Visiting cemeteries may not be the most exciting thing to do in New York City, but it’s an experience that combines historical awe and morbid reflection. And with New York being the home of countless artists, musicians, politicians, activists, and business leaders, the city’s cemeteries are filled with famous tombstones.
Trinity Churchyard Cemetery, Manhattan
Wandering around the narrow, tourist-crowded streets of the Financial District, one would be hard-pressed to find a more tranquil sanctuary than the Trinity Churchyard cemetery. Trinity Church actually has three cemeteries in Manhattan—which also happen to be the only three active burial grounds on the island. Those buried in the churchyard include Alexander Hamilton and John Jacob Astor, while you will find John Jacob Astor IV and his wife, Madeleine, in the uptown Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum. The third cemetery is in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Chapel.
New York Marble Cemetery, Manhattan
Tucked between brick apartments in the East Village, the only way to enter the New York Marble Cemetery is through two narrow alleyways. Established in the 1830s, the cemetery was built in response to yellow fever outbreaks in the city. Around 2,100 people rest in the cemetery’s underground marble vaults.
Washington Cemetery, Brooklyn
You notice Washington Cemetery as a sea of gray tombstones surround the F train as it approaches the Bay Parkway station. With perfectly ordered tombstones arranged along avenues and streets in five separate cemeteries, this necropolis is a world apart from the lush hills and marble obelisks of the Woodlawn Cemetery. The predominantly Jewish cemetery is home to generations of Brooklynites, and in many ways feels more humble than the more famous burial grounds listed above.
Hart Island, the Bronx
A short boat ride from Pelham Bay Park brings you to Hart Island, the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world. The island is home to over 1 million people—many of whom are unidentified adults, infants, or stillborn babies—and just under 1,500 new burials are conducted every year. The only unique marker is one for the first child in New York City who died from AIDS—in 1985—as he was buried away from the other trenches. Access is difficult, though—Hart Island, which has previously hosted a Civil War prison camp and a lunatic asylum, is controlled by the New York City Department of Correction: Individuals are only allowed access with proof that a relative is buried on the island.
Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx
Herman Melville, Fiorello La Guardia, Jay Gould, and Duke Ellington are just some of the 300,000 authors, artists, politicians, business moguls, and other New Yorkers who call the Woodlawn Cemetery their eternal home. The cemetery, which turns 150 years old this year, is situated in a quiet corner in the North Bronx, the forested hills surrounding the 400-acre grounds a fitting tribute to the generations of famous families buried here. Stop by the Annie Bliss Titanic Memorial, or simply reflect upon the rows of ornate mausoleums and tombstones.