Famed Figures of American and New York History Repose at Upper Manhattan's Trinity Cemetery by New York City personal/private licensed tourguide Jim Dykes of www.JimDykesNYC.com

Nearly 30,000 New Yorkers of the last two centuries are currently “residents” of Trinity Church Cemetery on Broadway between W. 153rd and W. 155th Streets in Manhattan including famous clergy, soldiers, inventors, statesmen, authors composers, socialites, robber barons— are tucked away here under the plush green landscape of this English style “country garden” cemetery.

Trinity Church, world famous as “the big brownstone church” on Broadway at Wall Street, is one of the oldest parishes in the city of New-York, founded in the seventeenth century, when New-York was still hyphenated. Trinity’s two oldest burial grounds in lower Manhattan, have been inactive for centuries.

By the early 1800s, New Yorkers had grown accustomed to years of living in fear of recurring epidemics (especially the dreaded yellow fever). In October of 1798, for example, 522 deaths were recorded in New York, of which 431 were due to yellow fever. Shallow graves were readied for immediate burial and carts would clatter over the city cobblestones as the driver (wrapped up to avoid contamination) would cry in a loud voice: “Bring out your dead!” With cemetery overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, a city ordinance was passed which prohibited any further burials downtown.
Trinity Church purchased a 23-acre tract of land far out in the “country” in 1842 on a hillside overlooking the Hudson, which had been not far from the site of the fierce Revolutionary War battles of Harlem and Washington Heights in 1776.

Trinity Cemetery was lavishly re-landscaped in 1881 by Calvert Vaux, one of the designers of Central Park. He laid it out as a plush private park, a fantasy English countryside effect (like Central Park) with winding roads, tall shade trees, lawns and shrubbery. Each section has a gatehouse and watchman. Originally undivided, the cemetery was split into two sections when Broadway was expanded in the late 19th century, and a footbridge spanning Broadway was erected (now demolished). The Eastern division is located behind the neo-Gothic Church of the Intercession (1914).
Many of the tombs are exquisitely carved and decorated by the finest artists and craftsmen of early New York including Tiffany & Co. The obelisks, statues and mausoleums are some of the best examples of Neo-Gothic, Victorian and American Vernacular funerary art & architecture to be found anywhere. Several family vaults in the older sections are completely sealed, as grave-robbing was quite common in the 19th century. There are 90 family vaults and 1,200 family plots. Original prices for burial were: for single graves: $5.00, with a gravedigger charge of $2,00 added. Children’s graves were $2 to $3 cheaper and family vaults ranged from $60 to $150.

The long list of prominent names begins with the great naturalist John J. Audubon (1780-1851) and in fact, much of the cemetery was Audubon’s farm “Minniesland.” In 1841, Audubon and his wife Lucy established a farm on the Hudson River at the present W. 155th Street & Riverside Drive with a grand family manor spacious enough for his two sons and their combined families. Later his property was sold to Trinity Cemetery next door and incorporated into the cemetery property. Audubon’s 30 foot high marker lies in the Eastern Division of the cemetery, behind the church. A massive stone base, topped with a huge stone Celtic cross, it was erected in 1893 by the New-York Academy of Sciences. The monument is gracefully carved with a variety of birds representing his famed drawings of “Birds of America.”
One of New York’s first families, the Astors, are represented here with a variety of vaults and mausoleums. John Jacob Astor I (1763-1848) is here and there is even a nautical “anchor marker” which reminds us of Col. John Jacob Astor, who perished in the Titanic disaster in 1912.
There are also Schermerhorns buried at Trinity Cemetery. Caroline Schermerhorn became the legendary Mrs. Astor, self-proclaimed queen of New York society. Mrs. Astor coined the term “the 400” because the ballroom of her Fifth Ave. house (where the Empire State Building stands now) could hold only 400 people. Letters and diaries of old New York are filled with stories of socialites and their desperate attempts to receive invitations to Mrs. Astor’s balls.
The Right Reverend Benjamin T. Onderdonk (1791-1861), fourth bishop of New York, is buried here as are three former Mayors of New York: Fernando Wood, Oakey Hall and Mayor Ed Koch. First families of NY such as the Paysons, the Delafields, the Guions and the Carmans are here as well as the notorious socialite and social climber Madame Eliza Jumel whose nearby home is now a museum (the Morris-Jumel Mansion). Charles Dickens’ son Alfred Tennyson Dickens (1845-1912) is buried here after suddenly dying on a ceremonial speaking tour of New York.
One of the most noted people buried here is noted NYC Episcopal priest Dr. Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), the presumed author of “Twas the Night Before Christmas is buried here with his entire family. Every Christmas season for nearly 100 years a ceremony is held with a mass to celebrate Dr. Moore’s famous poem and a wreath is placed on his grave.

One of the magnificent carved headstones reads:
Remember Man as you pass by—As you are now, so once was I
And as I am, so must you be. Prepare for death and follow me.


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