Centuries-old cemetery may lie beneath 12th Street

According to this 1867 map, the cemetery was directly under where the church currently stands. Credit: New York Public Library.
According to this 1867 map, the cemetery was directly under where the church currently stands. Credit: New York Public Library

Preservationists fighting to protect a historic East Village church happened upon a surprising discovery recently: The 100-year-old Mary Help of Christians church was built on top of an even older Catholic cemetery — once the largest Catholic cemetery in the city.

The discovery was made the day before community groups were organizing a rally in the hopes of getting developer David Steiner to agree to develop only the large vacant lot next to the church, and to reuse the church structure rather than tear it down.

Steiner has apparently acquired permits to demolish the century-old church, its 150-year-old rectory, and a 90-year-old school connected to it, according to Andrew Berman with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

“It doesn’t mean they have to use them,” Berman added. “But they do have them.”

Berman said another reason to use the vacant lot for development is that it is the only part of the Steiner-owned land that was not built on top of the cemetery. 

It is unclear whether there are still bodies below this stretch of East 12th Street: Berman said an exhumation was conducted in 1909 when bodies were supposed to be moved from this site to Calvary Cemetery in Queens, but “there is reasonable doubt” as to whether all of the bodies were successfully relocated.

“The number of bodies that were reported in the press as having been moved is significantly lower than the number of bodies that several reliable press accounts from the era said were buried there,” Berman said. “Typically with cemeteries like this when they are closed down and ‘moved,’ oftentimes the movement is far from complete and it’s common to find human remains were left behind.”

“We believe that it’s a possibility and one that should be explored before any excavation takes place,” Berman added.

The church, for decades a nexus in the East Village’s Italian community, was made famous by Allen Ginsberg, who lived across the way at 437 E. 12th St. and referenced the building’s copper roof and cross in the poem “Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night Writing Letters.”

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

News

Mets mascot Mr. Met target of Bill Clinton…

Mets mascot Mr. Met has told how he ended up in the crosshairs of a Secret Service sniper rifle. The man behind the Mr. Met…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

NBA

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams…

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams have the best shot at a championship. The Thunder, Clippers, Heat and Rockets lead the way.

NFL

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.