Some of New York’s best museums are found in unlikely places.
Cemeteries chronicle the city’s history through its people as well as its architecture and style. And that reverence is exactly what Alexandra Kathryn Mosca set out to capture in her recently released book “Gardens of Stone.”
Mosca, who has worked as a funeral director in Queens for more than three decades, wanted to understand the history of some of New York’s most storied cemeteries — everything from Green-Wood in Brooklyn to the lesser known African Burial Ground on Duane Street.
“They’re repositories of history,” she said. “You walk around any cemetery, it gets people to start talking and remembering who these people were and the role they played in New York City, if not America.”
Mosca’s book profiles more than 30 cemeteries throughout the five boroughs, including one of the city’s first — St. Mark’s Church and Cemetery. The land for this East Village landmark (now known as St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery) was originally owned by Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, according to Mosca’s book. The cemetery was built around 1672.
About 20 years later, a burial ground was built in what is now known as lower Manhattan for both free and enslaved Africans, who were laid to rest there from about the 1690s until 1794, according to the book.
The burial ground, currently known as the African Burial Ground National Monument, was rediscovered in 1991 during the planned construction of a federal office building.
A total of 419 skeletal remains were uncovered, according to Mosca’s book, and reburied at the original site next to the Ted Weiss Federal Building.
A fear of (and misunderstanding about) yellow fever — thought at the time to be caused by the stench from cemeteries — contributed to the push in the 1800s to bury the dead outside of highly-populated Manhattan.
Mosca said cemeteries have started to move toward taking the fear out of death. Green-Wood Cemetery, for example, hosts tours and fundraisers as well as a historic trolley tour and “Dead Distillers” tour where people learn about “permanent residents” with whiskey connections before a tasting session.
“I think it reacquaints you with history when you walk through a cemetery,” Mosca said. “I think part of it is to let people in so they’re not afraid.”