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
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

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…

Local

Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

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…

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

NBA

Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

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.