More people are buried in Queens than are living there now. This is a story of some of the departed.
Precisely how many will not be known, though, until a bulldozer breaks ground early next year for a 42-story apartment tower in Long Island City, on the site of what was once a cemetery, owned by a family that settled there 350 years ago.
The Van Alst family cemetery was rediscovered only a little more than a decade ago, after the city decided to rezone the mostly industrial tract for residential, retail and office development.
After two developers, H & R Real Estate Investment Trust and Tishman Speyer, announced in June that they would build on the site, they were required by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which issues guidelines for archaeological work, to make a good-faith effort to find any descendants of the last known member of the family, Harry Van Alst, who lived in Queens in 1925.
As part of the proposed rezoning of the development site in Long Island City by the City Planning Commission, an archaeological consulting firm, Historical Perspectives, was hired in 2000 to research the environmental impact.
The consultant found that in 1925, Harry Van Alst, a Queens lawyer who lived in Long Island City, received an anonymous telephone call informing him that workers expanding the West Disinfecting Company’s complex had unearthed bones and remnants of caskets, roughly at Jackson Avenue and Orchard Street. He had them moved to Cypress Hills Cemetery and reburied.
But the consultant was unable to determine how many family members had been buried in the family plot originally, how many had been removed earlier and how many were reinterred in 1925 in Cypress Hills, and concluded: “There is still the possibility that undisturbed burials exist within the potential development site.”
The Queens Gazette has a list of other long lost borough cemeteries.