I’m probably going to make a second attempt at this video, but I’m posting this version anyway in case I don’t get around to it. I sound kinda sleepy, I misspoke on a couple of things, and I seem to have not captured some stuff I swear I recorded.
About ½ the perimeter of the Socrates Sculpture Park is surrounded by a wall made of tombstones and other burial stone objects. It’s a little secret I don’t think too many people know about and, by my estimate, it’s also contains a bit of mystery.
Every detail of this account may not be accurate but the story passed down to me, from a reliable source, is this:
In the 1980s the management of St. Michael’s Cemetery in Astoria saw fit to knock down a bunch of tombstones, throw them into a truck, and dump them at what was then an illegal dumping ground at Broadway and Vernon Boulevard in Astoria.
St. Mike’s was within its right to knock down the stones because, they claimed, nobody had made perpetual care payments on these plots for generations.
The cemetery dumped 6 feet of dirt on top of the old plots intending to sell new burials on top of the old ones.
Word got out, outrage arose, community boards swooped in, and it appears St. Michael’s never followed through with its plan to sell new burials on the 6 feet of dirt they dumped onto the old ones. Today a conspicuously empty hill occupies a pretty broad swath of space in the cemetery, near the St. Joseph Mausoleum.
When Socrates Sculpture Park broke ground in the 1980s the tombstones were discovered and used to build the wall that surrounds the park to this day. They’ve become harder to find as foliage has grown over a lot of them, but I found the bits of evidence seen in this video that show, incontrovertibly in my opinion, that these stones came from a cemetery.
The question is: Did the stones come from St. Michael’s or another New York burial ground? Evidently no one at the park today knows.
I don’t think it was St. Michael’s because these markers don’t look like markers from that yard. Some of these stones bear the word “LOT”. St. Mike’s doesn’t have LOTS, it has PLOTS.
There are also 4-digit numbers for what I presume to have been location coördinates for individual burial sites. That format does not fit the location coördinate scheme of St. Mike’s, which identifies individual grave locations by Section/Plot/Grave.
The goal in determining where the Socrates wall of tombstones originated would be to identify the individuals whose markers were toppled and create a memorial in their memory, either at Socrates or St. Mike’s or both. It does not seem fair that some people’s memory gets wiped out, ignominiously turned into a wall, while others survive.
I don’t think I have the activist streak in me necessary to actually execute or follow through on something like this but it’s a noble idea to put out there.
I’ve only found one media writeup about this, a brief mention in Untapped Cities.
My original source on this, a local historian who by all accounts knows what he’s talking about, said there was media coverage of this when it happened in the 1980s, but I’ve never found anything about it in archives of the mainstream New York papers.
My hunch is that one of the hyperlocal newspapers, like the Queens Chronicle, would have written this up. If I could I’d browse through old issues of those papers on microfiche at the Queens Library, but of course that’s closed now.