Since its founding, New York City has been crowded. NYC real estate is such a commodity that disposing of the deceased has posed some unique challenges. In many of the city’s cemeteries, the departed haven’t gone so quietly.
St. Paul’s Chapel Churchyard
NYC’s oldest public building in continuous use (George Washington prayed here), St. Paul’s churchyard has ancient, sunken burial stones dating back to 1704. The ghost of British actor George Frederick Cooke, who was buried there in 1812, has been known to haunt the graveyard. Bizarrely, Cooke was interred without his head, having pledged it to science to settle his medical bills. (His skull later returned to the stage as a prop in productions of Hamlet). Cooke’s spirit is seen roaming the churchyard, eternally searching for his missing head. Broadway and Fulton Street, Manhattan, NY http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/calendar/visit
This iconic neo-Gothic church at the head of Wall Street is the final resting place of Revolutionary War heroes and Founding Fathers, including Alexander Hamilton. It’s become a popular spot for lunch among the ancient headstones, which date back to 1681. One long-term resident with a sense of humor lies in a plot whose tombstone simply reads “comedian.” While passing his grave, many have clearly heard laughter. Broadway at Wall Street, Manhattan, NY http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/calendar/visit
St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery burial grounds
It would be easy to miss the burial grounds outside this historic church (NYC’s second oldest), since there are no traditional tombstones. Stone markers in the ground (the inscriptions on many almost completely worn away) mark the subterranean vaults in which wealthy New York families of the early 19th century were placed. Four ghosts reportedly live in the church, including Peter Stuyvesant, the colorful governor of New Amsterdam, whose wooden peg leg is heard patrolling the aisles. He’s even been known to disrupt services by singing hymns in Dutch before disappearing into a wall.
Another macabre incident on the grounds occurred in 1878 when the corpse of wealthy department-store owner A.T. Stewart was dug up by thieves and held for ransom. 131 E. 10th St., Manhattan, NY http://stmarksbowery.org/
This bucolic necropolis features rolling hills, great views of the Manhattan skyline, and impressive sculpture and architecture. Founded in 1838, the cemetery was one of 19th-Century America’s greatest tourist attractions. Eerie, ghost-like images frequently appear in photographs taken at the site, and Mabel Douglass is believed to haunt the grounds. Douglass disappeared on Lake Placid until her body was found at the bottom of the lake 30 years later, petrified and perfectly intact. 500 25th Street, Brooklyn, NY http://www.green-wood.com/
This “Garden Cemetery” is admired for its beautiful grounds and spectacular Mausoleums designed by some of NYC’s most famous architects. Established in 1863, it is the final resting place of 300,000, including Duke Ellington, Fiorello LaGuardia, Miles Davis, and Celia Cruz. One who isn’t resting so peacefully is a mysterious old man with a flashlight, seen (but not heard) yelling beside Frankie’s Castle. Webster Avenue & East 233rd Street, Bronx, NY http://www.thewoodlawncemetery.org/
St. John Cemetery
Located in a residential neighborhood of Queens, St. John is the repository for some of NYC’s most famous citizens (Geraldine Ferraro, Robert Mapplethorpe), as well as its most infamous (Lucky Luciano, John Gotti, and members of notorious crime families). Visitors report unnatural happenings, including weird sounds emanating out of thin air and unnerving cold spots. 8001 Metropolitan Ave. Middle Village, NY 11379
As with most tales of the undead, encounters are primarily anecdotal. But who doesn’t love a chilling ghost story?
Jeff Dobbins is a writer living in New York City. He has written book and lyrics for several musicals, and scripting for celebrity awards show and Metropolitan Opera Radio. His work has appeared on Yahoo News, Associated Content by Yahoo, and Matador Network.