Tombstone Tuesday: New York City Cemeteries Face Gridlock

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Tombstone Tuesday: New York City Cemeteries Face Gridlock

For this Tombstone Tuesday: New York City Cemeteries Face Gridlock.

The New York Times reports that some New York City cemeteries are running out of room, and with plots becoming scarce, their prices are on the rise. As as genealogist, I am wondering if the record-keeping can keep up with the situation. The article:

THOSE of us among the living all know New York City can be maddeningly expensive, whether one is shopping for a $40 million mansion on Fifth Avenue or a $2,500 studio walk-up in a former tenement on the Lower East Side.

For the dead, however, virtually no amount of money will secure a final resting place in the heart of a city that is fast running out of graveyard space.

And in the parts of town where a burial plot is still available, the cost has in some cases more than tripled in less than a decade; aboveground mausoleums can fetch upward of $3 million. Cemeteries are scrambling to create more space, and as plot prices have soared, the number of cremations has also risen, with a quarter of New Yorkers choosing the less expensive alternative.

Trinity Church Cemetery in Washington Heights, the last operating graveyard in Manhattan, has stopped selling plots, offering burial only in the most “extraordinary circumstances,” or to people with long-held reservations.

The largest Jewish graveyard in Brooklyn, Washington Cemetery (seen above), ran out of land in the winter after tearing up roads and pathways to utilize every cubic inch of ground. Evergreens and Cypress Hills, also in Brooklyn, may sprawl, but not enough, and dozens of smaller cemeteries spread across the five boroughs are squeezed, too. The city’s largest Catholic cemetery, Calvary in Queens, is close to capacity. And even the most famous of them all, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, has only about five more years before it will be forced to stop selling plots.

More than 50 years have passed since a major cemetery was established within the city, and no new burial grounds are planned. But New Yorkers continue to die, some 60,000 a year.

Accordingly, per square foot, burial plots in centrally located New York City cemeteries rival the most expensive real estate in the city. A private mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx can easily cost more than $1,000 per square foot.

I’ve noticed when I’m researching my Chicago relatives’ plots, the cemeteries are usually very eager to point out which ones still have room. Now I know why!
On 24 Aug 1907, my Norwegian great-grandmother bought a very large plot (148 sf) in Chicago’s Mt. Olive Cemetery for $65. The cemetery guy kept telling me how incredibly cheap that was, but I know that $65 to my hard-working immigrant family was a fantastic sum of money.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine’s “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”

2 Comments

  1. Holly 17 August 2010 at 4:19 PM - Reply

    At first glance (clearly I do not have my bifocals on)I thought it was a photo of the city buildings, and then saw they were stones! Just like New York! Wow, what a picture huh!

  2. Sassy Jane Genealogy 17 August 2010 at 7:27 PM - Reply

    I wondered if it was the angle of the photograph, but when I read that hey’re starting to bury people standing up, I began to understand.

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