4 Graves You Have To See In New York City


Trinity Church, New York City
Trinity Church, New York City

You go to New York City and you do the obvious things, right? Go to the top of the Empire State Building, see the Statue of Liberty, walk around Times Square, see that golden statue thing in Rockefeller Center. Maybe see a Broadway musical. Go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then swing over to the MoMA. Go see a show being taped.  I have done all of these things and I’ve done some of them multiple times (David Letterman TWICE) and, don’t get me wrong, they’re fun. You know what else if fun? DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

We recently took our six-year-old to New York City for a little vacay and, of course, the first thing we did was take him to the top of the Empire State Building. He loved it and thought the lights were cool (although he suggested that it wasn’t very “luxurious” because they didn’t serve food). Then we took him to Times Square, which in retrospect, maybe we should’ve also done at night. It’s a million times less impressive with all of the flashing lights mixing in with the burning sun.

Anyway, you know what’s cooler than flashing ads for Minolta and Cardi B? Finding an old as hell graveyard and spending time wandering around in it (until your family gets annoyed and you have to leave).

Trinity’s church yard is one of three burial grounds associated with Trinity Church (the other being St. Paul’s and Trinity Cemetery).  It’s located at Broadway and Wall St. in lower Manhattan which is *sort of* weird because it’s between One World Trade Center and the New York Stock Exchange. It’s right in the middle of all the action, so it’s not where you’d expect a historic, yet active, church to be hanging out. The church was established in 1696 when it was purchased by the Church of England. The land grant deemed the rent to be a whopping 60 bushels of wheat a month (where can I get a deal like that??). The church has been rebuilt twice since it first opened in 1696 and it was the tallest building in the United States until 1869. The enormous (at the time) church spire was a welcoming sight for ships pulling into the NY harbor.

Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton

There are 3 main things for when you go to the Trinity Church yard: Alexander Hamilton, Charlotte Temple and Richard Churcher. Alexander Hamilton is pretty self-explanatory, as he was one of our country’s Founding Fathers and the star of his own Broadway musical. Five of his children were baptized here and he owned a pew, but was not technically a member because he didn’t take communion. After being killed by Aaron Burr in that famous duel of theirs, he was buried here. Fun fact: Did you know that his son, Phillip, also died in a duel? He died three years before his father and, while there is a stake in the ground stating that Phillip is buried here, it is unknown if he is buried IN the graveyard or outside of it somewhere. Apparently when Phillip died it wasn’t quite as “cool” to die of a duel as when his father did and so the church tried to hide the evidence, so to speak.

Charlotte Temple has a pretty inconspicuous “grave” that you might not notice if you’re not looking for it. She was the title character from a best selling novel written in 1794 (Best selling? Was it on the NYT Bestseller List or something?) and there is a grave with her name on it in the church yard. The sign in the yard stated that a man working on the 1840s rebuild of the church carved her name into the stone, but it is unclear whether anyone is buried there. As I looked further, it appears that P.T. Barnum, who owned the American Museum at the time, may have commissioned this weird “grave” as a publicity stunt in order to get more people into his museum, which wasn’t far from the church. A man named William Crommelin admitted to carving the name, but the Historical Society says that it was carved in the 1850s, during the time that Ol’ Barnum had has museum. Anyone want to dig it up and let me know?

The other super cool grave is that of Richard Churcher who was a five-year-old who died (I know, NOT super cool) and was buried here. His grave is the oldest carved gravestone in the entire city and is two-sided, which was very rare for the time period. The date on it is 1681 which makes it 337 years old, for those of you who are bad at math. I’ve tried to find more information on this little guy, but I haven’t been able to. My best guess would be that he died from any one of the numerous diseases that festered in New York City during that time period. Most of the people buried during this era died of smallpox, yellow fever or typhus. It was around the time of Richard Churcher’s death that they started to bury people in church yards, thank god.  Previous to this, if you died, they might literally toss you out into the intersection along with the other yellow fever victims. As you can guess, this wasn’t quite sanitary and people were finally buried underground. THANK YOU.

Richard Churcher grave, Trinity Churchyard, New York City
Richard Churcher 

Finally, of course you MUST be wondering why there was a picture of the  Washington Monument fronting this post? Well, SUPRISE, this is the 4th grave! This monument is located in Washington Square Park and was once a potter’s field. People were buried here by the thousands  during the yellow fever epidemic between 1797-1825. The area where this monument is was once on the nothern edge of the fashionable part of town (Lower Manhattan) and when people started to move north, they built a park on top of the burial grounds so that the fancy (and alive!) Manhattanites could have a place to frolic. Or picnic. Or whatever.  There are approximately 20,000 people buried here under this piece of land and old vaults are still dug up on the regular when they do excavation projects.  So next time you’re walking through, after sticking your toes in the fountain to cool off, think about ALLLLL of those people that are REALLY cool underneath you.