New York Marble Cemetery
Architect: Perkins Nichols
Location: Interior of block between East 2nd and East 3rd Streets, Second Avenue and the Bowery
It’s not the alley, but what leads to it: a grassy clearing hemmed in by a stone wall, hidden in the middle of a city block.
Another example of how disease shaped the city: instead of burying bodies in the ground, thus contributing to the miasmas thought to be spreading illness, they were placed in white marble vaults ten feet below. There are no gravestones here. Plots are identified by plaques set in the walls. Other than that, it’s grass and trees. It looks a little unusual, perhaps, but not spooky. A park. The cemetery was built on what was, at the time, New York’s edge, but with full knowledge that one day it would be surrounded homes and businesses: its cautious demeanor, I suspect, represents a knowing compromise between the demands of the dead and those of the future city.
When I visited it for the 2007 Open House New York, there was a large part of the wall that had collapsed. More than collapsed, really: pulverized. I asked a trustee of the cemetery about it. “When did that happen?” “It started happening about twenty-five years ago.” Oh.