Did you know that the remains of about 1,000 people are buried in a New York City Parks Department location in Flushing, New York?
The site is located north of 46th Avenue between 164th and 165th Streets, on the opposite side of 46th Avenue from Flushing Cemetery.
The site was purchased by the Town of Flushing as a public burial ground in 1840. Over 1,000 individuals were buried there in subsequent years, of whom the majority were African-American or Native American. There were also a number of poor whites, as well as wealthier individuals who died during cholera and smallpox epidemics in 1840, 1844, 1857, and 1867, who were considered too contaminated for churchyard burial. The plots were indiscriminately arranged, often unmarked, and as shallow as six inches below the surface. The last burial was in 1898, the same year that the City of New York was consolidated and local governments such as the Town of Flushing were abolished.
In 1914, the site was given to the Parks Department. In 1931, the site was re-named Martins Field, in honor of tree conservationist Everett P. Martin, who had no known connection with the history of the cemetery.
In 1936, a playground was built on the site as a government-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. In the 1940’s, a comfort station, wading pool, and sand-pit were added.
The construction of the playground was done without respect for the remains of the individuals buried there. There was no effort made to re-locate the remains to another cemetery. The headline of a Long Island Press article dated June 10, 1936 is “Coins from Dead Men’s Eyes Are Sold by WPA Workers.” The article further reports that “neighbors saw workmen pulling bones out of the ground” and “they came upon bones galore.”
This misuse of a former town burial ground is in contradiction to the City of New York Administrative Code 4-117, which describes how the City is to maintain such burial grounds.
Community activist Mandingo Osceola Tshaka has had a personal interest in the burial ground since the mid 1980’s, when he discovered that some of the members of his church, the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church of Flushing, were buried there. With the encouragement of City Council member Julia Harrison, the Parks Department scoped the area with ground-penetrating radar, which confirmed that uncountable numbers of remains were still buried there.
Later, Mr. Tshaka encouraged City Council member John Liu to fund a complete reclamation of the site, including relocation of the playground to the north end of the site, and extensive landscaping, featuring many beautiful native flowering plants. The ground-level plaque depicted on the front of this pamphlet was installed. On November 16, 2006, the reclaimed site was celebrated with much fanfare.
1. WILLIE, Son of Alfred & Fanny CURRY, aged 4, 1874
2. Geo H. Bunn, died Jan. 13 1887, aged 17 years
3. In Memory of ALFRED E. BUNN, died April 7th 1876;
aged 3 years and 17 days
4. JAMES BUNN, died AUG 3, 1890, aged 53 yearsSOURCE: