The iconic picture of New York City usually includes a sprawling expanse of skyscrapers, Times Square flooded with tourists, overcrowded and stuffy subway cars. The gist? It’s a city full of people. But one prominent part of the city is almost always left out: its dead bodies.
Some 60,000 New Yorkers die each year — and their bodies have to go somewhere, whether in the one active cemetery remaining in Manhattan or one of the many burial grounds still accepting permanent residents in the outer boroughs. Dead bodies are more prevalent than most people care to realize in The City That Never Sleeps. And that’s without taking into account the multiple burial sites that have since been covered up — like Washington Square Park, a public space built on top of a potter’s field where some 10,000 bodies were laid to rest.
And with that, here are five New York cemeteries worth visiting:
Location: Washington Heights, Manhattan (Map it)
Hours: Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Affiliated with the historic Trinity Church Wall Street, Trinity Cemetery is the only active cemetery left in Manhattan. It was founded in 1842 in northern Manhattan after outbreaks of cholera (and other diseases) led to the prohibition of burials in lower Manhattan. The cemetery boasts great views of the nearby Hudson River, and was the site of the Battle of Fort Washington during the American Revolution.
Trinity is the final resting place of more than a few notable names, among them former New York City mayor Ed Koch, naturalist John James Audubon, and actor Jerry Orbach. It is one of Trinity Church’s three burial grounds — the other two are located in lower Manhattan — and is also home to The Church of the Intercession, an Episcopalian congregation.
Location: East Village, Manhattan (Map it)
Hours: The fourth Sunday of the month from April through October
Sometimes referred to as Second Avenue Cemetery, this one is tucked away in an otherwise bustling neighborhood. Established in 1830, it is the oldest public, nondenominational cemetery in the city, and is unique in that it contains no gravestones. The names of the 2,080 people buried in the cemetery’s 156 below-ground vaults appear nowhere except in the written registers. The grounds can be rented for various events, including weddings, cocktail parties, and filming.
Around the corner from New York Marble Cemetery is the unaffiliated New York City Marble Cemetery, the second-oldest nondenominational burial grounds. Both sites interred the dead in underground vaults (in part because of a fear due to yellow fever outbreaks of burying the dead a few feet underground), but New York City Marble has markers to signify the vaults’ locations.
Location: Woodlawn, Bronx (Map it)
Hours: Daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Covering 400 acres, Woodlawn Cemetery is one of the city’s largest burial grounds. Annually, more than 100,000 people come to visit this resting place of some 300,000 individuals. It has been called the “McMansion of cemeteries” thanks to its impressive and elaborate mausoleums. For starters, there’s the Egyptian-style tomb of F.W. Woolworth, flanked by two large sphinxes. There’s also the tomb of Augustus Julliard featuring Ionic-style architecture. A few others are less ostentatious, like the LaGuardia family monument, which is situated under two small evergreens.
Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington are among the other notable names buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. It is also the location of the Annie Bliss Titanic memorial.
Location: Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn (Map it)
Hours: Daily from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Green-Wood was one of the first rural cemeteries establish in the United States, and quickly became a prestigious burial place and tourist attraction. At 478 acres, Green-Wood is the permanent home of some 560,000 residents, including many well-to-do people like Tammany Hall politician Boss Tweed, newspaper editor Horace Greeley, Los Angeles Dodger Charles Ebbets, and toy mogul F.A.O. Schwarz.
This Brooklyn cemetery’s popularity (it attracted half a million people annually as early as the 1860s) inspired the creation of popular public spaces like Central Park. In fact, an 1866 article in the New York Times suggested that Green-Wood was “as permanently associated with the fame of our city as the Fifth Avenue or the Central Park.” Bonus: the cemetery is a great spot to glimpse the Manhattan skyline.
Location: Woodside, Queens (Map it)
Hours: Daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
With more than 3 million permanent residents, Calvary has the largest number of internments of any burial grounds in the United States. Calvary is a Catholic cemetery, owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. Made necessary by overflowing churchyard grave sites, Calvary was the first large cemetery established outside of Manhattan (in what was considered rural Queens) by the trustees of the historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The cemetery’s 365 acres are divided into four sections, which are also divided into 71 subsections. It was featured in the films The Godfather and Zoolander, and while it offers nice views of Manhattan, it lacks the tranquility of other cemeteries as its situated near the noisy Bronx-Queens Expressway and Long Island Expressway.
Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.