Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Protest at Washington Square Park

The indigent, unknown and disenfranchised were buried in Washington Square, when the park was a potter’s field from 1797 to 1825. Yellow fever in the early 1800s pushed the graveyard’s population to as high as 20,000.

City told to stop digging up graves in park rehab

Their bones began to turn up two weeks ago, as work started on the city’s controversial renovation of the park. First, human and animal remains were found “mixed in with nails and other construction debris,” said Parks Dept. spokesperson Jama Adams, who pointed to prior construction in the park. Digging 15 “test spots,” archaeologists uncovered 70 to 80 bones in one spot alone; eventually four intact burials were found, though the Villager newspaper put the number of skeletons at seven. “None of these will be disturbed,” Adams said. “Work is ongoing.”

The news of the dead came just after the renovation of the park lurched forward, with the fountain’s dismantling and the pulling up of eight trees around the central plaza. Machines were actively removing ground.

“I don’t take the word ‘desecration’ lightly, but that is what is happening here,” said the Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper, minister at the Judson Church, who will lead a protest tonight to call on the Bloomberg administration to halt construction and repair the park instead. “They should stop disturbing the dead,” said Schaper. “The city is disrespecting the community again.”

Why exactly are we doing this again? Because the fountain is in the wrong place and we have millions to burn, is that it?


Frank said...

Aside from the city spending money on questionable park "improvements" I don't see why this an issue. There's no such thing as disturbing the dead and if there were I'm sure they'd be more disturbed by the drug hazed midwesterners loitering in the park after their classes at NYU than park cleanups.

In an interesting comparison the link below is to a NY Times article printed on May 13, 1890. This was around the time they were building the permanent arch in the park. The articles talks about putting the bones they found into barrels and doesn't mention what was done with them.


Anonymous said...

This is outragous, but just a taste of what Manhattan can expect once that landmarks law is struck from the books.

The preservation movement in this city is in shambles.

We need to start again with fresh blood.

Anonymous said...

What about all the graves
at the St. Saviour's site in Maspeth?

Are Queens' sacred bones less worthy
of being protected from the wanton desecration
of greedy foreign "developers" ?

Are they to be less revered that Manhatan's remains?

It is a well known fact,
which has been strongly supported
by a myriad of academic studies,
that Native Americans
were often married to African Americans !

So aside from early townspeople
who are buried at St. Saviour's,
there are likely Native/African Americans
interred there also!

Do you approve
of desecrating their graves Mayor Mike,
Helen (African/American) Marshall
and the rest of our "elected "fools ?

Where's Reverend Al etc. on this ?

Maybe it's time for some of that "old Black magic"!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic to see a clergy person coming out FOR preservation for a change.

Anonymous said...


Your comparison is interesting, but I'm not sure what it proves. So, they threw human bones in barrels in the 1800's. Human slavery was also common in that century.

You are entitled to your view that there is no such thing as disturbing the dead, many of the rest of us, including Rev. Dr. Schaper disagree with you and feel what the parks department is doing amounts to desecration.

The fact that it is a public body perpetrating this desecration makes me feel awful, it's as though they are forcing the rest of us to be their unwilling co-conspiritors.

Frank said...

I also totally respect your opinion so I apologize for coming off so pushy. I actually meant my original post as two separate points and wasn't trying to prove anything in particular by posting the article. The article was just meant as a "look how we do things differently now" kind of thing.

But now that I think about it I think it does kind of relate. I disagree that removing human remains from the park is desecration. I've worked as a contract archaeologist and some of the work that that I've done included relocating graveyards. The excavations are performed respectfully (in the sense that the bones aren't thrown into barrels) and the remains are reinterred elsewhere. The city spends a lot of money to have professional archaeologists make sure of that.

There's also another aspect to this. I don't know what will be done with the remains they find here but the archaeological work done at the African Burial Ground provided us with an insight into what it was like to be a slave in the North. Without this, what the Rev. Dr would call desecration, we wouldn't have been forced to come to terms with the fact that the North was just as involved in the slave trade as the South was.

Anonymous said...

What about all the graves
at the St. Saviour's site in Maspeth?


Hey, don't worry! We have LPC commmissioners from Queens! The head of HDC is from Queens! the 4 boros are in Queens! A big effort is made to designate Queens!

Anonymous said...

Hell, is Goodwill Triangle on the Hallet Family burial ground?

It St Goerges senior residence on a burial ground?

Is the old Remson House development site on 27th Ave on a burial ground?

Some issues reported (and ignored) by LPC.

Do we see a pattern here?

georgetheatheist said...

I can't wait to die so they can build a bowling alley over me in 100 years.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for a thoughtful and informative reply. If the parks department under Mayor Bloomberg was following the type of strict guidelines you describe, I'd doubt there would be much protest.

It's the recent record of these people that makes people so suspicious.

In the Metro article posted, they describe bulldozers active and trees being destroyed even after the human remains were discovered.

One would expect them to be in there sifting the sacred earth with screens, not giant earth moving machines.

The scene in the park is one of officials trying NOT to discover human remains, because they know 20,000 people are interred there and if they disturb the ground, it will take years to respectfully remove and rebury their remains elsewhere.

It sounds so familiar with this administration, and yes it brings to mind the rushed up permits being issued to remove trees and demolish the buildings at St. Saviors. The same people, who are guided by the same principles are at work in both places.

Anonymous said...

the big joke about this whole washington square park controversy is the way those who want the renovation, with its new fountain named after the Tisch family always talk about getting the drug pushers out of the park.

What is left unsaid is that the Tisch family earned that big family fortune from their ownership of the Lorillard tobacco company.

How ironic to push out the drug pushers and re-name it for the "coffin nails" pushers.

Doubly ironic, since the indigents buried there, whose remains will be carted away could not afford coffins, let alone to have their coffins nailed shut.

Welcome to Bloombergs New York.

Anonymous said...

The 1890's NYTimes article was a pleasure to read! What a time warp! However it certianly doesn't prove the point that Frank was trying to make by referring to it. Yes, it stated that they put the human skeletons in "barrels" but then it goes on to say that they reburied them in another part of the park. So cleary they did have reverence for the dead. Those remains certainly wern't discarded into the garbage or given to their pets as doggy snacks! Are we less civilazed than 120 years ago? Do we not know how to treat graves anymore? Unlike in 1890's, todays parks dept. clearly knew what was in store for them when the started tearing apart Washington Sq. Park. In fact they lied to Community board when they promised them that they wouldn't dig more that 3 feet. Guess what?... they unearthed those bone becasue they've been digging 7-11 feet. This certainly isn't the last time they'll unearth human remains during the 2-3 year construction process, but it just might be the last time they get caught doing it!