Friends and I could not have had a more beautiful day to visit New York Marble Cemetery in the East Village. I had always wanted to visit this historic cemetery, the first non-denominational resting place built in New York City, but it is normally closed to the public. The cemetery was built primarily to bury victims of the yellow fever pandemic of the early 1830s. As we can see, it is more utilitarian than the garden cemeteries built in the United States beginning in this same period. The cemtery’s founders used marble to entomb the dead because they believed that using that stone would prevent the transmission of the yellow fever disease.
For more than two decades I had walked past the closed gates on Second Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets and wondered what it looked like inside. Had I visited in the late 1990s it would have looked quite different. What you see here are the results of two decades of hard work by the people, many the descendants of individuals interred here, who have cleaned up and maintained this special place. Until gentrification this area was notoriously crime- and drug-ridden. Inhabitants of the then ubiquitous flophouse were notorious for throwing trash of all types out the windows in the grounds here. In the early 2000s they began the clean-up and the planting of the landscaping one sees here. They have also done extensive genealogy work and tracked down the descendants of many of the cemetery residents. It is amazing what even a few individuals working with purpose can accomplish.