorn in a bestiary translation I read while preparing this episode; this is from an 1887 lecture I’ll talk more about later:
      • “The unicorn is a beautiful animal, with the
      • body of a horse, the head of a stag, and the feet of an elephant, having on its forehead a straight sharp horn, four feet long. In the Psalms (Ps. cii, 10) it says, “My horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn.” The unicorn is so fierce that the elephant hates it, but the claws on the feet of the unicorn are so sharp that it pierces the elephant’s body with them and kills it.
      • The horn of the unicorn is so powerful that the hunter dares not go near it, but the animal can be caught by stratagem in the [346] following manner. A pure virgin of great beauty is sent on alone in front of the hunters into the wood where the unicorn dwells, and as soon as it sees her immediately it runs towards her and kneels down and lays its head on her lap quite simply. Whilst the unicorn sleeps there the hunters seize it and hasten off with it to the royal palace.”
  • More about bestiaries:
    • Lecture VI: The Medieval Bestiaries from Early Christian Symbolism in Great Britain and Ireland before the Thirteenth Century (The Rhind Lectures in Archaeology for 1885) by J. Romilly Allen, 1887:
    • “It is not known who wrote the original bestiary, of which all subsequent versions are only variants. The earliest MS. copies are in Latin, and do not date back beyond the eighth century, and by far the greater proportion of the illustrated editions belong to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The bestiary differs fundamentally from all modern treatises on natural history, and is really more like a children’s picture-book of animals. The zoologist of the present day dissects all his specimens, and classifies them according to species, as revealed by minute investigations as to the structure of the body. The mediaeval naturalist was a theologian first, and a man of science after. His theories were founded partly on texts of Scripture, rightly or wrongly interpreted, partly on the writings of Pliny, and partly on the supposed derivations of the names, mixed up with all kinds of marvellous stories such as are found in the folk-lore of all nations . . .
    • Traces are also shown of a belief in the arts of magic, as in the story of the Woodpecker, who knows of a herb that can unlock all things closed with iron or wood, and is able to unloose all things that are bound,—recalling the legend in the Speculum Sancte Marie Virginis, of the worm whose blood has power to break glass and allow the young ostrich to escape from the vessel in which it was imprisoned by Solomon.
    •  The history of the whale in the bestiary is related in the story of Sindbad the Sailor in the Arabian Nights, and also occurs in the legend­ary Life of St. Brendan. The narratives of the Syren, the Centaur, Argus the Cowherd, with his hundred eyes, in the bestiary are of purely classical origin, adapted subsequently to Christian purposes. So much for the sources whence the writers of the bestiary drew their inspiration, now as to the book itself. The number of beasts, including birds, fish, insects, and fabulous creatures, varies from 24 to 40 in the different versions, but they are in all cases treated in a similar fashion: first, there is a miniature of the animal, then a description of its appearance, habits, stories con­nected with it, and lastly, a moral, pointing out the spiritual significance and its application to the Christian life. It must be admitted that this eternal moralising becomes extremely tedious, and the writers of the bestiaries evidently found it so them-selves, as they are continually telling their readers to pay atten­tion, and not to allow their thoughts to wander from the subject, and are never tired of insisting on the importance of the good to be derived from the concluding moral.
    •  . . . The merit of the different stories and their application varies greatly, some being extremely forcible, such as that of the whale, whose sudden plunge into the depths of the ocean is dramatic to a degree, and sends a thrill of horror through the mind. Some are very poetic and beautiful, such as the eagle flying up towards the sun; some are revolting and indecent; others far-fetched or absurd, as when one learns that the pretty little hedgehog, knocking down grapes off the vine and carrying them away on its spines, is the Devil robbing men of their souls.”
    • The lecturer goes on to say that there are two reasons why bestiaries are what they are: 1) there are animals mentioned in the bible, and there was a need to comment more on those animals, and 2) people loved moralizing.
    • Also, just for the record, I feel like half the animals in the bestiary represent Christ in some way. Like the unicorn, the phoenix, etc. A lot of creatures have myths about dying and coming back to life, or about being pure and getting killed, etc. And then the other half of animals represent the devil, like many of the deadly serpents I talked about last time.
  • The lecturer also talks about how bestiaries got so silly:
    • “The bestiary contains many mistakes, due to mistranslation, the result of sheer ignorance, or confounding together words of similar sound; (2) confusing one animal with another from want of zoological knowledge; and to a wish to identify certain animals mentioned in the Bible with fabulous creatures of classical origin, such as centaurs, syrens, dragons, etc.”
  • In this 1887 lecture, I also found a bit more fun info about the basilisk or cockatrice, which I talked about last time:
    • “The basilisk is hatched from the egg of a cock. When the cock has lived seven years an egg grows in its inside, and it suffers the greatest agony. It then scratches a hole with its feet in which to lay the egg. The toad is of such a nature that it can tell by the scent the poison which the cock carries in its inside. The toad watches the cock, so that it cannot enter its nest without the toad seeing it, and when the cock goes to lay its egg the toad follows to find [390] out whether the laying has taken place, because it is of such a nature that it takes the egg and hatches it. The animal which comes out of the egg has the head, neck, and breast of a cock, and the remainder of its body behind is like a serpent. As soon as this beast can it seeks out some secluded spot in an old cistern and hides itself so that no one can see it, for it is of such a nature that if a man sees it before it sees the man, then it will die, but if it sees the man first, then the man will die. Its poison proceeds from its eyes, and its gaze is so venomous that it kills birds who fly past it. This animal is king over all the other serpents, in the same way that the lion is king over all the other beasts. If it touches a tree it will lose its virtue and never bear fruit. If anyone wishes to kill the basilisk he must take a transparent crystal vase, and when the animal lifts its head its gaze is arrested by the crystal, and the venom thrown back, which causes its death.
    • The basilisk signifies the Devil, that same Satan who deceived Adam and Eve in Paradise, and being expelled, was cast down into hell. Thus, for 4,000 years all who came from Adam were poisoned by him, and would fall into the pit with the basilisk, that is, into hell with the Devil. The son of a king then was grieved that the beast was so venomous, and that it would kill everybody, so he determined that it should live no longer or do harm. Therefore the king placed his son in a vessel of the purest crystal, that is to say, that the Son of God entered the body of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. When the basilisk looked on the vessel which contained the Son of God, his poison was arrested, and he became powerless to harm. When the son of the king, Jesus Christ, was laid in the sepulchre, he entered into the pit and took hence His friends whom the basilisk had fasci­nated and killed with his poison, that is to say, that God despoiled hell of those who love Him.”
  • Caladrius, aka the charadrius
    • I stumbled across this one when I was looking through the Aberdeen Bestiary, which as the name suggests, is a 12th century bestiary at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Finding the caladrius was actually what made me decide to do this little mini-series on medieval creatures.
    • The bestiary has a illustration of a king in bed, sort of languidly shrinking away from a slinky, large white bird with a long neck.
    • I don’t love the accompanying text in the bestiary, because it’s very religious and moralizing, which is normal for bestiaries, and also kinda anti-Semetic, but the drawing really struck me, and I looked up this weird creature, the caladrius.
    • From THE CALADRIUS AND ITS LEGEND, SCULPTURED UPON THE TWELFTH-CENTURY DOORWAY OF ALNE CHURCH, YORKSHIRE By GEORGE C. DRUCE, F.S.A. Originally published in Archaeological Journal (Royal Archaeological Institute of London) Volume 69, 1912 :
      • Latin text of MS. 12. F xiii, of the early thirteenth century, in the British Museum
      • “The Caladrius or Caradrius, as the Natural Philosopher says, is all white like the swan, and has a long neck. The dung of its inside cures blindness (caliginem oculorum). This bird is found in the courts of kings. If anyone is ill, by means of this caladrius it can be found out if he will live or die. For if the man is destined to die, it turns its face away from him, and by this sign people know that he is going to die. If he is destined to live, it directs itself towards his face, and as though it would take all the illness of the man upon itself, it flies into the air towards the sun, burning up as it were his infirmity and dispersing it; and so the sick man is cured.”
      • thirteenth-century illustrated manuscript of the first version in the British Museum (Sloane 278):
        • “If (the sick man) is destined to get better and be cured, the caladrius addresses itself intently to him, and approaching, puts its beak upon the man’s mouth, and by its breathing draws out all the man’s sickness into itself, and flying into the air towards the sun, burns up his sickness, and disperses it, and the sick man is cured.”
  • Some versions of the lore seem to suggest that sometimes the caladrius gets sick and dies instead of the human dying.
  • Picardy prose bestiary (MS. 3516) of the thirteenth century in the Arsenal Library, Paris:
    • “If a man should have his eyes running or rolling the caladrius has such a nature that it can cure the eyes by the divine virtue which it possesses; it is in its thigh, if one applies it; such virtue has the thigh of the caladrius.”
  • Philip de Thaun says:
    • “The bird has a great bone in its thigh; if the man who is blind has the marrow of it, and will anoint his eyes, he will immediately recover (his sight).”
  • Here’s what Plutarch had to say about the bird, around 80 AD:
    • “we know how often those who suffer from jaundice are healed by looking at the bird charadrius. This small animal seems to be endowed with such a nature and character, that it violently attracts to itself the disease, which slips out of the body of the sick man into its own, and draws off from his eyes as it were a stream of moisture. And this is the reason why the charadrius cannot endure to look at jaundiced persons nor help them at all, but turns itself away with closed eyes; not because it grudges the use of the remedy which is sought from it, as some consider, but because it might be wounded as by a blow.”
  • A 12th centuy author named Suidas said:
    • “They say that this is a disease [jaundice] producing paleness, which arises from anger, so that it makes the eyes of those who are overpowered by it pale and sometimes black, like (the eyes) of kites, from which also it takes its name. They say too “that those who suffer from jaundice are easily cured by looking at a bird, the charadrius.” The charadrius is a bird of such nature that if those who are suffering from jaundice look at it, as report goes, they more easily get rid of that disease. For which reason also the sellers (of the bird) hide it, lest those who are suffering from jaundice should be cured for nothing.”
  • ANother MS says:
  • “Caladrius is the name of a bird, which we find without any doubt to be entirely white: it is shaped as a seagull; in the book of Deuteronomy it is [388] said that it must not be eaten; that very dear is the bird.11 And Physiologus says that the caladrius ought to be in the court of a king, and about one thing is learned.”
  • One unusual description of the caladrius says that it has “straight horns like a goat” though it doesn’t seem that many sources say that.
  • It turns out that the caladrius came from Roman mythology, and the idea was that it was this white bird that lived in the king’s palace. When someone was sick, the caladrius could absorb the illness and fly away, which would cure the sick person, and the caladrius would be fine too–some places suggested that the illness would be burned up by the sun as the caladrius flew up high.
  • Medieval bestiaries focused not as much on the idea of the caladrius taking away sickness; instead, they talked about how the caladrius could diagnose illness. When someone was sick, the caladrius would perch on the bed, and if the bird looked at the sick person, then they would live. But if they looked away, then the person would die.
    • Oh and the caladrius was supposed to represent Christ, even thought it was also seen as an “unclean” bird
  • Some people say that the caladrius may have been inspired by a real bird, like a dove, thrush, heron, or plover. It seems that it was thought of as a sea bird, at least. Other places, it’s suggested that the caladrius maybe had curly feathers.
  • There was also a SNL sketch in the 70s called Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber that you can find on youtube, which features a caladrius.
  • Crow
  • Lion
    • I didn’t know this until reading it at the Cloisters on Friday, but apparently lions were connected with Jesus and the divine because they had three natures, one of which was that they were born dead and then came to life three days later, like Christ rising from the dead.
  • To read a bit more from the 1887 essay Lecture VI: The Medieval Bestiaries:
    • “The third nature of the lion is, that when the lioness brings forth a cub it is dead,23 and in this state she guards it until upon the third day the father comes and brings it to life by breathing in its face.”

Sources consulted RE: the Caladrius

Websites

  • https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/fantastic-beasts-of-the-middle-ages/xQKCn9wmjCVVJg
  • https://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/ms24/f57r
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caladrius
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberdeen_Bestiary
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/druce1912/druce%20-%20caladrius%20and%20its%20legend.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/allen1887/allen%20-%20medieval%20bestiaries.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/collins1913/collins1913.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/collins1913/symbolism%20of%20animals%20and%20birds%20-%20collins.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/collins1940/collins%20-%20some%2012th%20century%20animal%20carvings%20and%20their%20sources%20in%20the%20bestiaries.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/douglas1928/douglas%20-%20birds%20and%20beasts%20of%20the%20greek%20anthology.pdfhttp://bestiary.ca/etexts/druce1912/druce1912.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast143.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/druce1912/druce%20-%20caladrius%20and%20its%20legend.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/evans1896/evans1896.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/james1931/james%20-%20bestiary%20-%20eton.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/james1932/james1932.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charadrius
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/druce1912/druce%20-%20caladrius%20and%20its%20legend.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beastgallery143.htm#
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/allen1887/allen%20-%20medieval%20bestiaries.pdf

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at some weird medieval creatures from legend and lore. Plus some stories about some recent cemetery visits in Queens, New York, including Houdini’s grave.

Highlights include:
• An ancient, impenetrable European forest
• A magical glowing bird
• A dragon with a rooster’s head

Episode Script for Weird Medieval Creatures

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • This is a just-for-fun kind of episode–to be honest, things have been really hectic at work and I’ve been too exhausted to do one of my real deep-dive episodes, even though I’ve been doing research for more cemetery episodes and also some Hellgate stuff as I have time.
  • Though in theory I took a whole semester of college just learning about medieval history, theology, art, and literature, like I’ve said before, I’m not an expert in anything, and I definitely am not very well positioned to give a very intelligent historical context for these creatures, though I’ll give whatever context I can.
    • But to be honest, I literally just love looking at old medieval bestiaries and find the animals funny. I haven’t talked a ton about medieval stuff on the podcast, but if you follow the podcast on instagram, I repost a decent number of medieval accounts on my stories, and have mentioned my love of the Met Cloisters, which is maybe my favorite museum. It’s in upper Manhattan, in the middle of a really cool park with a view of the NJ palisades and the Hudson River. It’s basically a big medieval cloister full of tapestries, stained glass, and other medieval art and artifacts, but it’s really immersive. It’s a cloister that was brought over from Europe, and they have medieval-type plants growing everywhere, including a garden of magical plants. Also, pre-pandemic, they had an annual renaissance fair that I went to once, which was really cool, it had fencing and stuff. I have my problems with the Met museum as an institution, but I can’t stop loving the cloisters, it’s just so cool.
    • So while my knowledge of actual medieval history is iffy, I have a lot of enthusiasm for the aesthetic, and a lot of the time I zone out and unwind by going through scans of medieval manuscripts on the internet and trying to find weird medieval creatures. We all have our hobbies, I guess.
  • So last weekend I was really exhausted and relaxing by going through some cool medieval manuscripts and ended up googling some animals and got wrapped up in reading about different medieval beasts. I want to go into them here.
    • But before I get into that, sidenote, if you’re into medieval stuff at all, google Black books of hours–there some medieval manuscripts where they dyed the vellum black before illuminating them. There aren’t many of them–I think there are only 7–but they look so cool. Unfortunately, I guess the ink they used to dye them was corrosive so the surviving manuscripts are in bad shape, but still, they’re wild looking/
  • The main source I used here is bestiary.ca, which lists a bunch of creatures and has information about each one.
    • I went through their list, which has a one-line description of each critter, which is very funny to me because some of them are real animals and the description is hilarious, at least to me.  So I’m gonna go through some of the animals that I found most interesting or funny.
    • And I guess a final sidenote before I get into these creatures: some of the descriptions of what these animals can do are very metal. I’ve had several people mention that sometimes they listen to this with their kids around, and this is generally a lighthearted episode, but if anyone’s listening with their kids, just make sure they aren’t scared of deadly animals.
  • Seps
    • Description: The poison of the seps consumes both body and bones
    • In Bestiary.ca, the illustration of a Seps looks like a snake with a cat, or maybe a mean looking bunny head.
    • This is a legendary, imaginary creature
    • Basically, this was a little snake with a big power: it was very deadly when it bit you, and it’s poison literally dissolve your body and bones
    • There’s this amazing description from a Roman poet named Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, or Lucan, which I wanted to read:
      • Clinging to his skin / A Seps with curving tooth, of little size, / He seized and tore away, and to the sands / Pierced with his javelin. Small the serpent’s bulk; / None deals a death more horrible in form. / For swift the flesh dissolving round the wound / Bared the pale bone; swam all his limbs in blood; / Wasted the tissue of his calves and knees: / And all the muscles of his thighs were thawed / In black distilment, and file membrane sheath / Parted, that bound his vitals, which abroad / Flowed upon earth: yet seemed it not that all / His frame was loosed, for by the venomous drop / Were all the bands that held his muscles drawn / Down to a juice; the framework of his chest / Was bare, its cavity, and all the parts / Hid by the organs of life, that make the man
  • Next up is another imaginary serpent, the Scitalis
    • Descrip: A serpent with such a marvelous appearance that it stuns the viewer
    • That reminds me a bit of  a basilisk, though for the scitalis, it’s these beautiful and strange markings that run along their back and transfix people. It was supposed to be very slow moving, so it relied on people being stupified so it could get them.
    • Also it apparently was a very warm-blooded snake, so even during the winter it had to shed its skin.
  • Wether
    • The description of this made me crack up: The wether is named from the worms in its head
    • They were supposed to stronger-than-average rams that head butted each other because they were agitating by the worms in their head, because I guess they were itchy
    • The accompanying drawing just looked like a normal ram to me.
  • Sea-pig
    • Just the name of this made me laugh
    • The description: Sea-pigs dig up the ground under water
    • The drawing is like a fish with a pig snout, and the idea was that I guess like regular pigs, they would use their snout to dig around in the sand to find food
    • There is a real animal called a sea pig that’s a deep-water sea cucumber that digs around in the sediment and eats stuff that it finds there, but I doubt the medieval people knew of it, since the real sea big is found around 1,200-5,000 meters under water
  • Cerastes
    • Description: An exceptionally flexible serpent with horns
    • These were supposed to be so flexible that they had no spine, yet they had either four horns, or two horns like a ram’s. They would bury themselves in sand, and when animals would gather around  the exposed horns, it would strike and kill them instantly.
    • They came from Greek lore, but even in the Renaissance it seems like people were still talking about them. Here’s how Leonardo da Vinci described their behavior:
      • This has four movable little horns; so, when it wants to feed, it hides under leaves all of its body except these little horns which, as they move, seem to the birds to be some small worms at play. Then they immediately swoop down to pick them and the Cerastes suddenly twines round them and encircles and devours them.
    • In the drawing that accompanies that one, it has little front feet
    • The Cerastes actually comes from Greek lore that was said to reside in the desert.
    • I guess it was supposed to be small–the largest animals they could attack were mice and small lizards
    • People suppose that this mythical creature was based on the real horned viper, which ended up with the scientific name cerastes cerastes because of the legendary creature
  • Echeneis
    • The description of this one is: This fish clings to ships and holds them back
    • The idea was that this was a 6-inch-long fish in the Indian sea that could suction onto the bottom of a boat and delay its voyage. Even storm winds couldn’t move a boat when this fish decided to anchor it in place.
    • Pliny the elder, who always has funny things to say about animals, plants, and magic, talked about some of the fish’s metaphysical properties:
      • “It is also the source of a love-charm and a spell to slow litigation in courts, and can be used to stop fluxes of the womb in pregnant women and to hold back the birth until the proper time. This fish is not eaten. Some say this fish has feet; Aristotle says it does not, but that its limbs resemble wings.”
    • This seems obviously inspired by the real-life fish the remora, and from what I can gather, it seems like Pliny the Elder uses remora and echeneis interchangeably. Pliny the Elder told stories about how the remora was responsible for Mark Antony’s death during battle, as well as Caligula’s.
    • The real fish, the remora, in case you don’t know, has a suction cup sort of thing on it, and it usually attaches to a shark, sea turtle, whale, or ray. They’re supposed to have a symbiotic relationship, where they get rid of their host’s dead skin and ectoparasites, and they’re also protected by being attached to the larger animals.
  • Hercinia
    • Description: A bird with brightly glowing feathers
    • My favorite kind of medieval critters: a bird
    • These were supposed to be found in the forests of Germany. Specifically, they lived in an ancient German forest called the Hercynian Forest (hence the name hercinia). It was a huge forest that spread across Western Central Europe, though it’s kinda unclear exactly how far it stretched. Basically, it was the northern edge of the part of Europe that writers in antiquity were aware of.
      • The forest was basically impenetrable. For example, during Julius Caesar’s time, the forest blocked the Roman Legions from going further into Germania. Caesar wrote in his book De Bello Gallico, he said that it would take more than 60 days to walk its width.
      • I guess he was fascinated by the forest, including old stories of unicorns. He also wrote about elk with no joints so to sleep they would lean against the ancient trees
      • Pliny the Elder was also fascinated by the ancient, deep forest, and its legends, and he talked about the glowing birds with feathers that “shine like fires at night”
      • The forest also contained real, though now extinct animals, the aurochs, which were huge cattle that lived in Asia, Europe, and North Africa, but which died out n the 1600s, when the last of them died in the woods
    • While this deep, dark forest doesn’t exist anymore, there are some remnants of it, like the Black Forest and some other woods in the area.
    • The idea was that they were so bright that even on the darkest night, their glowing wings would light the way ahead.
    • Some manuscripts adorned depictions of them with gold or silver leaf, since they were shiny.
    • The 7th century writer Isidore of Seville wrote a really poetic description:
      • “Their feathers sparkle so much in the shade that, however dark the night is with thick shadows, these feathers, when placed on the ground, give off light that helps to mark the way, and the sign of the glittering feathers makes clear the direction of the path.”
    • I found a poem by the 18th/19th century Irish poet Thomas Moore that had some cool glowing bird imagery. This is a bit from his poem A Dream of Antiquity:
      • “And now the fairy pathway seemed
      • To lead us through enchanted ground,
      • Where all that bard has ever dreamed
      • Of love or luxury bloomed around.
      • Oh! ’twas a bright, bewildering scene–
      • Along the alley’s deepening green
      • Soft lamps, that hung like burning flowers,
      • And scented and illumed the bowers,
      • Seemed, as to him, who darkling roves,
      • Amid the lone Hercynian groves,
      • Appear those countless birds of light,
      • That sparkle in the leaves at night,
      • And from their wings diffuse a ray
      • Along the traveller’s weary way.”
  • Apparently there’s a question of whether this creature, or a version of it, ever existed. Some birds have iridescent features that reflect moonlight, and it’s possible that people were seeing birds with bioluminescent fungi or bacteria
  • Ichneumon
    • Description: Another enemy of the dragon
    • This was a creature that, when it saw a dragon, would burrow into the mud, cover its nostrils with its tail, and then attack and kill the unaware dragon. Some people also claimed that it could also kill asps and crocodiles in the same way
    • It sounds like this was maybe a mongoose, or something rodent-like
    • One of the ichneumon’s special powers was that it could look at a medieval creature called the cockatrice without turning to stone
  • So let’s talk about the Cockatrice, also known as the basilisk
    • The description of a basilisk is: Its odor, voice and even look can kill
    • On the bestiary.ca page, the basilisk, or cockatrice, is shown a two-legged dragon with a rooster’s head. Though it can also be just a crested snake–it doesn’t necessarily need to have a rooster’s head, or be a rooster with a snake tail.
    • Pliny the Elder said that the basilisk was a foot long (though some people said 6 inches), and it had white markings on its head that looked like crown
    • The smell of the basilisk could kill snakes. It breathed fire out of its mouth, or beak, I guess, which could kill birds. Some accounts said that no matter how far away a bird was, if a basilisk looked at a bird, it would die.
    • And a human could be killed if the basilisk looked at them, or maybe if the human sees the basilisk’s eyes, depending on who’s telling the story. Pliny the Elder tells a story about the basilisk’s poison being so strong that a man speared a basilisk and then was killed when the poison travelled up his spear and got to him. The poison also killed his horse.
    • It can also kill just by hissing. So a very deadly creature.
    • The basilisk could only be killed by a weasel. You get the weasel, throw it into a basilisk’s den, and then basilisk is killed by the smell of the weasel at the same time as the weasel dies from the smell of the basilisk.
    • If you’ve ever been to Belvedere castle in Central park, there’s supposedly a cockatrice in the window over the doorway to that, though it looks more like a two-legged dragon, like a wyvern
    • some stories say that the basilsik was created by a rooster laying an egg and a toad incubating it, and it seems like they may have been seen as the same thing
    • There was also an ancient Egyptian story about how the eggs of the ibis should be destroyed because otherwise the poison of the snakes that ibis ate would create a hybrid snake-bird
    • Apparently you could prevent a cockatrice from hatching by tossing a cock’s egg over the house so it lands on the other side of the house without the egg hitting the house
    • And I looked it up, a cock egg is basically like an egg with no yolk, which younger chickens sometimes lay before they can lay normal eggs, but back in the day people assume that cocks were laying the egg
    • The cockatrice could kill people by looking at them, touching them, or breathing on them
    • Though the living basilisk is extremely deadly, the basilisk’s ashes were apparently very useful in alchemy, when transforming metals

 

 

Sources consulted RE: Weird Medieval Creatures

Websites

  • https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/fantastic-beasts-of-the-middle-ages/xQKCn9wmjCVVJg
  • https://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/ms24/f57r
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caladrius
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast270.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_books_of_hours
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hours,_Morgan_MS_493
    http://bestiary.ca/prisources/psdetail964.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seps_(legendary_creature)
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast271.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scitalis
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast552.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast417.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotoplanes
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast532.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerasteshttp://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast422.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echeneis
  • https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D9%3Achapter%3D41
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remora#Mythologyhttp://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast539.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercinia
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercynian_Forest
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurochs
  • http://bestiary.ca/articles/anne_walshe/index.html
  • https://internetpoem.com/thomas-moore/a-dream-of-antiquity-poem/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Moore
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast541.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichneumon_(medieval_zoology)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yolkless_egg
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockatrice
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast265.htm

Don’t miss past episodes:

The Moore-Jackson Cemetery, a colonial-era cemetery sits in a quiet residential part of Woodside, Queens, in New York City.

Forgotten for years, and even used as a dump for construction materials and other detritus, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery recently been transformed into a beautiful community garden. Here’s the story behind the cemetery and the people buried there.

Highlights include:
• Loyalists living in Revolutionary War-era Queens, NY
• The city trying to illegally seize the cemetery at the behest of a developer
• A hot-potato cemetery

Check out the Moore-Jackson Cemetery/Garden’s website for more info and historical articles: https://www.moorejacksonnyc.org/

Pictures of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Episode Script for the Moore-Jackson Cemetery

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • Back when I originally became aware of this cemetery, in 2012, this was a forgotten colonial cemetery easily mistaken for an empty lot, a few blocks away from my old apartment). Out of all of the abandoned cemeteries I’ve talked about so far for this series, this is the first one I learned about, totally by accident, and the one I spent the most time near. I walked by it twice a day 5 days a week on my way to and from the subway, since it’s on 54th street and 31st avenue in Woodside, a block or so away from the subway.
  • I remember shortly after I moved to Woodside, I was walking by what seemed like an empty lot, and then I realized there was a small sign on it that said Moore-Jackson Cemetery. It was completely overgrown, and it was really hard to see the headstones. It’s basically just sandwiched between some apartment buildings, and it’s really small, about half an acre.
  • Since then the cemetery has found a new life as a community garden and it looks really different–it’s great that it’s been cleaned up and is now both better maintained but also able to be a place for the community to have access to.
  • So let’s look at the history of this cemetery. First off, who were the Moores?
    • You will have heard of the Moores because Clement Clark Moore, a member of the family, wrote Twas the Night Before Christmas. Clement C. Moore was famous for having lived on his family estate, Chelsea, in Manhattan, though. Clement C. Moorewas not a great dude–as a professor at Columbia, he argued against abolition. He became very rich selling off parts of Chelsea, which of course became the neighborhood we now know today as Chelsea.
    • But the Moores we’re looking at today are the Queens Moores.
    • According to the 1920 book Queens Borough, New York City, 1910-1920, the Moores built a house at Broadway and what was then known as Shell Road, in 1661. I think that shell road is now 45th Avenue, according to something I read in Forgotten New York. The house was built by Captain Samuel Moore, who was the son of Reverend John Moore.
      • Reverend John Moore was the great-great-great grandfather of Clement C. Moore, btw.
      • John Moore apparently laid out the area of Newtown–when I read that, I  assumed that meant that he decided where the streets were, etc.
      • But it actually sounds like his “contribution” went beyond that. John Moore supposedly purchased the Newtown from the Mespeatches tribe, for whom the present-day neighborhood of Maspeth is named.
      • However, something to know here is that these sorts of “purchases” should be seen as very suspect. I’ve been doing some research on this and want to talk more about it on a future episode.
    • But to get back to the Moore home:
      • As of 1920, it was still standing, and still owned by the Moore family, though the Board of Transportation bought it in 1930.
      • I wanted to read a bit from a Forgotten New York article about the site:
        • “In the Dirty Thirties, NYC was relentless about bulldozing or otherwise destroying historic properties before preservation laws were on the books, and the Moore homestead didn’t survive the construction of the new IND subway under Broadway in 1933. . . . Meanwhile, two Moore burying grounds survive: a hidden one in a playground at 90th Street and 56th Avenue, and the Moore-Jackson Cemetery on 54th Street between 31st and 32nd Avenues in Woodside.”
  • Out of the two cemeteries, the one we’re interested in is the 54th street site.
    • The cemetery was established in 1733, and the final burial in the cemetery was in 1867. The Moores used to have a farm nearby, which Samuel Moore bought in 1684. The property had a farmhouse that stood from 1705-1901.
    • It’s the Moore family cemetery, but it’s called the Moore-Jackson Cemetery because a man named John Jackson married into the family. It sounds like he owned a lot of land so it really increased the family’s land holdings. Jackson wasn’t actually buried in Moore-Jackson cemetery, however: he’s buried in Elmhurst, Queens, in the churchyard of St. James Episcopal Church.
  • There’s a great Forgotten New York article from 2008 about the cemetery; I remember reading it when I first discovered this cemetery back in 2012. I wanted to read a bit from that:
    • “Moore-Jackson Cemetery’s condition has waxed and waned over the centuries. By the 1910s, Nathaniel Moore’s dictum that it not be sold was holding firm, but the burial ground had become a weed-filled dump.
    • The Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the cemetery in 1919 and was able to locate 42 identifiable monuments, which were inscribed on a survey map that you can find reproduced in Woodside: A Historical Perspective by Catherine Gregory (Woodside on the Move, 1994). When construction of the houses you see above began in 1924 the cemetery was used as a rubbish dump. The NYC Department of Health ordered it cleaned of weeds and litter, and by then it was so overgrown that workers were amazed to discover headstones within. The chain link fence was erected in 1956, but the cemetery continued to be plagued by neglect at times. By the 1990s a more concerted effort was made and the cemetery’s condition has stabilized.”
  • There are definitely a number of recognizable names buried in this cemetery, which you may remember from previous episodes, such as members of the Rapelye family, and the Hallett family (of Hallett’s cove and Hallett’s point fame.) There are also Blackwells and Berrians buried there. Also, after  Nathaniel Moore, Jr, died in 1827, his son in law, Robert Blackwell, purchased the farm.
  • I wanted to read one inscription that I liked, from a brown stone that was listed as “poor” and “rotted” in a 1919 survey of the cemetery:
    • —YTON,—this life—1803;—4 months, 20 days.
    • Behold and see as you pass by
    • As you are now so once was I
    • As I am now so you must be
    • Prepare for death and follow me.
  • There’s a great NYT article from September 17, 2000, when Sheehan, the man who owns Lawrence Cemetery, which I talked about a few weeks ago, has some choice words to say about the Moore-Jackson Cemetery. So to read a bit from that:
    • “The Queens borough historian Stanley Cogan has a special interest in preserving family cemeteries, but he said he realized that obtaining financing for graveyard preservation was difficult. Several months ago, he got financing for a brief exploratory dig at the Jackson-Moore cemetery in Jackson Heights, which belonged to two wealthy families known for their loyalties to the English crown. When Mr. Sheehan heard about the dig, he was shocked. ”The Jackson-Moore cemetery is full of Tories,” he said. ”These people,” he added, gesturing to the tombstones in his graveyard, ”are American heroes.””
    • In fact, the house I was talking about earlier, the one that was levelled and made into a playground, was actually used as the Long Island headquarters of British General William Howe. I also read that the British General Clinton had his headquarters there, and that from there, he planned the invasion of Manhattan.
    • Also, Nathaniel Moore was accused of smuggling and stockpiling weapons that would be used against the Patriots.
    • I read somewhere that the patriots in Newtown all fled .
    • RE Maspeth (from a 1991 archaeological report prepared in order to build a sludge treatment plant in maspeth):
      • “During the Revolution considerable numbers of the people joined the loyalists, and the county was mostly in quiet possession of the enemy” (French 1860:545). “The village (of Maspeth] was of importance in the Revolutionary war; from the porch of the Old Queen’s Head tavern, which stood near the corner of Fifty-eight street and Maspeth Avenue, General Howe watched his troops embark triumphantly, after the Battle of Long Island, down Maspeth Creek for Manhattan” (WPA 1939: 579)
      •  “In summer and in winter the soldiers [British] spent their idle moments at the local tavern called the Queens Head. The Queens Head Tavern was located at the Maspeth Town Dock, on the south East corner of Maspeth Avenue and 57th Avenue, which was then Old Flushing Avenue. The tavern was built by the Township of Newtown, about 1720, and was rented to various tavern keepers over the years. During the Revolution it was owned by captain Peter Berton, who sold’ it in 1783 at the end of the British occupation. It was owned privately thereafter and survived to become an Amoco Gas Station in the 19305 before it was finally demolished” (Stankowski 1977: 29) 
  • What happened to the cemetery once the Moores abandoned it?
    • To read from another Forgotten New York article, this one from 1999:
      • Over the years, the burial ground fell into neglect. By the 1920s it was no longer maintained and was being used as a garbage dump. In the Thirties, workers from a nearby greenhouse refurbished the cemetery, restoring fallen stones and installing a chain link fence. Later that decade, though, the plot again became neglected.
  • I’d read that it was a WPA project that cleaned up the cemetery some; WPA workers tidied up the lot, arranged the headstones, etc.
  • I wanted to read some of a NEW YORK SUN article about the cemetery’s discovery, from, JULY 28, 1931:
    • “Down in an almost forgotten corner of Long Island City, overgrown with brush and tangled with ivy, William J. Reynolds of 31-18 Forty-second Street, recently uncovered a long-neglected family cemetery. The plot, which is hidden behind a greenhouse on the northwest corner of Fifty-fourth Street and Thirty-second Avenue, has lately become the receiving place for miscellaneous bits of rubbish, ranging all the way from broken flower pots to old automobile tires.
    • In all there may have been twenty stones in the little graveyard when the last member of the family was laid to rest but the years have left only have a dozen standing while a few others are half buried in the debris with their inscriptions hopelessly undecipherable.
    • The two earliest headstones, which were set in place a number of years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence see to tell a tragic story. They are two small, rough-hewn granite stones, not more than a foot high, one bearing the inscription, “A. M. Dy’d th, 23rd Nov’r, 1769” and the other, “M.W. Dy’d—1770.” Obviously the pair were children. The fact that the final initials of the names were different, and that the stones were placed side by side bespeaks romance. Unfortunately, one of the graves has recently been attacked by a ghoul.
    • . . .
    • A brown marker of more artistic workmanship than that of the Moores announces the resting place of Mary, the Wife of Abraham Berrian who departed this life the 13th of February, 1788. Below Mary begins to relate her woes. “Whereas I was blind and deaf…” Someone has broken off the bottom of the stone.
    • . . . One peculiar thing about the cemetery is that while it was a fixed custom in Colonial days to make all graves face toward the east, every grave in this plot faces the west. It is generally believed that the custom came from the Bible verse in Matthew xxiv 27 “For as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even to the west…so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.”
    • All efforts to identify the Moore, Berrian, and Rapelye families have only gone to show that they came of gentleman farmer stock and were pioneers in the settlement of Long Island. It probably may be safely assumed that they were related in some way to Dr. John Berrian Riker, personal friend of George Washington and surgeon on his staff, who is buried less than two miles away in the Riker family plot on the corner of Steinway Avenue and North Beach. “
  • I gotta read from another article, which I found hilarious, which was printed in the LONG ISLAND DAILY PRESS, FRIDAY, APRIL 10, 1936. One note: Boulevard Gardens is a really nice condo complex right near the cemetery. So to read from the article:
    • “Oh yes,” say the people who live in Boulevard Gardens, the swell new Federal Housing apartments at 30th Avenue and 54th Street, Woodside. “There’s the funniest little old cemetery down the street from us. Why some of the stones are hundreds, actually HUNDREDS of years old! There’s one from 1769. Can you imagine that?”
    • That and then some!
    • The funny little cemetery is the Moore family cemetery and the first burial was probably made there before 1700!
    • It doesn’t look the way it used to look, and the 20 neat gravestones in their neat little rows certain do NOT mark the graves of the early settlers whose names they bear, but the Moore Cemetery has been luckier than most of the small family burying grounds in Queens.
      The plot was neglected for many years. The stones were snapped off. Many of them lay on their faces in the mud among the few straggly pine trees that remained to guard them. But recently, at the suggestion of the Queens Topographical Bureau, the cemetery ground has been regraded so that it is now at street level instead of several feet below it, and the stones have been repaired and set up again.
      The fact that they aren’t where they used to be shouldn’t make any difference. There’s nothing left of a body after a couple of hundred years.
      The cemetery looks bare and ugly now because the work has just been finished but grass will be planted this summer and sooner or later there will be a fence. (We hope).
      It should be saved, not only for itself but because it is the only tangible thing left in its locality to remind the world that this was one of the most important places on Long Island during the Revolution.
      The dry land around the Moore Cemetery narrowed down a few yards away (near the car barns on Northern Boulevard) to a tongue of land called the Narrow Passage.
      On either side of the Narrow Passage were almost impassable swamps and the road across it was the only north shore route between the East River and the settlements at Newtown and Jamaica. Jamaica Avenue, of course, was the other important road connecting the Queens villages with the East River.
      The Narrow Passage was well guarded by the British and the Moore homestead, which stood a stone’s throw from the cemetery, became the headquarters of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton after the Battle of Long Island.
      The old stone house was torn down some time between 1887 and the present time.
      The last time it was mentioned in local newspapers was when William O’Gorman, columnist for the Newtown Register, paid it a visit in the summer of 1887. He said: “The old house bears the pressure of the years with difficulty.”
      The farmhouse was built in 1681 by Samuel Moore, son of the Rev. John Moore, first minister of Newtown and found of the famous Long Island Moore family. It had “solid sashed” windows, double doors, fine chimney piecs, and fireplaces,” but it was already falling to pieces 49 years ago.”
  • At one point, the city tired to illegally seize the cemetery at the urging of a developer who wanted to build something on the lot. To read from a New York Daily News article from July 12, 1956:
    • “There were red faces in high places yesterday as city officials tried to explain how Pa Knick happened to take over Woodside’s historic Moore-Jackson Cemetery in a delinquent tax action on July 16, 1954. Queens records clearly show the old private burial ground has been tax exempt for more than 200 years.
    • Children now play among the weed-grown and debris-littered graves of at least 42 members of prominent early Long Island families buried in pre-Revolutionary through Civil War days.
    • Once lonely farmland carved from the wilderness, the cemetery now is highly desirable real estate in a wel-built-up area of homes and apartments.
    • . . . “You can be assured workers from Queens Borough Hall will visit the property immediately and clean it up,” he tersely stated in ending the interview.
    • Those city workers will have quite a job removing rusty cans, broken bottles and other junk, and clearing up the overgrown weeds.
    • Through the years, most of the headstones have been destroyed or stolen by vandals and eroded by weather. Only 16 broken, badly defaced markers, some mere weather-beaten fragments of fieldstone, marble or brownstone, still stand.
    • Sadly enough, even these are not above the graves they once marked. that’s because of “tidying up” done by WPA workmen in the mid-30s, according to two 30-year residents of the area.
    • Both recall the workers carefully gathered headstones knocked down or broken by storms and ghouls, and neatly arranged them upright in a section about 40 by 50 feet in the cemetery’s southeast corner, adjoining 54th Street. This is about 132 feed north of the intersection of 54th Street and 32nd Avenue.
    • . . . Several concrete posts then erected around this small section now bear traces of only a few rusty links to show they once were joined by a heavy iron chain.
    • As a result, neighborhood residents gradually have come to regard the tiny corner area as the cemetery. Only a very few remember there are graves in all parts of the cemetery, since none now are marked. “
  • “City-Owned Graveyards Get Brushoff, Not Brush” PUBLISHED BY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, SEPTEMBER 7, 1956
    • “Pa Knickerbocker is stuck with two historic but neglected Queens cemeteries he doesn’t know whether it is the job of Sanitation or Park Department workers or perhaps highway maintenance men to clean these city-owned burying grounds. S, despite the city’s recent drive to have property owners clear rubbish and weeds from privately-owned vacant lots, the old tax-free private burial grounds seized by the city in delinquent tax actions in 1954 are eyesores today. . . .
    • Last February, when The News called the weed-grown, littered condition of Moore-Jackson Cemetery to the attention of Benjamin Cymrot, executive director of the Board of Estimates’s Bureau of Real Estate, he ordered it cleaned up by Queens Borough workers. They mowed, rakes and hauled away junk until the cemetery looked as spic and span as the public parking lot opened right next to it last fall.
    • But rumblings in Queens then indicated Cymrot might lack authority continually to assign borough workmen to care for Moore-Jackson Cemetery.
    • Today children play among high weeds hiding 16 broken, badly defaced markers, some only pathetic weather-beaten fragments of brownstone, marble or fieldstone. Standing in the southeast corner of the old graveyard, these are all vandals and weather erosion have left of 42 headstones which in 1919 marked graves in all parts of the rectangular 100×200 ft. cemetery. “
  • In the 1950s, a chain link fence was put up around the cemetery to keep vandals out; I think that’s the fence that’s still there today.
  • Who Owns the Moore Cemetery? PUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND DAILY PRESS, JUNE 15, 1966
    • “Will the real owner of the Moore Cemetery in Woodside please stand up?
    • So far, no one is standing, not even the City of New York. The last time the city put in a claim to the history family plot was in 1954 when it took over the cemetery because of non-payment of taxes.
    • The only trouble is that taxes are not necessary on cemetery land.
    • The search for the owners of the plot, covered by dense weeds and litter on 54th Street between 31st and 32nd Avenues, was begun after Boy Scout Troop 32 in Woodside volunteered to clear th grounds of the weeds and rubbish.
    • “Look at that,” declared Troop Chairman Frank Mathieu, pointing to the land. “That should be cleared up and we would like to do it. But we first want to obtain permission and we don’t know to whom to turn.”
    • A check of the files revealed the Department of Real Estate had taken over the property after it had illegally reverted back to the city for failure to pay the taxes.
    • “But we don’t own it any more,” said a spokesman for the department. “Actually the city never took title to the property.”
    • “Who owns it now?” he was asked. “Did it revert back to the Moore family that settled on Long Island in 1652?”
    • “It’s possible,” he said, “but we really don’t know for certain.”
    • The corporation counsel’s office, we were told, “has all the records.”
    • “I’m not a walking encyclopedia,” remarked a spokesman for the corporation counsel’s office.
    • “It would be a ticklish and painstaking job to track down the owners of the land,” he said. “It might even be impossible to come to a conclusion.”
    • He said it is possible the Moore descendants now have a legal right to the land.
    • The spokesman also declared that the Boy Scouts would be taking a risk if they choose to clean up the plot without permission.
    • “They could be sued for trespassing,” he said. “They shouldn’t take that chance.”
    • A spokesman for the State Division of Cemeteries said that someone has title to the plot.
    • “But that doesn’t mean they’re identifiable,” he said. “It could be difficult tracking them down.”
    • However, he did say that the Boy Scouts should not hesitate to clean up the grounds if they wish.
    • “The risk would be minimal,” he said. Anyone wanting to sue them would have to prove that they are causing damage to the grounds,” he said. “And the only one who can chase them is the one who has a right to the cemetery.””
  • Nobody to Claim Woodside Burial Ground PUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND PRESS, May 12, 1974
    • “How do you turn a $150,000 piece of vacant property into a money-making proposition.
    • If it’s a private cemetery, the answer is apparently you can’t.
    • That is one reason why no one can find the owners of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside. Not even the City of New York will lay claim to the land.
    • . . . Since then, several searches and an extensive investigation by a history buff have failed to determine the record title or ownership of the property.
    • According to Irving Saltzman, assistant corporation counsel in charge of the title bureau, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery has in fact been abandoned as a cemetery.
    • The answer to what happens next to the land, however, has become lost in a morass of legal complexities.
    • . . . For years the land was covered by brush and weeds, but recently a third-grade class from nearby P.S. 151 cleaned up the area. Last week the Department of Sanitation carted away 80 bags of rubbish.
    • According to Saltzman, if a descendant of any of the persons buried there could be found and that descendant laid claim to the property, even if it was held that the descendant owned the property, it would still be for burial purposes only.
    • “It is clearly established in this state that the ownership of a burial plot carries with it merely the right of interment and certain other collateral rights arising therefrom,” he explained in a memorandum.
    • “Since the owner of a burial plot himself only takes an easement or license, and has no ownership right in the land on which the plot is located, it can hardly be argued that a descendant of the owner of such a plot can claim greater rights.”
    • . . . Since it has been established that Nathaniel Moore had been found guilty of treason during the American Revolution and his land abandoned, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery, as part of that land, would revert back to the state, Saltzman concluded.
    • “Should the state claim title to the land,” however, he added, “it would have the responsibility of maintaining the cemetery as such.”
    • So far, neither the city nor the state has show interest in the tiny strip of land. Only a history buff and a group of third-graders, on the even of their country’s bicentennial, seem to care. “
  • Amateur digs out lost title of cemetery PUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND PRESS, May 23, 1976
    • “After almost four years of research, leg work and detecting, an amateur historian has concluded that the Penn Central Railroad most likely owns an overgrown but historic cemetery.
    • Eugene Cafaro, 39, of Corona, has conducted a title search for four years to find the owners of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside because he wants to have the cemetery—which dates back to at least 1733 and may go as far back as the late 1600s—declared a landmark.  And according to a spokesman for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee, that can only be done when there is a clear title.
    • The path to the title ownership of the cemetery was a convoluted one and Cafaro said that, even now, title is not fully cleared except in a negative sense. however, that may be enough.
    • Cafaro followed several false leads before finding what now appears to be the right path. At first, he thought the property had been taken over by the state, since Nathaniel Moore, the first man who owned the property, was a notorious Tory during the Revolutionary War and much of the property held by Loyalists was confiscated following the British defeat.
    • But that lead petered out and Cafaro went to work trying to find descendants of either the Moore or Jackson families in hopes that they might have papers showing title. That also produced no results.
    • So Cafaro started the laborious process of searching through all the sales of property of the Moore farm, and found it was bought by Charles A. Kneeland. Kneeland, in turn, conveyed it to John A. Mecke in April, 1863.
    • After Mecke’s death, his widow, Julia, sold the property to Henry G. Schmidt and Co. on Sept. 18, 1867. The land deed included a reference to “the burying grounds.”
    • In 1871, the land was then conveyed to the Bricklayers Cooperative. But then came a huge gap in time.
    • Cafaro began tracing the records, and finally found a reference to the original deed in the file of Stuyvesant Real Estate, which conveyed part of the property, but not the cemetery grounds, to the N.Y. Connecting Railroad in 1947.
    • A search by the Corona man for records of the rest of the property proved futile, with no record existing that Stuyvesant ever divested themselves of the rest of the land.
    • In 1955, Stuyvesant merged with a company called Manor Real Estate. And Manor Real Estate is one of the prime real estate holding companies of Penn Central.
    • A spokesman for Penn Central said the giant railroad firm would have to conduct its own title search to determine whether it did, in fact, own title to the cemetery. The spokesman said that could take two months of more.
    • The property is tax-exempt, but the 140-by-100-foot strip of land is listed as assessed as $40,000, and is worth at least $150,000 as a piece of real estate if used for development.
    • But if Cafaro has his way, the cemetery between 51st and 54th Streets will remain a cemetery. He said that, unless otherwise prevented, the owners of the property could get permission to exhume the remains and then do whatever they wished with the land.
    • “I want to see the cemetery declared a landmark,” Cafaro said. And he is prepared to take the Landmarks Preservation Commission to court, if necessary, to get the land so designated.
    • If the cemetery is declared a landmark, by law it must be maintained in the state in which it currently exists. Responsibility for maintaining the property falls on the title-holder and if Penn Central does in fact own title it would have to take care of the cemetery.
    • The only problem the 39-year-old amateur historian and title-searcher has now is getting the Landmarks Preservation to accept the cemetery for designation.
    • Beverly Moss Spatt, chairman of the commission, said it would be happy to consider the cemetery, provided there was a clear title and it is in good condition. But the cemetery—the object of only occasional cleanups by local schools and volunteer groups—is now in a state of disrepair.
    • “In its present state, we would be unable to consider it for designation,” Mrs. Spatt said. . . .
    • Cafaro, asked why he has so singlehandedly pursued his search for the missing title holder to the cemetery for four years of his life, said, “I guess I owe the cemetery.”
    • In fact, he probably does. A high school dropout at age 15, his interest in the cemetery got him interested in history, and in further education. After becoming involved in the cemetery title search, he received a high school equivalency certificate and went on to LaGuardia Community College to study for a degree in history.
    • “It’s something I have to do,” he said. “
  • In 1997, the cemetery became a New York City landmark.
  • According to the 1997 landmark report, someone had an herb garden near the center of the cemetery in the late 90s and found tombstone fragments while creating that garden. So least in the 1990s, there were paving stones, a bird bath, and a little garden in the cemetery, but by the time I moved to the neighborhood in 2012 that seemed to be gone, or so overgrown that you couldn’t actually see it.
  • Today, the cemetery is owned by the Queens Historical Society, and it’s maintained by a grassroots group that’s turned it into a beautiful community garden in 2017-2018. I think the idea is that the growing areas are where the farmhouse once was on the property.

 

Sources consulted RE: the Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Books

Websites

  • https://www.moorejacksonnyc.org/
  • Landmark report:
    http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/1997Moore-JacksonCemetry.pdf
  • Archaeological report about Maspeth from 1991: http://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/arch_reports/584.pdf
  • https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/moore-homestead-playground
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2017/08/maspeth-1852/
  • https://archive.org/details/queensboroughnew00chamrich/page/n3/mode/2up
  • https://www.shinnecocknation.com/shinnecock/
  • The archeological history of New York by Parker, Arthur Caswell, 1881-1955: https://archive.org/details/archeologicalhis02parkrich/page/476/mode/2up
  • General archaeological report page: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/lpc/about/archaeology.page
  • “A Seventeenth-Century Fireplace at Maspeth, Long Island” Solecki: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24531641?seq=1
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2000/09/17/nyregion/neighborhood-report-astoria-an-aging-custodian-worries-about-a-historic-cemetery.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clement_Clarke_Moore
  • https://boulevardgardens.nyc/history
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Moore_(bishop)
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2008/12/moore-jackson-cemetery/
  • https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/moore-homestead-playground/history
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2013/03/state-historical-markers-in-new-york-city-part-2/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2020/09/hellgate-ferry-road-part-2/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2018/05/astoria-sweep/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2018/02/woodside-1852/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2018/07/maspeth-elmhurst-1852/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2013/06/the-old-shell-road-elmhurst/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2013/03/state-historical-markers-in-new-york-city-part-2/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2010/08/woodside-tour/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2009/01/broadway-in-queens-part-2/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/1999/01/hidden-cemeteries-dead-reckoning/
  • https://sites.google.com/view/moorejacksoncemetery/home?authuser=0
  • https://queenshistoricalsociety.org/moore-jackson-cemetery/
  • https://sites.google.com/view/moorejacksoncemetery/home?authuser=0
  • https://sites.google.com/view/moorejacksoncemetery/cemetery/historical-timeline?authuser=0
  • https://sites.google.com/view/moorejacksoncemetery/cemetery/documentspublications?authuser=0#h.p_zkfUAuCmWSYE
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore-Jackson_Cemetery
  • https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20171011/woodside/moore-jackson-cemetery-cleanup-queens-historical-society/
  • https://www.scoutingny.com/the-cemetery-on-the-old-farm-in-queens/
  • https://history.pmlib.org/longislandhistory/longislandindianhistory
  • https://www.newsday.com/long-island/long-island-our-story-1.27833558

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at the remarkable Riker Home and Cemetery, or the Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead and Cemetery, which one woman’s dream and grit turned into a beautiful site with a secret garden.

Highlights include:
• A unique second date
• A collection of vintage ventriloquist dummies
• Fun historic home renovation details

Note: There’s discussion of chattel slavery and being held captive against one’s will near the end of this episode.

 

Pictures of the Riker Home and Cemetery

Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery

Episode Script for Riker Home and Cemetery

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • So, let’s talk about this homestead and cemetery.
  • The house is near the water, and I get the sense it used to be even closer. An old article from the 1930s that was posted on rikerhome.com, the home’s official website, talks about how in the old days, ships used to dock near the house, and during the War of 1812, local people gathered on the nearby shore to watch a naval battle on the Long Island Sound.
  • The house was built around 1656 by Abraham Rycken, who was a Dutch farmer. Or maybe it was actually built by a man named Harck Siboutsen–the story varies.
  • A lot of the stuff I’ve been reading from correctionshistory.org comes from a book called The Rikers: Their Island, Homes, Cemetery and Early Genealogy in Queens County, NY by an 11th generation Abraham Rijcken van Lent descendant, Edgar Alan Nutt. I wanted to read a bit more, but before I read, if you’ve listened to the last few episodes, you’ll be VERY happy that I’ve figured out how to pronounce the name spelled “Rapelye,” which I’ve been pronouncing all different wacky ways. According to Annals of Newtown, the family is descended from the de Rapalie or Rapalie family, so I think that must be how it’s supposed to be pronounced, though I don’t know what they were doing adding that weird y in the middle of the name.
  • So anyway, reading from correctionshistory.org:
    • The quaint Dutch farmhouse on a one acre lot in Jackson Heights . . . is the oldest in Queens County and one of the oldest, if not the very oldest, private homes that remain in New York City, and it is known by various names reflecting several of the families that have owned it over the years.
    • Members of the Lent family owned it and the farm that went with it for about seventy years, the Rapelye family for close to a hundred years, and a Riker estate for almost twenty years in the last century, and the three families were interrelated.
  • Reading more from the excerpts of Edgar Alan Nutt’s book:
    • The house, in its current condition, is distinctive with its three dormer widows and with its swooping roof that projects eaves far beyond the walls; however, none of those features is original. One exterior wail is field stone, the others are shingled.
  • And just to interject, those dormers are really cool and beautiful, and one of them has a really nice stained glass pattern on it. I’m not totally sure when it’s from but it feels 19th century to me.
  • And back to Nutt’s book:
    • Inside there are now four rooms downstairs and four upstairs. The original house, whether or not it remains a part of what now exists, was a one story, single room, primitive structure . . . The bedroom and kitchen are the rooms of Abraham Lent’s 1730 house while the other two rooms are 18th century additions. A small entrance room, utilizing the depth of the eaves, was added late in the last century.
    • The second floor space under the roof may have early been used for storage, or it may have been used as the sleeping quarters for children, but the addition of the dormer windows allowed for the creation of four bedrooms upstairs.
  • If you want a very great, detailed history of the house’s different owners, you can check out Edgar Alan Nutt’s book or correctionshistory.org, but it’s too much history for me to go into here. But eventually, a man named Michael M. Smith rented the house, and he ended up buying it in 1975, 1978–or maybe 1965, I’ve read all three dates, though I think the 1965 one is wrong.
  • Apparently the owner of the house, Michael Smith’s landlord, wanted to move the house to a different location, but put it up for sale after her learned it was illegal. So Smith bought it, though apparently he only lived there a few years, and then moved to the city. (Btw, I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but for non-NYC people, FYI: even though I technically live in NYC, like many outerborough residents, I tend to call Manhattan The City. It’s kind of a funny habit since I obviously also live in a very urban area here in Astoria, and I try to say Manhattan here when I remember, but I thought it was worth mentioning in case that confused anyone.)
  • So after Michael moved to the city, he basically just used the house for storage, and local kids thought of the home as the local abandoned haunted house.
  • I wanted to read a great bit from a quote from the current owner, Marion Duckworth Smith, from her website:
    • “The first time I saw the house it was a cold. Desolate night in November, 1979. I had known Michael for a month. We were on our second date.
    • “Where are we going?” I inquired. “How would you like to see my cemetery?” he said.
    • His house stood abandoned in Jackson Heights, Queens. It had been unoccupied for almost four years. It was known as the “haunted house” of the neighborhood and it had repeatedly been burglarized and robbed.
    • “And he really did have his own cemetery, behind the house. It was the burial ground for the once prominent Riker family, among the first Dutch settlers in this area…I stood shivering in the middle of the neglected cemetery, surrounded by broken, toppled and shattered headstones, shaking my head, not believing a place like this could still exist in New York City. The house itself was dark, cold, cluttered, and sagging; it seemed shrouded in mystery and ready to cry…”
  • One note: I know I’ve called this area Astoria, Jackson Heights, and East Elmhurst at different points. That’s just Queens for you. I used to live a bit south from here, and I couldn’t tell you what the neighborhood I lived in was called (I had a Woodside address but no one in Queens would have called where I lived Woodside.)
  • And another detail I read about Marion’s first visit to the homestead: the electricity to the building had been turned off, so Michael had to light candles to show her around.
  • So anyway, after Marion and Michael got married, Michael asked if Marion wanted to live in the city, or in the old house. She asid the old house, of course, so they got to work restoring the house. The home had been vandalized and robbed while it had stood empty, and Michael had been storing stuff in there that had to be moved out. It took Marion 6 months to clear out everything and clean up the house enough so they could move in.
  • They started in the attic, which hadn’t really been disturbed in more than a century at that point. The Riker family had told their tenants not to go into the attic–it was a forbidden area.
    • Marion spent 3 months sifting through the materials in the attic and reading everything.
    • There were estate records dating back to the 1880s, including 54 hardcover financial directories, as well as ephemera and household objects like a potbelly stove, wooden blinds, bottles, and cabinets. There were also letters, a will, and things like receipts for animal feed from when it was a farm.
    • Marion spent days cleaning everything out of the attic once she finished going through it all, and she got so tired walking up and down the stairs so many times that she ended up opening the window and throwing debris out.
  • I want to read a bit more from Forgotten NY, which is where I found the quotes from the Old-House Journal. This includes more quotes from Marion Smith:
    • “We were lucky enough to find a retired neighbor, Mr. Osso, [who did the] sanding, painting, fixing and stripping. I didn’t mind hard work either, so he and I developed a great working arrangement. He did most of the stripping while I pushed, pulled, dug, scribbed, crawled and said goodbye to my fingernails. I may have found my prince but I still felt like Cinderella, always down on my knees working while everyone else got to go to the ball.” Under the gold shag 1960s carpeting and linoleum, Mrs. Smith and Osso found the building’s 300-year-old wood plank floors.
  • The floors had apparently been painted black so they had to restore them
  • Here’s Marion on the kitchen:
    • “The kitchen had a Formica countertop and linoleum on the floor…poor house, so humiliated, so misunderstood….it took a couple of months to find a scrubbed-pine sideboard just the right size to convert. We took off its wood top, selected tiles for the surface, bought a stainless steel sink. Voila, our piece de resistance.”
  • The dining room of the home was apparently used as a tavern by revolutionary war soldiers. Marion has decorated it with pastel drawings done by her mother.
    • . . . How I wished I could go back in time to this very spot 300 years ago, and see the room as it was then! I knew that whoever was here then must have felt the same as we did now – full of the excitement and expectation of finishing a room, creating a home. Pete and Bill [two helpers] told me that the beams in the dining room originally come from a barn. This too filled me with images of those long-ago Rikers, razing a barn somewhere to begin the venture of building this homestead. Another missing piece to a puzzle, another bit of history retrieved…
  • Like all old buildings that I talk about here, it did catch fire at one point. The house was damaged by a fire during the 1950s, so a lot of the floors had been damaged and had been sloppily replaced, so Marion had to source new wood for the floors, when she found when an old barn was demolished in upstate NY.
  • There are a ton of cool antiques inside the home which Marion has collected, including chalkware figurines, which were carnival prizes given out during the early 20th century. Those are in the mudroom. She has an 1888 Steinway grand piano, chandeliers from the townhouse of the NYC ballet’s co-founder, and also random objects that once belonged to George Balanchine. She also has a collection of ventriloquist dummies. There’s a great article in untapped cities that has pictures of all of this, so I’ll include that in the shownotes.
  • So let’s go outside. The fences surrounding the property are covered in overgrown brambles and vines, which you’ll be able to see in the pictures I put in the shownotes and on instagram. It’s really hard to get a good picture looking in, at least on my cheap $50 smartphone; I should really bring my camera next time. But I bet that once the spring gets on and flowers start blooming and everything is green, it must be really pretty. It is in the pictures at least.
  • There’s a 2006 NYT article that talks about how a plant expert has said that wisteria growing on the archway outside the house appears to be over 300 years old.
  • Let’s go to another quote from Marion Smith:

“I decided to take a breather from the indoor work and start on the outside. Visions of a secret garden, gazebo and circular porch danced through my head. ‘Paradise Acre,’ that’s what I’ll call it.”

  • So looking in from the street, the property has a huge yard, even by suburban standards, with the cemetery in the middle, surrounded by a stone fence. Then all around it, Marion Smith has created a sort of Secret Garden. There’s also a Victorian-style gingerbread cottage, which is very cute but which I couldn’t get a great picture of.
  • Apparently for years, Marion and Michael would look for adornments to add to the garden on a weekly basis. It contains objects like urns from the Steinway Mansion (one of which I think I was able to see from outside), as well as a fountain.
  • There’s also a gazebo which was built to commemorate Marion and Michael’s 10th wedding anniversary; it’s partially constructed from spokes that Marion found in the attic.
  • There are plaques on either side of the front door designating the home’s historic nature. There’s also a large cow statue in the front lawn, which I saw through some overgrown brambles when I visited. According to Forgotten NY, it’s a leftover cow from the cow parade in NYC in 2000. You see those around sometimes; there used to be one on an awning at St. Mark’s Place in the city, and just the other day I saw a cow parade cow that had fallen over and was lying on its side in the lawn of a mansion in old Astoria, just north of St. George’s Church.
  • Then, of course, there’s the cemetery.
  • When Marion first moved in, the cemetery gate was missing the K in Riker, but she wasn’t sure where to get a replacement. After a 2006 NYT article about the home, she received a package in the mail containing the letter, which a Riker descendant had found on the ground when visiting the abandoned home, and taken when he thought it was going to be demolished. He sent it back when he learned that the home was being restored.
  • I’m sorry that I’m reading so much from Nutt’s book, but he describes all of this so well:
    • Originally what is now the Riker Cemetery was simply an informal space for family burials close to a farm house in an area that was barely two generations removed from pioneer settlement.
    • Now it is a walled sanctuary in a tiny island remnant of rural land and domesticity surrounded by the streets and buildings and activities of the modern industrial age, further removed than it had been from Bowery Bay and just several hundred yards from LaGuardia Airport.
    • . . . There is no telling when the first burial took place or who the decedent was. In 1919 there were one hundred and thirty-two grave stones or markers, including one that was only a memorial cenotaph, but fourteen of these have no inscriptions whatsoever, twelve have only initials, and four are damaged leaving incomplete or unreadable inscriptions.
    • In addition to the one hundred and thirty-two, and in addition to the markers for the several burials that have taken place since 1919, there may be markers that over the years have fallen flat and now lie covered and buried beneath accumulated soil, as has happened in many very old . . . graveyards.
  • It sounds like some people say the earliest burials there are from 1721, but it sounds like people have struggled to say for sure. The second Abraham Riker was buried there in 1746, and that was the first official, for-sure known burial.
  • A later Captain Abraham Riker was buried there in 1778, after dying at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War, when he was 38 years old.
  • Apparently in the 1930s, several gravestones were stolen by vandals who used them for stepping stones. It’s unclear if they were ever returned.
  • At some point, possibly during the 1950s, an airplane parts factory was built just west of the cemetery, and the construction process for that damaged the cemetery a bit, though that may have been repaired.
  • So I know you’ve been wondering this whole time: Is this house haunted?
    • Well, I found a delightful story in the Long Island Press from March 17, 1968, headlined “This House May Be Haunted: Ghosts Gambol in the Backyard”
      • The article does touch on some of the house’s darker history. It quotes Marion as saying, “There are chains in the basement that supposedly were used to imprison slaves.”
      • The article also says that there was supposedly a hidden passage from the basement to the bay, which was used for smuggling.
      • It also mentions that Captain Kidd’s widow, who ended up marrying into the Riker family, is buried in the cemetery, as is George Washington’s surgeon.
      • I’m a little confused of when the Smiths lived in the house, but the article says they moved in two years before, so that would’ve been 1966.
      • However, aside from the flashy title, the article does not mention ghosts, sadly, though I would be surprised if it wasn’t haunted.
  • Unfortunately, Michael Smith passed away in 2010. He’s buried in the cemetery, as is Marion Smith’s brother and mother. Some other non-Rikers are buried in the cemetery, including Rudolph Durheim, a Swiss pensioner who died in 1944 after being the cemetery’s caretaker in the 1930s and 40s.
  • Marion Smith wrote a book that was published in 2004 called “The Romantic Garden”, which features beautiful pictures of her secret garden. ANd before the pandemic at least, still gave tours of the house. I really, really want to go on one of those tours as soon as covid is over.
  • Marion wants to live there the rest of her life, and then she hopes it will be permanently opened to the public.
  • I wanted to close on what is apparently Marion’s favorite inscription in the cemetery:
    •  “Weep not my friends all dear, I am not dead but sleeping here. The debt is paid, my grave you see, Prepare for death and follow me. My flesh shall slumber in the ground Till the last trumpet’s solemn sound; Then burst the bands in sweet surprise, And in my savior’s image rise.”

 

Sources consulted RE: the Riker Home and Cemetery

Books

Websites

  • Untapped Cities article: https://untappedcities.com/2011/12/22/the-last-riker-house/
  • https://www.yelp.com/biz/lent-riker-smith-homestead-east-elmhurst
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lent_Homestead_and_Cemetery
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2006/09/lent-riker-smith-mansion/
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/rispan2.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/buono.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/qnsboro2.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rikers_Island_Bridgehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rikers_Island
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronx_court_system_delayshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_Island
  • https://www.officialdata.org/us/inflation/1884?amount=180000
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook001.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook002.htmlhttp://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook004.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook005.htmlhttp://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook006.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook007.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook009.htmlhttp://genealogytrails.com/ny/queens/cem_rikers.html
  • http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~ryker2/ryker_coatofarms.htm
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/11/nyregion/11farmhouse.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/li-press-1968_large.htm
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/lisj-1941_large.htm
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/1930s.htm
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/sunday-news-1942_large.htm
  • https://www.nytimes.com/1982/05/16/realestate/postings-little-paradise.html
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/queens_courier_mds_05-25-06.pdf
  • https://www.thirteen.org/queens/map.html
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/queens_courier_mds_06-15-06.htm
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/11/nyregion/11farmhouse.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/ny-daily-news-11-7-06.htm

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at the Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery, a hidden family graveyard tucked away behind one of the oldest homes in New York City, which is still a private residence.

This is part 1 of the history of the little-known Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead and Cemetery. This episode focuses on the history of nearby Riker’s Island, as well as the Riker family, and sets the scene for next week’s deep dive into the home and cemetery’s more recent history, and what they’re like now.

Highlights include:
• Spontaneously combusting garbage
• Gatsby’s Valley of Ashes
• A grim modern-day penal colony
• Exploring an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood

Links mentioned in the episode:

Donate to the Emergency Release Fund to get high-risk people out of Rikers

Tiffany Cabán for council district 22 (Astoria): https://www.cabanforqueens.com/

The Feminine Macabre Volume 1: https://spookeats.com/femininemacabre/ 

Pictures of Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery

Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery

Episode Script for Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead and Cemetery Part 1

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • This week, I’m excited to talk about the Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead and Cemetery here in Queens, NY. The homestead is the oldest home in NYC that is still a home, and was originally built in the 1600s.
  • I realize that I’ve said that this cemetery is in Astoria before, but technically it’s in a neighborhood called East Elmhurst, which is a neighborhood that’s basically just east of northern Astoria, which I talked about last week, and just west of LGA airport.
  • To give it some context, here’s a quote from 2006 NYT article about the homestead:
    • In a city virtually defined by real estate mania, it has had just a handful of owners. In a city where compact housing is the norm, it boasts a comfortable two-story house on a lavishly cultivated acre. In a borough known for sprawling cemeteries, it has a small one of its own.
  • I also wanted to read a bit from an amazing forgotten new york article about the house and cemetery, which situates it really well:
    • “It’s almost maddeningly impossible to find. The closest subway is approximately 35 blocks away. It’s surrounded on 3 sides by a high school, stockade fencing and barbed wire. The nearest businesses are bail bonds joints. It’s situated on one of Queens’ oldest highways, most of which was demapped decades ago.
    • It is arguably the most beautiful home in Queens, and one that has been rescued from total ruin by the passion and vision of one couple who gave the house a chance when no one else would. It was built in stages beginning in the mid-1600s and has undergone periods of ascendancy and ruin, passing through many families who kept it in various conditions of upkeep. It has had many names, but the one adopted by its owners is the Lent Riker Smith Homestead or Lent Riker Smith House.”
  •  I actually biked to the homestead this weekend, and I passed Lawrence Cemetery on the way there.
  • It’s kinda a weird area. For one thing, the back of the homestead is basically directly across the street from the bridge to Riker’s Island, which I’ve talked about a lot in the past, including last week. It’s a very bad jail housing mostly people who have not been convicted of a crime. Especially in the Bronx, the court system is really backed up, so people suspected of crimes there are often deprived of their right to a speedy trial. There have been cases of people waiting in Rikers for 5 years or more while awaiting trial, only to go to trial and be acquitted. Only 15% of people who are imprisoned there have been convicted of a crime, and those are just people serving short sentences.
  • There are 10 jails on the island, which supposedly can house up to 15,000 prisoners, though it’s usually more like 10,000. It’s been called the world’s largest penal colony, and it’s a very bad place to be.
  • And if you want to help get high-risk people, like queer people, out of there, check out https://emergencyreleasefund.com/ which is a bail fund.
  • I’d looked at a map before leaving for the homestead, and figured I’d follow the signs to Riker’s Island and it should be pretty easy. Well, there aren’t really wayfinding signs to Riker’s Island, for I guess obvious reasons, but I did follow the Q100, the bus that goes to Riker’s, for a while.
  • I ended up having to look at the map again, but found the entrance to the Riker’s Bridge at Hazen Street and 19th avenue.
  • I will say, the road that goes across the bridge to Riker’s is very unassuming. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but the area just feels like a lot of other quiet industrial areas of Queens. According to correctionshistory.com, the 5,500 foot long bridge was built in 1966 and is three lanes plus a six-foot sidewalk. Before it was built, people had to take a ferry to Riker’s. The construction of the bridge spurred additional development of Riker’s Island, and a womens jail was built in 1967, some sort of jail for adolescents was built, as was a “power plant addition.”
  • However, right before the bridge to Riker’s there’s an enormous, billboard-sized sign that reminded me a bit of the signs you see outside roadside tourist attractions. It was a huge, well-maintained thing, and it felt really incongruous.
  • I want to pause here to talk a bit about the history of Riker’s Island, before it was a prison, since it has a bearing on today’s cemetery.
  • Riker’s Island has some similarities to Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island), which I’ve talked about in many past episodes, so if you’ve listened to those, some of this may sound familiar.
    • Riker’s is named after a Dutch settler, Abraham Rycken, who took ownership of the island in 1664.
    • As far as its pre-colonial history, according to native-land.ca, it looks like the Matinecock, Lenape, and Wappiner peoples lived in the general area, though I’m not super sure of the island’s history before Rycken came into the picture.
    • The Rycken family became the Rikers.
    • There was a bit of interesting information on correctionhistory.com about how some of the Rikers lived on the island in the 1840s; to read from that:
      • “Living on the island necessitated having both a boat and tools to build or maintain a boat, and it required being able to make as well as to repair iron ware and tools. The farm, or at least Abraham’s part of it, was an active one, in spite of his age; he raised hay, corn, and flax, and livestock included at least one cow, although apparently not a horse.
      • The household items are more surprising: eight bedsteads and twelve matresses together with twenty-four chairs suggest a large house or perhaps the means of sqeezing many people into a small house. Two bird cages and a quantity of books suggest that all was not work.”
  • And here’s another interesting anecdote from correctionshistory.com:
    • “The remoteness of Riker’s Island appears to have made it irresistible in the 1850s as a site for what the area newspapers called the “disgusting spectacle” of prize fights which were seen as contrary to the public good, if not outrightly illegal.
    • During the night of April 27, 1852, three chartered steamboats transported friends and others from lower Manhattan to Riker’s Island; the fight between Phil Clare and Englishman George Leese began after daybreak and lasted for nine rounds in 21 minutes; it ended with the latter being knocked out and with a resulting riot.
    • The next year on the morning of March the first a 15 minute bout between Adams and Connaty, attended by several hundred, resulted in Connaty’s winning the $150 prize. It was noted that the authorities made no attempt to prevent or to stop the fight, but the following day Adams was caught and subsequently sentenced to six months in prison. This fight was arranged by one Robert Lees about whom nothing further has been learned.”
  • During the Civil War, the island was used by union soldiers as a military training ground.
  • In 1884, the Rikers sold the island to the city for $180,000 ($4.8 million in today’s money.)
    • For comparison, you may remember from previous episodes that the Blackwell Family sold Blackwell’s Island to the city in 1828 for $32,000 $885,000 in today’s money.) I’m not totally sure why the city paid so much more for Riker’s, especially since Blackwell’s Island is more conveniently located, and they were both being purchased for a similar purpose, though I know I’m getting a little off track.
  • The idea behind purchasing Rikers was that it would be the location of a workhouse. In the 1920s, the city got the idea of building a jail on Riker’s, especially because of horrendous conditions at the jail on Welfare Island (a short-lived name that Blackwell’s/Roosevelt Island had).
  • You may remember from a previous episode that in 1932, the jail on Riker’s Island was opened.
  • The city expanded the size of the island through landfill. The island started off at 90 acres and ended up being 415 acres, so it basically quadrupled in size. And as the island got bigger, they built more and more jail facilities.
  • Now, if you listened to my episode about Socrates Sculpture Park, or if you’ve read The Great Gatsby and remember the bit about the Valley of Ashes, you know that Queens has a penchant for dumping garbage, both legally and illegally.
    • In 1922, the was city banned from dumping garbage in the ocean, so they did the next best thing, and dumped garbage on Riker’s Island. (Which, while I guess it technically isn’t Queens, it’s close enough.)
    • At the time that the city was banned from throwing garbage in the ocean, Riker’s Island already had 12 mountains of garbage that ranged from 40-130 feet tall. Eventually, the island ended up with 1.5 million cubic yards of additional garbage, which is more volume than the amount of dirt displaced from the World Trade Center’s construction.
    • I’m just gonna read a particular evocative bit of the wikipedia page here:
      • Since much of the garbage was composed of ash from coal heating and incinerators, there were frequent spontaneous phosphorescent fires, even in the wintertime, in the snow. One warden described it in 1934: “At night it is like a forest of Christmas trees – first one little light … then another, until the whole hillside is lit up with little fires. … It was beautiful.” The island was also plagued with rats, which at one point were so prevalent that after “poison gas, poison bait, ferocious dogs and pigs” failed to control them, one New Yorker tried to organize a hunting party to kill them off.
    • The 1939 World’s Fair was held in Queens, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Valley of Ashes, and to clean things up for the world’s fair, the garbage was finally packed up and moved to Fresh Kills Landfill, in Staten Island.
    • Oh, and another fun fact about Riker’s is that the island is so close to the runway at LGA that in the 1950s, a plane crashed on Riker’s right after takeoff.
  • So that’s a bit of Riker’s Island history. It’s an ugly history, but many of us in Queens and NYC in general are hopeful that Riker’s can be closed and the terrible jails can be replaced with something better. As usual in NYC, it was looked at as a possible place for–you guessed it–real estate developers to build some low rise housing, but since the base of the island is a landfill, toxic gas leaks out, and that would be an issue.
    • There’s a way better plan that many people support, including my current city council representative, whose term ends this year, as well as by city council candidate Tiffany Caban, who Astoria residents can vote for on June 22 (check out cabanforqueens.com for more info.) That plan, which I mentioned last week, is to build infrastructure to generate green energy, which would be good for everyone, would create some good new jobs for people in the area, etc.
  • Alright, so that’s Riker’s Island. Let’s get back to the mainland, to the area around the Riker-Lent-Smith-Homestead, which I explored by bike this past weekend.
  • It’s pretty far from mass transit, so I get the feeling that everyone has a car there. It’s very quiet, aside from low-flying airplanes. It’s the part of Queens where it’s not unusual to see jet skis or a boat in someone’s driveway.
    • Also, just something I happened to notice because I got a new bike this weekend and this was only the second time I’d ridden it, all the streets and sidewalks around there are totally strewn with broken glass. It just looks like someone decided to throw glass bottles everywhere, which is awesome. But I think my bike tires survived.
  • So anyway, the area near the Lent-Riker-Smith homestead feels very suburban, though many of the homes are attached, and there are still a number of small apartment complexes, like the very pretty Tudor that’s right across the street from the homestead.
  • I’ve mentioned the Riker family in past episodes and a little bit so far this time, but basically the Rikers were a really important Queens family. One of the sources I’ve used throughout this series on hidden Queens cemeteries is an 1852 book called The annals of Newtown, in Queens County, New York, which is actually written by a Riker, James Riker.
    • Looking through Riker’s book, which includes the family histories of all of the important families of the area, there’s a great drawing of the Riker’s coat of arms, which I think is way cooler than the Lawrences’, which I talked about last week. It’s an azure shield with three golden stars surrounding a white rose, with ornate filigree at the top and tumbling down the sides, topped by a knight’s helm and horns with a rose in the middle. Apparently there was a later coat of arms, from 1225, which had bears on it.
    • The Rikers could date their history back before the crusades. A Hans von Rycken, a knight, and his cousin, Melchior von Rycken, were part of the first crusade in 1096. They were part of a group of 800 crusaders who were part of Walter the Penniless’ army. Don’t know who he is, but that isn’t a very promising name. Hans died, but Melchior lived.
    • The American Rikers descended from a branch in the family who lived in Amsterdam.

Sources consulted RE: Lent-Riker-Smith Cemetery

Books

Websites

  • https://www.yelp.com/biz/lent-riker-smith-homestead-east-elmhurst
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lent_Homestead_and_Cemetery
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2006/09/lent-riker-smith-mansion/
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/rispan2.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/buono.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/qnsboro2.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rikers_Island_Bridgehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rikers_Island
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronx_court_system_delayshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_Island
  • https://www.officialdata.org/us/inflation/1884?amount=180000
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook001.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook002.htmlhttp://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook004.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook005.htmlhttp://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook006.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook007.html
  • http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/cw_units/html/rikersbook009.htmlhttp://genealogytrails.com/ny/queens/cem_rikers.html
  • http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~ryker2/ryker_coatofarms.htmhttps://untappedcities.com/2011/12/22/the-last-riker-house/
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/11/nyregion/11farmhouse.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/li-press-1968_large.htm
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/lisj-1941_large.htm
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/1930s.htm
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/sunday-news-1942_large.htm
  • https://www.nytimes.com/1982/05/16/realestate/postings-little-paradise.html
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/queens_courier_mds_05-25-06.pdfhttps://www.thirteen.org/queens/map.html
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/queens_courier_mds_06-15-06.htm
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/11/nyregion/11farmhouse.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/ny-daily-news-11-7-06.htm

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at Lawrence Family Cemetery in Astoria, NY, a small family cemetery dating from the 1600s, tucked into a residential neighborhood in New York City.

The Lawrences were an old family from Queens, New York, arriving in the area in the 1600s and buying land all over. Despite the destruction of many family cemeteries in NYC over the centuries, two Lawrence cemeteries have survived, one of which is in an Astoria man’s backyard.

The cemetery, surrounded by both a stone wall and a chain link fence, is closed to the public, though curious onlookers can peer through its iron gate and see a variety of tombstones, some of which belong to veterans of the Revolutionary war.

Highlights include:
• Forgotten cemeteries
• Accidentally scaring local cemetery owners
• A lost shoreline
• Inheriting a cemetery

Links mentioned in the episode:

Donate to the Emergency Release Fund to get high-risk people out of Rikers

Tiffany Cabán for council district 22 (Astoria): https://www.cabanforqueens.com/

Follow the podcast on instagram @buriedsecretspodcast

E-mail the podcast at buriedsecretspodcast@gmail.com

Pictures of Lawrence Family Cemetery

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Episode Script for Lawrence Cemetery

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

 

“A private cemetery holding the remains of this country’s great patriots should be considered as much a Landmark as are certain buildings. . . . The Lawrence Family cemetery is important, primarily because of the history connected with those who are buried there. It is also notable due to the beauty of its handsome grounds.” – the 1966 Landmarks Preservation Commission, April 18, 1966

 

Lawrence Cemetery in Astoria, NY

  • The Lawrences were an old Astoria family. They were English and came to America in the 1600s and ended up in Flushing in 1644. They bought land all over, including some land in Astoria in 1656.
  • I found their family crest in the 1852 book The annals of Newtown, in Queens County, New York; it’s a pretty boring one, just a shield with a jagged cross thing in the middle, something that looks like an overturned cup above that, and then a scroll with “quaero invenio,” or “I find” according to google translate.
  • As I talked about last week, many historic families cemeteries no longer exist; typically, the remains were removed and then stuff was built on top of the land. As I’ve mentioned before, NYC has basically been run by developers for a very long time, and a ton of history has been destroyed in the name of profit.
  • There are actually two Lawrence family cemeteries left in Queens. I don’t know if that speaks to their wealth, their influence, or just plain luck. One is in Bayside, which is in northern Queens, pretty far away from mass transit, so I’ve never been there. The other is right here in Astoria.
  • Last spring, I ran up to the Lawrence cemetery, which is in northern Astoria near the big Con Edison power plant and wastewater treatment plant. If you look at a map of northern Astoria, you’ll see there’s this bit of land that juts out a bit, kinda between the Hell Gate and Riker’s Island, and just north of Astoria park. That’s where the Coned plant is, and it’s notable because even on Google maps nowadays, it’s called Lawrence Point.
    • Also, there used to be a family cemetery where the Coned plant is now, according to Carolee Inskeep’s The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries. At 20th avenue and 21st street in Astoria, the Berrien-Remsen Family Burial Ground, a private cemetery with gravestones dating from the 18th century to 1810, once stood. To read from her book:
      • This burial ground was at the north end of Berrien’s Lane, facing Berrien’s Creek and Berrien’s Island. It was obliterated in 1902 for construction of a gas manufacturing plant. Con-Edison now occupies the site.
    • As you can probably guess, the Berrien family was another old family in Astoria, and Berrien Lane, Berrien’s Creek, and Berrien’s Island are all gone now. Landfill united Berrien’s Island with the mainland of Queens and is now also occupied by the Coned plant.
    • Last episode, I talked about the Ravenswood Generating Station, which stands where the Blackwell family cemetery once was, and which is a major polluter that causes a lot of health problems for local residents. I have a friend who used to live up near the Coned plant, and they said that they had a lot of respiratory issues because of the plant. However, I believe the area around the Coned plant is less densely populated, since there aren’t 6,000 people living in public housing basically right next door. Off the top of my head, I think the closest public housing to the Coned plant would be the Astoria Houses on Hallet’s Point, just north of Socrates Sculpture Park, though I don’t know northern Astoria, also known as Ditmars, very well.
    • One reason for that is that because of the power plant, the wastewater treatment plant, LaGuardia airport, and Riker’s Island, regular citizens don’t have access to the northern shoreline of Astoria. That whole area is blocked off and feels kinda dystopian and weird. The only real reason I’ve had to go up toward Astoria’s northern shore was to see the Lawrence Cemetery last year.
    • Oh, and since I mentioned Riker’s Island, I actually talk about Riker’s in a bit more detail in one of the the Renwick Smallpox Hospital episodes, but just a reminder: Riker’s is a jail; 85% of the people who are imprisoned there are waiting for trial.
      • It’s an infamously unsafe place to be imprisoned, especially during COVID. I don’t want to get too off topic here, but if you do want to help people make bail and get out of there, you can donate to the Emergency Release Fund at emergencyreleasefund.com, which focuses on getting high-risk inmates out of Rikers, like queer and trans people.
      • If you’re listening to this, you probably agree with me that it’s a horrific human rights abuse to put people who haven’t even been convicted in jail for years, usually because they can’t afford bail. Basically, it ends up just housing people who are too poor to post bail.
        • But if that isn’t a convincing argument for you and you’re more concerned with money: for some reason that I don’t understand, it costs the city of New York $209,000 per person per year to house them in Riker’s. And while prisoners at Riker’s are used for slave labor, doing tasks like burying indigent people in NYC’s potter’s field, Hart Island, I think it’s obvious that that doesn’t offset the cost.
      • In NYC, the idea of closing Riker’s is a very popular one, and the current city council member who represents my district proposed legislation called the Renewable Riker’s Act, which will close Riker’s and instead use the land to generate power through renewable energy. That legislation was signed into law a couple weeks ago, which is great news for all of NYC.
        • And actually just last week I was out collecting signatures to get a great candidate for city council, Tiffany Caban, on the ballot, and she also supports closing Riker’s Island and Renewable Rikers. If you happen to live in Astoria, please vote for her on June 22. You can learn more about her at cabanforqueens.com
      • I know this might seem like a tangent, right, why am I talking about a local city council race in an episode about hidden cemeteries? It’s because history isn’t over, and power–both literal and figurative–here in Astoria is really relevant when looking at history, but particularly the history of family cemeteries around here.
      • I mean, multiple family cemeteries around here have literally been demolished to build power plants that are making people sick today. Landfill has made islands, like Berrien’s Island, vanish, and Rikers Island, for example, has been made four times bigger than it originally was, just so it could hold more prisoners. Homes have been obliterated, the shapes of islands have been changed, and it’s only when you start to look at historical maps of what the neighborhood was like a couple hundred years ago that you really realize all the things that have been buried, destroyed, and forgotten.
  • But Lawrence Cemetery is one piece of history that still stands.
  • The cemetery is more than 300 years old. It was founded in 1656, though it was officially founded in 1703, according to an inscription in stone beside its gate. It was landmarked in 1966. Oliver Lawrence was he last person buried there, in 1975.
  • This is a privately owned cemetery that’s not really open to the public. The current owner/caretaker is James M. Sheehan, whose wife inherited the cemetery and the house next door, where they live. Sheehan’s father-in-law had inherted the cemetery and the house next door from Ruth Lawrence, one of the last surviving Lawrences. Sheehan is 84 and has been the cemetery’s caretaker since 1956.
  • Records say that 94 people are buried in the cemetery, though Sheehan says it’s actually more.
  • I wanted to read a bit from a Queens Chronicle article from October 5, 2000:
    • “The Lawrences were important folk, many playing key roles in local history. They intermarried with the Rikers, of Rikers Island. They are related to Captain James Lawrence, the naval officer whose words “Don’t give up the ship” during the War of 1812 have become immortalized.
    • James Lawrence was buried in Trinity Church in Manhattan, as an honor, but the rest of his family is buried in Sheehan’s backyard.
    • The graveyard holds the remains of lieutenant governors, New York City mayoral candidates, Revolutionary and Civil War heroes and other notables with rich histories.
    • There is another Lawrence Cemetery, in Bayside, where the family eventually expanded their burials. That graveyard started in the 1800s and is now tended by the Bayside Historical Society.”
  • The cemetery stands on an ordinary street corner, elevated on a stone wall and behind both a chain-link fence with barbed wire (separating it from the street) and the more picturesque stone-and-iron fence.
  • Inside are three centuries’ worth of Lawrence family burials, including Sarah Lawrence (who the university was named after.)
  • The Lawrences were an old family, apparently descended from one of King Richard the Lionheart’s crusaders in England
  • I read somewhere that there supposedly used to be three Lawrence family cemeteries, including one a few blocks away from this one (which has been destroyed), though I didn’t see mention of that third one when I checked Carolee Inskeep’s book The Graveyard Shift, my trusty companion in all of this.
  • I did want to read a bit of the history from The Graveyard Shift, which calls the cemetery the Lawrence Manor Burial Ground:
    • “In 1915, the cemetery was restored after some years of neglect. Its stone fence and wrought iron gate were repaired, and the grounds were planted with flowers. There were plans to purchase the surrounding property and convert it into a park as a historic site for future generations.”
  • I think it would be awesome for this to be a park someday; it’s a really beautiful cemetery.
  • A 1932 report called Description of Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens describes the wall of the cemetery; the bit with the front gate, which faces 20th Road, formerly called Bowery Bay Road, is a “dressed stone wall with an iron rail fence,” and the part facing 35th Street is a “brick wall topped with iron rail fence.”
  • These days, the cemetery wall also has a chain-link fence around it, to really make sure people can’t get in.
  • The 1932 report has a list of all the inscriptions in the cemetery, and in addition to the Lawrences, there are other familiar names from old families in the area.
    • For example, Abraham Riker Lawrence; I’ll talk about more the Riker family next week.  There’s also a Ruth Lawrence who was the daughter of Andrew and Jane Riker.
    • There’s also Agnes Rapelye, whose name I can’t see but whose relative, Cornelius Rapelye Trafford, I mentioned last week. He was the man with two graves.
    • There’s also some members of the Suydam family. You may recognize that name because Trafford’s Green-wood Cemetery grave is beside one of the Suydams.
    • There’s also an Amy Lawrence, who was the daughter of Cornelius and Amy Berrien of the nearby Berrien family. I like the inscription on her tombstone, which was “This life is a dream and an empty show / Into the wide world we must go.”
    • Another inscription I like appears on Judith Lawrence’s marble tombstone. There’s a skull and cross bones with the words: “To this must all flesh come” which I find very metal and cool.
  • There’s a great Huffpost article about the cemetery from 2011, and it had some quotes from Sheehan I just had to read:
    • “It’s heavenly living next to the cemetery. I consider the people there my neighbors, and I want to keep them looking good.”
    • Another quote is: “I take pride in doing this. People always ask me if it’s scary. It’s not. It’s very tranquil here. I love to turn on the radio and sit out here in the evenings. But there are those scary moments — you feel something tugging at your shoulder, and you turn around and discover it’s the rosebush.”
  • Also, the article mentions how apparently his daughters used to hold seances at the cemetery, though it doesn’t go into any detail.
  • When I visited the cemetery, I wasn’t able to get many pictures of this cemetery, because as I crouched behind some cars trying to get a good angle of the gates and stones inside, Sheehan and (I think) his wife came out to go into the cemetery. They looked at me kinda suspiciously (can’t imagine why) so I scurried away.
  • Givemeastoria.com ran an article about Lawrence Cemetery in October 2020, and I wanted to close with a quote from that which looks ahead to the future of the cemetery:
    • “The thing that worries me the most is what will happen to this place after I am gone,” said Sheehan.
    • Sheehan has been tending the site for nearly 60 years, paying for repairs out of his own pocket. But now he is worried about what will become of the place in the future.
    • “I’ve been maintaining this out of respect for my father-in-law and the history of the Lawrences,” Mr. Sheehan said. . . . The Queens Historical Society will be working with the City Council and Community Board 1 to assist Sheehan in helping to preserve the property for future generations.

 

Sources consulted RE: Lawrence Family Cemetery

Books

Articles

  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Jul 2, 1903 · Page 10
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 3, 1870 · Page 3

Websites

  • https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1966907/lawrence-cemetery
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2010/10/bowery-baynorth-astoria-queens/
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/18/nyregion/nyc-news-rikers-island.html
  • https://qns.com/2021/03/mayor-signs-queens-councilman-renewable-rikers-act-into-law/
  • https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-rikers-covid-ruling-20210219-56juh2eccvb4jg7hxwxdfvnv34-story.html
  • https://qns.com/2021/03/mayor-signs-queens-councilman-renewable-rikers-act-into-law/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rikers_Island#COVID-19_crisis
  • https://newtownpentacle.com/tag/bowery-bay/
  • https://rihs.us/2020/09/09/wednesday-september-9-2020-wpa-architecture-found-in-unlikely-place/
  • https://www.qchron.com/editions/western/landmark-cemetery-owner-s-call-for-help-is-heeded-in-astoria/article_fd09df4b-c4cd-51ae-bf6b-c9905004501e.html
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2012/01/north-astoria-queens/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2012/01/north-astoria-queens-part-2/
  • https://www.huffpost.com/entry/astoria-characters-the-ca_2_b_915833
  • Lawrence Cemetery Google maps: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Lawrence+Cemetery/@40.7775676,-73.9056275,3a,75y,161.24h,99.51t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sCZw8qzAceYKfel0pAPXHsA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192!4m5!3m4!1s0x89c25f643d061421:0xe5447ac8f6f12426!8m2!3d40.7773027!4d-73.9056237?hl=en
  • https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=162550
  • https://www.givemeastoria.com/2020/10/28/astoria-man-breathes-life-into-forgotten-family-cemetery/
  • https://www.brownstoner.com/history/a-look-at-lawrence-cemetery-astoria/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2020/10/lawrence-family-cemetery-astoria/
  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/emilio_guerra/5326285917/
  • http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/66—LAWRENCE-FAMILY-GRAVEYARD.pdf

Don’t miss past episodes:

Why are there tombstones around Socrates Sculpture Park? A look at a riverside New York City park surrounded by a wall of tombstones.

It seems that very few people have asked this question, at least on the internet, and there are no obvious answers. There is, however, a fascinating history behind this little park, as well as a whole host of possibilities for how this site came by its morbid gravestone wall.

Highlights include:
• The ultimate NYC villain: real estate developers
• A forgotten creek
• Queens’ penchant for illegal dumping grounds
• Two sculptors’ dreams of creating an open-air gallery

The Feminine Macabre Volume 1: https://www.etsy.com/listing/962586876/the-feminine-macabre-volume-1

Follow the podcast on instagram @buriedsecretspodcast

E-mail the podcast at buriedsecretspodcast@gmail.com

Pictures of tombstones around Socrates Sculpture Park

 
 
 
 
 
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Episode Script

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

Socrates Sculpture Park

  • I was originally going to talk about one and a half hidden cemeteries this week, but as you know, I have a tendency to go down a wormhole and my notes for this episode became two episode’s worth. So today let’s talk about that half cemetery.
  • There’s a beautiful park called the Socrates Sculpture Park, which is at Hallet’s Cove on the Queens waterfront, right across from the lighthouse at Roosevelt Island.
    • Before it was a park, it was an illegal dumping ground, and before that, the Sunswick Creek flowed there, before it was filled in.
  • I’ve mentioned this park before, both here and on the show’s instagram. It’s one of my favorite places in NYC. It isn’t really near the subway, and it’s in Queens which people from other boroughs don’t come to super often unless they’re visiting someone here. But it’s a real hidden gem with a fascinating history; it’s this unbelievably beautiful waterfront park that is also an open-air art museum.
  • But the reason why I’m talking about this park is it has a stone wall around it, and some of the stones in the wall are very obviously grave markers.
  • No one seems to know the real story behind it, and as far as I can tell, only one other person on the internet is trying to figure out this mystery. Later on, I want to talk about my original theories about the tombstones, and this other person’s theories, but before we get to that, I want to talk a bit about the park’s history, since digging into the history of the park is going to be the key to figuring this out. Assuming I’m ever able to figure this out, which we’ll see.
  • I talk about this area of NYC very often, and it’s definitely an important area. For example, my city council representative, Costa Constantinides, has been doing a lot of work to try to improve the waterfront, including this part of the waterfront. Three of NYC’s largest housing projects are within about a mile of Socrates Sculpture Park, so that’s a lot of people who stand to have their quality of life improved if the waterfront is improved, whether it’s reducing the pollution from power plants–which I’ll talk about a bit more next week–or cleaning up the ruins of abandoned industrial projects. For example, in October 2020, he worked to get funding to, to read from an article in qns.com, “finally remove debris and trash, restore the riverbank’s ecology, and take down a decaying pier known as the ‘radio tower.’ . . . Built almost 70 years ago but long closed to the public due to its rotting condition, the radio tower embodies how physically and emotionally cut off western Queens residents are from their side of the East River.”
    • One things you have to understand about Queens is that EVERYWHERE can and will be an illegal dumping down for industrial and household garbage if it can be. For example, when I lived in Woodside, I lived right next to the viaduct that connects  to the Hell Gate bridge, which meant I had to cross under one of three viaduct arches every day to get to the subway. Two of the three of those arches would be FULL of garbages, from cast-off mattresses and strollers, to bags of trash and car parts, and other unidentified stuff.
    • This may seem like a non-sequitir, but the dumping grounds of Queens are a vital part of this story.
    • Basically, in between Socrates Sculpture Park and the Astoria houses, a housing project, there’s this big, broken-down pier that looks so decrepit that it leads people to consider it a dumping ground.
    • To read another quote from my city council member:

“It’s just been a symbol of how Astoria Houses has been continually forgotten. This is more than just restoring the wetlands and removing the dock — this signals that we’re not going to leave broken down infrastructure in their backyard. It’s time to treat them with the respect they deserve.”

  • I went through the NYT archives looking for clues to the tombstone mystery, and found a number of very condescending articles from the 1980s and 1990s about Socrates Sculpture Park. They didn’t answer the mystery I’m trying to solve here, though there are a few hints, but I think they give a nice history of the park so wanted to read some articles about the park here.
  • Before I get to the articles from the 80s and 90s, I want to start with a great 2016 article from urbanomnibus.net that talks about the park’s history. The big thing I’ve been looking at for this research is any article that talks about what the site was like before the park existed, the construction of the park or its walls, or anything they found when cleaning up the site to make it a park. So let’s get into this article:
    • When di Suvero, other artists, and nearby residents launched the Socrates project atop a former marine terminal on Hallet’s Cove, the neighborhood was quite different. Di Suvero recently described the Astoria of the 80s to the Times: there was a popular carjacking spot just up the road, and di Suvero was mugged by one of the park’s own maintenance employees at the door of his studio down the street.[4] Like many city neighborhoods targeted by artists priced out of Manhattan, this part of Astoria was far poorer and less safe than today. Nor did it immediately gentrify with the onset of artistic activity.
    • Occupying the former marshland around the mouth of the tidal Sunswick Creek, which had been progressively filled beginning in the late 19th century, the terminal was still receiving barges in the early 1950s.[5] Like many vacant waterfront sites across the city during the 1970s and 1980s, the future park was used for illegal dumping and other surreptitious activity. It was just the kind of site that appealed to di Suvero. The former Chicago steelworker moved into a studio in a former waterfront brick handling shed just down the street in 1980, and was eyeing the open-air space to construct and display large-scale metal sculptures, some of which required the use of a construction crane. Working with the Athena Foundation, which he founded nine years earlier to support artistic endeavor in the city, di Suvero raised $200,000 for the park’s construction and negotiated a five-year lease on the property with its owner, the Department of Ports and Terminals, for a dollar a year.
    • Straddling Broadway and extending north and south along Vernon Boulevard, this section of Astoria was far from New York’s downtown art scene and nearly a mile from the nearest subway station. By the 1980s, the area was a jumble of dilapidated piers, old factory buildings, warehouses, storage sheds, auto repair shops, and two- and three-story residential walkups, anchored by two public housing projects.[7] One of the area’s largest industrial employers, the Sohmer and Company Piano Factory, was shuttered in 1982 (the 96-year-old building was converted to residential condominiums beginning in 2007). Yet with di Suvero’s studio to the north and Isamu Noguchi’s studio, now the site of the Noguchi Museum, just to the south, Socrates was poised to become the center of a small but growing arts community.
    • Di Suvero enlisted dozens of neighborhood volunteers and their children to contribute to his broad vision of local engagement. Throughout 1986, the team of artists and residents used their own sweat equity to remake the barren, debris-strewn site into a welcoming, if still raw, four-acre park with winding gravel paths and beds of wildflowers built around the installations of the inaugural exhibition.[8] Concrete piers and seawalls were still exposed throughout the landfill; artworks were placed on top of them.
  •  New York Times, 27 Aug. 1986.:
    • “The largest outdoor space in New York City for the exhibition of monumental works of sculpture will open next month in Long Island City, Queens, where Mark di Suvero and Isamu Noguchi have collaborated in building a landscaped sculpture park on an abandoned riverside lot.
    • Once a garbage-strewn landfill across from the northern tip of Roosevelt Island, the sculpture park is being landscaped by teams of local youths in preparation for its opening. Called the Socrates Sculpture Park, the four-acre site will contain winding gravel paths, wildflower gardens, views of the East River and scores of sculptures by contemporary artists.”
  • From the New York Times, 12 Oct. 1986.:
    • “The site is impressive. It is on the East River, facing the northern tip of Roosevelt Island, just south of Hell Gate, the point of intersection between the Harlem and East Rivers where treacherous currents decide periodically to wrestle unsuspecting boats to their death. The site was formerly the home of a marine terminal. The slip was filled in around 15 years ago, but some of the concrete pedestals used for moorings remain, and they are now bases for sculpture. Whatever happens on this plot of land will be engaged by the Manhattan skyline and the East River, which that are so much a part of American myth.
    • According to a brochure for the sculpture park, the project is ”dedicated to Socrates in his search for the truth,” The driving force behind the park is the sculptor Mark di Suvero, whose large steel works feed off architecture, and who has a rare capacity to mobilize people from different walks of life. He had had his eye on what was then four acres of garbage and rubble since 1980 when he took over a former brickhandling facility down the road and began transforming it into a waterside studio. Di Suvero was instrumental in leasing the land from the city for five years, and in raising the $200,000 that has been spent so far in clearing and landscaping the grounds and assembling the first show. The park is still raw, and there is no sense yet of a clear guiding vision, but its very existence is remarkable, and its potential is almost unlimited.
    • ”When the lease runs out the city is considering the possibility of turning two acres of the park into luxury housing,” di Suvero said. ”We would like to see all four acres remain a sculpture park indefinitely.””
  • I found a New York Times article from May 26 1994, when the Sculpture Park was officially made a park.
    • “One man’s dream to clean up a garbage dump and build a park — a sculpture garden beside the East River with the jagged skyline of Manhattan a distant backdrop — officially became a reality yesterday.
    • Since Mark di Suvero first wondered a decade ago whether there was a better way to make use of the littered lot beside his Queens studio, hundreds of his neighbors have worked tirelessly to help him create Socrates Sculpture Park, already a powerful draw for art aficionados from the city and beyond. Yesterday, it was formally dedicated as a city park, the first major addition to the park system in more than a decade.
    • With the pull of a cord and the falling away of a blue drape, the Parks and Recreation Commissioner, Henry J. Stern, declared that the 4.5-acre former wasteland had been reclaimed as part of the city’s green space. . . .
    • Socrates Sculpture Park, named for the philosopher, was conceived by Mr. di Suvero after he set up his studio in an old brick factory amid the warehouses and transmission shops along Vernon Boulevard. The site, facing the northern tip of Roosevelt Island and just south of Hell Gate, the treacherous juncture of the Harlem and East Rivers, had once been a marine terminal. The slip was filled in about 20 years ago, but some of the concrete moorings remained; ideal pedestals for sculpture, in Mr. di Suvero’s mind’s eye.
  • New York Times, 11 Aug. 1997.
    • “In the 1980’s, the area was a prime site of illegal dumping; there was no fence, and broken steel and abandoned cars defined the landscape. Mr. di Suvero and Mr. Noguchi looked at the garbage and envisioned a protected park that could provide an ”ongoing experimental narrative” in the medium of sculpture.
    • The city agreed to let the sculptors use the land, but only temporarily. Hundreds of neighborhood volunteers pitched in to clean out truckloads of trash. After a year’s work, the first exhibit was held in 1986. Since then, there have been two shows of 20 or so pieces a year. Children’s education classes, lectures, tours and concerts have also been offered.
    • Mr. di Suvero and others continued to push for more permanent protection for the park, because developers for years had hungered to build luxury housing there but had been defeated by real estate recessions, lack of local amenities, distant transportation and other problems.”
  • Developers have continued to buy up land all around it and build hideous new construction that costs about double what a normal apartment in Astoria would cost.
  • According to a youtube video with 7 views made by Mark Thomas, In the 1970s or 1980s, St. Michael’s Cemetery was in disrepair, overgrown, didn’t even look like a cemetery. New management cleaned it up, then got rid of a bunch of tombstones and then put 6 feet of dirt on top of them, so they could keep burying people there. The people buried there hadn’t paid for perpetual care so they said it was within their rights to cover their graves. Then they had to do something with the tombstones, so they put them in the dumping ground that became Socrates Sculpture Park, so they used that to build the park’s wall. Mark Thomas says that he wants to find out whose tombstones they are, and then build a plaque so the people aren’t forgotten.
  • The tombstones consist mostly of square blocks with letters of them, there are some taller stones that have “lot” written on them, and others have numbers (usually in the 2,000s
  • He also makes the interesting comment that some of the stones are sinking
  • He guesses that the Tombstones may be from Mount Zion, but doesn’t really elaborate on why
  • However, people have said that the tombstones weren’t from St. Michael’s, b/c St. Michael’s has plots, not lots, and their numbering is different. So the mystery is
  • “Gorges” is the only full name on the stone, and there’s one stone that says “Ste” as if it’s part of someone’s name.
  • I’d always assumed they were cast off stones from maybe a nearby stone mason that may have been donated to the park
    • I found a 30th anniversary book called Socrates Sculpture Park: Thirty years, that had a bit more info about what sort of stuff the former marine terminal was used for, which could maaaaaybe support my theory:
    • “Formerly a port for offloading stone and sand, this neglected plot of landfill accumulated what the shipping terminal left behind, whether construction debris or collapsed piers.”
  • Or what if there’s another cemetery they’re from that doesn’t exist anymore?
  • I wrote to the park about a year ago and didn’t hear back, but supposedly the staff doesn’t know the story.

Sources consulted RE: tombstones around Socrates Sculpture Park

Books

Articles

  • Martin, Douglas. “Philosophies Differ on Future of Socrates Sculpture Park.” New York Times, 11 Aug. 1997. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A150303177/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=d82bdc7a. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • “City Art Panel Names Nine Design Winners.” New York Times, 3 May 1986. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A176384041/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=5dabafca. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Mcgill, Douglas C. “A SCULPTURE PARK GROWS IN QUEENS.” New York Times, 27 Aug. 1986. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A176333799/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=a0136bbb. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Brenson, Michael. “GALLERY VIEW; Di Suvero’s Dream of a Sculpture Park Grows in Queens.” New York Times, 12 Oct. 1986. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A176302046/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=0aabdabf. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Yarrow, Andrew L. “14 REASONS WHY NEW YORK IS NEW.” New York Times, 3 Oct. 1986. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A176298273/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=a5bbadd3. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Brenson, Michael. “City as Sculpture Garden: Seeing the New and Daring.” New York Times, 17 July 1987. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A176103620/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=77574bf2. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Yarrow, Andrew L. “Art and History With River View Of Manhattan.” New York Times, 15 July 1988. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A175911795/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=a65aa516. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Brenson, Michael. “Bold Sculpture for Wide-Open Spaces.” New York Times, 21 July 1989. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A175735611/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=2bc0b1b4. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Brown, Frank. “If You’re Thinking of Living in: Astoria.” New York Times, 27 Aug. 1989. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A175747944/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=b9301eb6. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Brenson, Michael. “Sculpture for Troubled Places.” New York Times, 15 Oct. 1989. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A175778280/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=56b200a3. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.
  • Shepard, Richard F. “Astoria, a Greek Isle in the New York City Sea.” New York Times, 15 Nov. 1991. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A175384893/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=17dd4729. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.
  • Brenson, Michael. “Cityful of Sculpture Under the Sky.” New York Times, 26 July 1991. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A175288866/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=2e3e11c9. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.
  • “POSTINGS: Free Guide to Institutions; Arts in Long Island City.” New York Times, 20 Dec. 1992. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A175005016/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=ac7cf315. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.
  • Hevesi, Dennis. “Sculpture Garden Rises in a New Patch of Green; The Latest Addition to New York City’s Park System, Named for a Philosopher.” New York Times, 26 May 1994. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A174435347/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=60c60ec9. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.
  • Holloway, Lynette. “NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: LONG ISLAND CITY; Trailblazing for Urban Hikers.” New York Times, 19 June 1994. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A174445989/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=35863190. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.
  • Steel, Tanya Wenman. “Gingham Checks and Thou.” New York Times, 22 June 1994. New York State Newspapers, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A174443349/SPN.SP01?u=nypl&sid=SPN.SP01&xid=d1ea8f96. Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

Websites

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVfg3Jr1Rps
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrBV3gRyiMU
  • https://wsbj.com/sorabji/2017/02/18/disintegrating-into-dirt-inverted-tombstones-obscure-memories.html
  • https://wsbj.com/sorabji/2020/11/02/the-mystery-of-socrates-sculpture-parks-wall-of-tombstones.html
  • https://untappedcities.com/2016/11/29/top-10-secrets-of-socrates-sculpture-park-in-nyc/?displayall=true
  • https://urbanomnibus.net/2016/12/socrates-30/
  • https://qns.com/2020/10/work-to-begin-on-hallets-cove-waterfront-this-winter/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Constantinideshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socrates_Sculpture_Park
  • https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/socrates-sculpture-parkhttps://6tocelebrate.org/site/socrates-sculpture-park/
  • https://www.nytimes.com/1986/10/12/arts/gallery-view-di-suvero-s-dream-of-a-sculpture-park-grows-in-queens.html
  • https://issuu.com/socratessculpturepark/docs/socrates_30th_anniversary_book_1610
  • https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/realestate/337-affordable-apartments-up-for-grabs-in-lics-5-pointz-towers/ar-BB1e1m7b
  • https://www.hallettspoint.com/#availabilities
  • https://socratessculpturepark.org/artist/andrea-solstad/
  • https://socratessculpturepark.org/artist/sandy-williams-iv/
  • https://socratessculpturepark.org/artist/jeffrey-gibson/
  • https://socratessculpturepark.org/artist/paul-ramirez-jonas/

Don’t miss past episodes:

Two tiny, forgotten cemeteries sit near each other in old Astoria: one was a burying ground for the wealthy families who ran the town, and the other was for Irish immigrants who fled the famine.

Here’s a look at the history behind the graveyards, as well as a puzzling mystery about a nearby churchyard that may or may not be a burial site.

Highlights include:
• Robbers hiding their loot in a church tower
• The mystery of a man with two graves
• The discovery of human remains during a construction project

Follow the podcast on instagram @buriedsecretspodcast

E-mail the podcast at buriedsecretspodcast@gmail.com

Pictures of hidden cemeteries in Astoria

St. George’s Church Cemetery

Hidden Cemetery in Queens Hidden Cemetery in Queens

The Irish Famine Cemetery

Hidden Cemetery in Queens Hidden Cemetery in Queens Hidden Cemetery in Queens Hidden Cemetery in Queens

Episode Script for Hidden Cemeteries of Queens

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • I talk a lot about Astoria, the neighborhood, or more like “town,” in Queens where I live.
  • I actually have no idea how well known Astoria is outside of NYC, I’d only heard of Queens from the Ramones song We’re A Happy Family before moving to NYC.
  • But you’ve almost certainly seen Astoria in TV and movies, since there’s been a big film industry presence here since the 1920s.
  • I’ve talked about how I used to live right next to the big sort of film campus in the southern part of Astoria, which is made up of Kaufman Astoria Studios, the Museum of the Moving Image, and there’s also a big movie theatre over there too. Sometime I’ll do an episode about hauntings in that film complex, because there are some interesting stories over there. But basically Kaufman Astoria Studios has the biggest sound stage space than there is anywhere east of Hollywood, so a lot of stuff ends up being filmed there as well as on the streets of Astoria.
  • Some films were you can see the at least some shots of the streets of Astoria include: Goodfellas and A Bronx Tale, the newest set of Spider-Man movies, as well as TV shows like Orange is the New Black and Seinfeld (George’s family home was in Astoria), though hundreds of other films were made in Astoria.
  • So that’s where you may have seen or heard of Astoria.
  • As for the history of colonizers in Astoria, Peter Stuyvesant, the last dutch mayor of New Amsterdam, a very bad man who I’ve talked about before, granted a man named William Hallett some land on the shore of Astoria in the mid-1600s.
    • According to the 1882 book History of Queens County, the land was inhabited by the Canarsie tribe, though native-land.ca says that the Munsee Lenape and Wappinger tribes, and maybe the Matinecock, lived in the area as well. .
    • History of Queens County also says that two members of the Canarsie tribe, Pomwaukon and Roweroenesteo, deeded the land to the colonizers in the area on July 9, 1666, though it doesn’t go into a lot of detail.
    • At the time, the area was called Mespat or Mespachtes, according to the 1852 book The annals of Newtown, in Queens County, New York by James Riker.
  • The oldest buildings in the area that are still standing are from 200 years later, in the mid-1800s. A fur merchant named Stephen Ailing Halsey incorporated the village of Astoria in 1839.
  • There was a lot of argument about what the town should be called, but it ended up being named after the wealthiest man in America, John Jacob Astor.
    • Like many rich people today, Astor never deined to come to Astoria, even though it was named after him. Instead, he lived in a summer mansion called Astoria, on East 87th Street in Manhattan. He could look across the river from there and see Astoria.
    • There were some rich businessmen, many of whom where lumber and shipping magnates, who did move to Astoria. Their houses were built fairly near the water, in an area that’s sometimes called Astoria Village or Old Astoria now. At the time, there was a ferry that went between Astoria and Manhattan, and service to that ferry was restored a few years back, but other than the ferry, this part of Astoria isn’t particularly accessible. It’s a bit of a weird little tucked-away pocket.
  • Despite having first moved to this part of Queens back in 2012 and having spent a lot of time exploring Astoria on foot, I had no idea that Old Astoria existed until last year, when I was searching for cemeteries in the area and found two in that area.
  • So that brings us to our first cemetery:

 

St. George’s Episcopal Church Cemetery

  •  located in the churchyard of the historic St George’s Episcopal Church of Astoria, which I believe is the oldest church in Astoria.
  • In 1825, wealthy landowner Robert Blackwell donated the land to build St. George Episcopal church. For longtime listeners, yes, this is Robert Blackwell of the Blackwell family for whom nearby Blackwell’s Island, now called Roosevelt Island, which I’ve discussed in detail in the Renwick Smallpox Hospital episodes.
  • The original building, which burned down in 1894, was located at what’s now Astoria Boulevard, a few blocks away from the current structure, which was built at 27th avenue and 14 Street in 1904.
  • If you go to the church’s website, it has a history section, which contains only a clipping of a January 11, 1894 NYT article titled “St. George In Ruin: Oldest Protestant Episcopal Church in Astoria Destroyed by Fire.”
    • It describes how the fire started:
      • “Funeral services were to have been held in the church this morning, and in order to have the edifice comfortably heated the sexton built a fire in the furnace last night. It is believed that the furnace became overheated and set fire to the woodwork.”
    • There’s something a little ironic about a church burning down because of a funeral. Here’s what the article had to say about the old church:
      • “It was a frame structure, and stood on high ground on the corner of Main and Woolsley Streets. It was surrounded by a spacious churchyard, containing the vaults ad graves of members of the oldest family . . . The destroyed church contained a number of marble tablets erected to the memory of some of the oldest members of the congregation and several former rectors.”
    • There’s also something really strange and dark to me about the history section of an extremely historic church’s website only containing and article from the 19th century about the first version of the church being burned down.
  • I haven’t been inside the church, but it’s supposed to have really nice, recently restored stained glass windows.
  • It sounds like in recent years, the parish has had some financial troubles, and in 2005, some of the land was leased or sold to a developer, who tore down the parish house, a historic building which had once been the Astoria Institute for the Education of Young Ladies, and replaced it with a very ugly building which seems to be a sort of nursing home or senior residence.
  • The first time I went there, it was to look for the final resting place of the Blackwell family (the namesake and former owners of Blackwell’s Island, now Roosevelt Island, which I’ve talked about in past episodes.) I was rewarded with views of a beautiful church that looked to me like it’d been transported out of the English countryside.
    • The Blackwells once had their own burying ground, which was in use from around 1780-1857. It was located near the water, a bit southwest of where St. George’s is. Interestingly, the location of the cemetery was immediately south of where the Roosevelt Island Bridge, which was built in the 1950s, stands now. What makes that interesting to me is that the bridge that leads to the island once named for the Blackwells is now right at the location where the Blackwells once buried their dead.
    • According to The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries by Carolee Inskeep, more than 60 people were buried in the old family cemetery.
    • In October 1900, the remains were moved to St. George’s Churchyard. Later, a bottle factory was built on the site, though today, the Ravenswood Generating Station, a huge power plant that was built in the 1960s, stands there today.
    • About 20% of NYC’s electricity comes from that plant, and as someone who spends a decent amount of time around the area, I can tell you that it is VERY hard to breathe near that particular station, especially in the summer when the peaker is running.
      • And, incidentally, the power plant was built right next to the largest public housing project in North America, the Queensbridge Houses, so all 6,000 people who live there have to breathe in the terrible air all the time.
      • There’s a reason why parts of Astoria are known as asthma alley, because respiratory illnesses are more common near the power plants.
    • Anyway, the Ravenswood plant stands in the Ravenswood part of Astoria, and the power plant’s plot was also the location of the Jacob Blackwell Mansion.
    • For a time, a bunch of wealthy people built fancy homes in Ravenswood, though by the 1870s, the rich people moved further east into Long Island, and many of their old mansions were turned into orphanages and asylums. If that isn’t very Victorian and Gothic, idk what is.
      • Incidentally, I was reading the excellent website the newtownpentacle.com, which is run by Mitch Waxman, and I wanted to read a bit from what he wrote about that area, since he happened to mention it in a blog post last week:
        • “”1909 is the year that Queensboro opened for business, and that was just ten years after Queens itself was fashioned by Manhattan’s ready political hands. Then, as now, riverfront property is quite valuable. Prime industrial land was being “wasted” on the indigent and immoral, so these mansions became quite prone to grisly total loss fires. “Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” as the saying goes.””
    • Even though the remains of the Blackwells were moved from the area near the Blackwell Mansion, to St. George’s Church, I found a delightful article in the Broklyn Daily Eagle from October 5, 1900, with my favorite kind of headline: “Human Skulls Unearthed.” I read from that article in the cold open, but the article also mentioned how the property where the bottle factory was, at the time at least, known as the old Williams’ estate, but the Blackwells were buried there. They said that they’d put any other remains they found in the Blackwell family vault at St. George’s Church.
    • Also, this is just to fun not to share, but the next article in the newspaper is headlined “Opossum Killed” and is about a large possum that had been eating chickens in the area of Freeport, Long Island. I found the fact that that was in the newspaper hilarious for some reason, though your mileage may vary on that.
  • It looked like it constructed of rubble masonry using Fordham gneiss, had a tall tower crowned with four gargoyles, stained glass windows, and ornate doors.
  • And tucked behind it was a tiny, charming churchyard cemetery.
  • The graveyard was elevated by a high stone retaining wall and encircled by a chain link fence, so it was hard for me to get too close and see much of it. But by crossing the street and jumping up and down a few times, I was able to get a few glimpses of the headstones, including the large marker denoting the Blackwell family plot.
  • When I went back last month, I found a small alleyway that led to another side of the cemetery, where I could see through the fence a bit better. Part of the fence is falling down, and I read somewhere that you had access to the cemetery through the alleyway, so maybe the implication is that you can climb up through the broken fence to get in?
  • The Blackwell family was originally interred in the Blackwell Burial Ground in nearby Long Island City, on Vernon Boulevard about a block away from where the bridge to Roosevelt Island now stands. In 1900, their remains were relocated to this churchyard to make way for a bottle factory. The original St. George’s Church had been built on land donated by the Blackwells, so it makes sense that they would be relocated to the new location of the church when the need arose.
  • I had a really wonderful time walking around the neighborhood where the church is located; despite having spent 6 years in Western Queens, I’d never ventured to this exact block, and I was charmed by the beautiful church and nearby colonial-style homes with wrought-iron gates, rustic stone walls, and creeping wisteria.

 

A False Graveyard–the Church of the Redeemer in Astoria

  • The next cemetery I want to talk about is actually a false one.
  • Around the 1860s, according to a Feb 19, 1899 article in the Sun, “trouble occurred in the congregation of St. Georges Episcopal Church . . . And a number of the influential members withdrew and organized the Church of the Redeemer. Th new congregation held services for some time in a store, but in a few years came to own a handsome stone edifice at Crescent and Temple streets.”
    • For a time, there was talk of reuniting the churches, especially after St. George’s burned down, but that never happened.
  • I found a really nice description of the church in a July 25, 1887 Brooklyn Daily Times article all about the different churches in the area:
    • “Its architecture is early gothic, and with its solid walls clad in ivy . . . The elegant pile reminds one of what he has seen in old European towns. A young church, it already takes on an old appearance. Here many of the old Astoria families of the Episocopal church worship, but not the oldest, who are to be found at St. George’s Episcopal church.”
  • I stumbled across an interesting monument that looks like a grave marker in the churchyard garden. Since there didn’t seem to be a cemetery next to the church, and I didn’t see any other grave markers, I was puzzled about what was up with this.
  • I found out that a retired merchant named Cornelius Rapelye Trafford donated some money to the parish, a much-appreciated bequest since the church had money problems. According to a February 19, 1899, article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Through the death of Cornelius Rapelye Trafford, a wealthy Astorian, the church was left $10,000 for a set of chimes. The bells were purchased and placed in the church tower built for that purpose.”
  • I found a bit of info about Trafford in the book History of Long Island City, New York by J. S Kelsey; 1896: He was born in 1809 and died in 1872. His father was one of the earliest colonizers to live at Halletts Cove, and the family lived at a beautiful mansion that even back then was 100 years old. Here’s a bit more about what the book has to say about him.
    • “Mr. Trafford was a man of large means, which he expended liberally in the building of very many of the most attractive dwellings in different parts of Astoria and particularly on the ” Hill ” — always the aristocratic section. He was largely interested in the Astoria ferry, and aided materially in the first introduction of street cars, in fact, was to the time of his decease one of the most important factors in the community. He was noted for his geniality, and many remember with pleasure and gratitude his acts of unostentatious charity.
    • “Mr. Trafford was never married, and therefore leaves no direct descendants to perpetuate the name. The beautiful chimes in the tower of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, on the Crescent, were given in his will by Mr. Trafford, and annually on the recurrence of his birthday, ring out sweet melodies. A massive granite cross is a striking feature on the beautiful lawn in front of the church and marks the last resting place of Mr. Trafford.”
  • That last bit is really interesting, because my guess had been that it was put up as a sign of appreciation to honor the gift that Trafford made the church. I’m not totally sure which is true, though, because according to findagrave.com Trafford seems to be buried in Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, a popular burial place for the wealthiest 19th century New Yorkers, alongside George R. Rapelye and his wife, Jane Maria Suydam.
  • Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Cemetery

    • The first time I ever visited Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Cemetery was on a rainy Friday night (04/24/20., I ran to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Cemetery in Astoria, NY, also known as the Irish Famine Cemetery.
    • This cemetery holds the remains of Irish immigrants who moved to Astoria in the 19th century to escape the Great Famine in Ireland.
      • Between 1840-1890, about 150 people were buried here. The last burial was in 1926. All but one of them–the church’s Italian gardener–were Irish.
      • Once Calvary Cemetery opened in 1848, most Catholics in Astoria, and the city in general, were buried there, which is why just a handful of people were interred in this little cemetery.
    • This site was once the churchyard of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Church, back when it was called St. John’s Church. The church was founded in 1841, incidentally the same year that Fordham University was founded. The original building was a wooden frame building that sat next to the cemetery.
    • As the Catholic community grew, it was expanded, and eventually they built a larger building on Newtown Avenue, a few blocks away from the cemetery, leaving this little cemetery alone on an ordinary corner of a busy street. The current church building is really beautiful and has some gothic influences, and was finished in 1873.
    • Today the cemetery sits behind a chain link fence across the street from a flat tire repair shop. 
    • Located near Astoria Park, very close to the RFK and Hellgate Bridges.
    • Even though I can’t go inside these historic places, they’re little portals to our history, and each come with their own stories and characters. So much of history feels anonymous to me: the stories we know are usually either focused on the rich and famous (and often evil) people who made a name for themselves, but we forget all of the ordinary people who came before us. That’s one thing I love about cemeteries: it adds the names of ordinary people back into our history and unconscious, even if their stories are lost.
    • This cemetery was especially interesting to me because of how . . . decrepit . . . it is as a whole. So many toppled and sinking tombstones. I think this is maintained by the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, and it feels kinda forgotten.

Sources consulted RE: cemeteries in Astoria

Books

Articles

  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Feb 19, 1899 · Page 11
  • Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch. Year: 1870; Census Place: Astoria, Queens, New York; Roll: M593_1080; Page: 201A; Family History Library Film: 552579
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Sat, May 7, 1904 · Page 11 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/555908491
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Fri, Jun 17, 1887 · Page 1 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/556863449
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Sat, Jun 21, 1902 · Page 4 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/555932624
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Wed, Dec 28, 1887 · Page 1 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/556996064
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Apr 9, 1899 · Page 10 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/50420388
  • The Sun (New York, New York) · Sun, Feb 19, 1899 · Page 4 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/79105618
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Mon, Nov 10, 1902 · Page 9 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/555907855
  • Brooklyn Evening Star (Brooklyn, New York) · Wed, Aug 13, 1862 · Page 3 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/118125760
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Oct 15, 1903 · Page 11 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/555909576
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Fri, Oct 5, 1900 · Page 8 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/50360004
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Mon, Dec 5, 1887 · Page 1 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/556995547
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Jan 29, 1891 · Page 5 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/557824177
  • New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) · Sat, Feb 21, 1863 · Page 5 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/329273622
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Sat, Dec 26, 1903 · Page 14 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/555934521
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Fri, Apr 15, 1910 · Page 6 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/58335087
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Mon, Jul 25, 1887 · Page 1 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/556992361
  • Historical Archaeology of Religious Sites and Cemeteries
    Author(s): Richard F. Veit, Sherene B. Baugher and Gerard P. Scharfenberger Source: Historical Archaeology , 2009, Vol. 43, No. 1, Historical Archaeology of Religious
    Sites and Cemeteries (2009), pp. 1-11 Published by: Springer Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/25617539
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Tue, Jan 11, 1910 · Page 8 https://newscomwc.newspapers.com/image/55520065

Websites

  • https://www.brownstoner.com/history/st-george-church-astoria-village/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2020/03/van-alst-avenue-long-island-city/
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/irish-famine-cemetery
  • https://sorabji.com/cemeteries/index/category/119-the_graveyard_of_our_lady_of_mt_carmel_church_famine_cemetery_astoria
  • https://sites.rootsweb.com/~nyqueen2/cemeteries/
  • https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1981308/our-lady-of-mount-carmel-catholic-cemetery
  • http://www.nycago.org/Organs/Qns/html/OurLadyMtCarmel.html
  • https://www.brownstoner.com/architecture/st-george-church-astoria-village/amp/
  • https://www.archives.nyc/blog/2018/7/20/for-lo-these-many-years-forgotten-cemeteries-of-queens
  • http://longislandgenealogy.com/QueensCem.pdf
  • https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/141870056/cornelius-rapelye-trafford
  • https://www.macaulay.cuny.edu/seminars/rosenberg09/articles/t/h/e/The_Film_Industry_in_Astoria_9fd9.html
  • https://www.imdb.com/search/title/?locations=Astoria%20Studios,%20Astoria,%20Queens,%20New%20York%20City,%20New%20York,%20USA
  • https://qns.com/2020/10/spider-man-comes-home-as-filming-begins-in-astoria/
  • https://www.movie-locations.com/movies/s/Spider-Man-Homecoming.php
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/1999/05/astoria-village-part-1-queens/
  • http://www.preserve.org/gahs/histlic.htm
  • https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g29837-d13998743-r574218462-St_George_s_Episcopal_Church_of_Astoria-Astoria_Queens_New_York.html
  • https://www.historic-stgeorge-astoria.org/index.php/history
  • http://www.interment.net/data/us/ny/queens/first-presbyterian-church-newtown.htm
  • https://stmary-lic.org/
  • https://www.brownstoner.com/history/queenswalk-st-marys-roman-catholic-church-in-hunters-point/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roosevelt_Island_Bridge
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravenswood_Generating_Station
  • https://rihs.us/2020/11/12/thursday-november-12-2020-lets-explain-what-is-happening-in-ravenswood/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astoria,_Queens#Ravenswood
  • https://gothamist.com/news/the-push-to-turn-nycs-polluting-peaker-plants-into-publicly-owned-solar-power
  • https://www.mountcarmelastoria.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=7
  • https://www.mountcarmelastoria.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=31&Itemid=35
  • http://www.pefagan.com/gen/queens/qmp_hal1840.htm
  • https://sorabji.com/cemeteries/index/category/119-the_graveyard_of_our_lady_of_mt_carmel_church_famine_cemetery_astoria
  • http://www.pefagan.com/gen/astoria/mtcarm/mtcminsc.htm
  • https://newtownpentacle.com/2021/02/26/neglected-orchard/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PS_General_Slocum
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2016/05/irish-famine-cemetery-astoria-village/
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/irish-famine-cemetery
  • https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/1981308/our-lady-of-mount-carmel-catholic-cemetery

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