Posts Tagged ‘Trinity Church’

A child’s casket emerges in a Hudson Street park

October 30, 2017

The dead who dwell in New York’s burial grounds have a strange way of making themselves known.

One example of this happened in 1939. Workmen renovating James J. Walker Park (second to last photo) on Hudson and Clarkson Streets in the West Village came upon an underground vault—and found a child-size cast iron casket inside.

The casket was “made to look like a shrouded Egyptian mummy,” states the Trinity Church website.

The New York World-Telegram reported on the discovery, noting, ‘The girl’s cast iron casket…had a glass window in the top. Her white silk dress still looked fresh and dainty.'” The paper noted that she was “a pretty yellow haired child.”

What was a casket doing there—and who was the girl inside it?

Until the city seized this green space to make into a park, the land was Old St. John’s Burying Ground (above and at right), run by Trinity Church for the worshipers at nearby St. John’s Chapel, since demolished, according to the New York Cemetery Project.

“It’s estimated that 10,000 people were buried in St. John’s Burying Ground in the years before 1860, when burials stopped—and very few bodies were removed and re-interred during park construction,” states Trinity’s website.

The unusual casket itself revealed the girl’s identity.

“The silver coffin plate gave the child’s basic information: Mary Elizabeth Tisdall, 6 years and 8 months old, died April 14, 1850,” according to Trinity Church.

Church archives discovered that Mary’s cause of death was listed as “brain congestion—probably encephalemia,” and she lived at “219 East Ninth Street in Manhattan, just off of Astor Place.”

Mary’s parents had married at St. John’s. Her father (above) was a British-born coal merchant who became a Mason and wrote poetry; he died in 1878.

Her brother, Fitz Gerald Tisdall, had a long career as a professor of Greek at City College.

Yet no record exists of who Mary was—if she liked school, rolled a hoop in Washington Square Park like other children, visited Barnum’s Museum, or had a favorite type of candy.

All we know about her is that she was one of untold numbers of children who didn’t make it to adulthood in New York at the time, when little was known about sanitation and hygiene and no medicine existed to fight deadly diseases.

Her casket didn’t go back underground, of course. “She rests in peace in the catacombs under Trinity Church,” according to the church website.

The only marked grave in the entire park is an 1834 sarcophagus dedicated to three young firemen who perished in a blaze on Pearl Street.

[Top photo: NYPL; second photo: MCNY; fourth photo: NYC Parks Department; Fifth Photo: Wikipedia]

A bit of the London Blitz adorns a downtown gate

April 6, 2015

CherubgateThe front entrance to Trinity Church (and its 17th century burial ground) faces Broadway.

It’s a fascinating, haunting place to lose yourself in early New York history and read the faded gravestones of city founders.

But it’s on a lonely gate at the back of the churchyard (at left), on Trinity Place, where a curious relic—a stone cherub head—can be found.

What’s it doing there?

The head comes from St. Mary-le-Bow church in London’s East End, founded in 1080 and built in 1680 by Christopher Wren.

CherubgatecloseupDuring the Blitz in May 1941, St. Mary-le-Bow, along with thousands of other homes and buildings in London, was leveled by German air raids.

After the war, Trinity Church, a sister church to St. Mary-le-Bow (below, in the 1890s) since Trinity was founded in 1697, pledged $50,000 to help the parish rebuild.

Found in the rubble during construction, the cherub head was gifted to Trinity Church by the people of St. Mary-le-Bow in 1964 as a thank you.

Stmarylebow1890sThe strangely undamaged cherub head now adorns what Trinity has renamed “Cherub Gate” on Trinity Place.

It’s not the only bit of the Blitz to make it to New York City. The landfill used to create the FDR Drive contains pieces of bombed out buildings from Bristol.

And many New Yorkers, including Mayor La Guardia, feared the arrival of German bombers on our side of the Atlantic, so much so that they commissioned this public service poster to alert residents of what to do if a devastating attack on the city actually happened.

 Cherubgateplaque

A peaceful scene of once-bloodied Wall Street

August 12, 2011

It’s hard to tell when this technicolor, car-free view of a strangely placid Wall Street looking toward Trinity Church dates to.

But judging by the suits and hats, it must have been post-1920. That’s the year a bomb left behind in a horse-drawn wagon ripped into this exact location in front of Federal Hall on the right, killing 38 people—mostly messengers, clerks, and other financial workers.

No one was ever brought to justice for the carnage.

The wisdom of the dead in Manhattan graveyards

January 7, 2010

Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton, and dozens of ordinary 18th- and 19th-century New Yorkers sleep for eternity in the cemetery behind Trinity Church, at Broadway and Wall Street. And a few blocks up Broadway, off Fulton Street, more early residents are buried in the graveyard of St. Paul’s Chapel.

Both are peaceful yet unsettling places; Trinity’s cemetery is older than the current church building itself. The jagged, weathered headstones mark the graves of men and women, Revolutionary War soldiers and seamen, and lots of young kids. It’s hard to read most of the headstones because the elements have erased the names and dates.

But many are legible. And to remind visitors of their own mortality, several of the headstones feature this eerie address:

“Behold and See as you Pass By
As You are Now so Once was I
As I am Now you Soon will Be
Prepare for Death and Follow Me”

Celebrating New Year’s in old New York

December 30, 2009

The whole Times Square-ball drop thing didn’t start until 1904. Before then, the hip place to celebrate the holiday was at the base of Trinity Church, on Wall Street and Broadway.

Huge crowds would show—up to 15,000 people some years—looking to see and be seen as well as to hear the tolling of the bells to welcome the New Year.

The second Trinity Church, 1788-1841. The original burned down in the Great Fire of 1776, and the third one still remains there today.

And just like the all-night party in Times Square, the Trinity Church celebration attracted a bridge and tunnel group of revelers, as this New York Times article from 1897 reports: 

“The crowds came from every section of the city, and among the thousands, who cheered or tooted tin horns, as the chimes were rung out on the night, were many from New Jersey, Long Island, and even Staten Island.”

Give my regards to Broad Street

August 27, 2008

An 1825 view of Wall Street from Broad Street, from Valentine’s City of New York Guide Book, published in 1920. Trinity Church is in the center, while a Presbyterian church and Simmons’ Tavern are on the right. (Note the cute hound dashing across the road.)



 

This drawing was done before the Great Fire of 1835, which destroyed about 700 buildings in lower Manhattan. Simmons’ Tavern, which looks like it was made from wood, may have been one of them.