More on Tombstone Discovery At Washington Square Park Which Could Date Back to 18th Century — Update: Confirmed!

Update 2:13 p.m! Confirmed by NYC Parks Department.

From Cristina DeLuca from NYC Parks Department Press Office:

Yes, I can confirm. Archaeologists and engineers are on the scene to make a preliminary report and nothing further is known at this time.

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More information on the tombstone that may have been was uncovered on Friday, October 23rd at Washington Square Park during construction recently begun for WSP Redesign: Phase II.

Matt Kovary grew up in Greenwich Village, works nearby and passes by the location every day. He contacted WSP Blog on Friday after walking by the Park that afternoon when he noticed that there was a large hole dug about 6 feet below the surface in the fenced-off construction area, right at the perimeter of the chain-link fence on the southern edge at Washington Square South and Sullivan Street.

According to Mr. Kovary, there were two people inside the fence, a man and a woman, poring over and dusting off what appeared to be a tombstone which he believed had been recovered from the hole. They were taking pictures of it, and, when he asked whether it was indeed a tombstone, the woman would only state that it was “sandstone,” admitting she was not authorized to talk about it.

Mr. Kovary said that the artifact looked like “a tombstone, not unlike those you’d see at Trinity Church – but in much better condition.” He wondered if it could have been “related to the original land owner” and questioned whether this came from a “family cemetery” from 200 years ago or more.

Although skeletons and human bones from the Park’s time period as a “potter’s field” (1797-1825) have been discovered as recently as last year (see WSP blog entry “The Skeletons of Washington Square Park” – it’s believed more than 20,000 bodies are buried under the park), there seems to be less information about – and discovery related toprivate cemetery usage before the area was a New York City park.

In Emily Kies Folpe’s book “It Happened on Washington Square,” she writes:

From time to time, some of these old bones have resurfaced. …

More evidence was uncovered in 1890, when workmen digging the foundation for the Arch came upon headstones with German inscriptions dating to 1803, thought to be from a private German graveyard at the north side of the field.

Now confirmed – as first reported here October 23rd! – the discovery of a tombstone at Washington Square Park during Phase II construction. More to come.

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The Skeletons of Washington Square Park


Washington Square Park “Renovation”
(note: fountain entirely torn up now; trees gone.)

Washington Square Park first came into being as a Park in the 1850’s. It was a Potter’s field (a “common” burial ground) from 1797-1825. It is believed that up to 20,000 people were buried there (and are still there) from that time period.

In mid-to-late January of this year, while excavating the park during their “renovation,” City workers found at least 4 intact skeletons and 70-80 human bones.

Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro asserted previously to the community in front of local Community Board 2 – to address concerns about precisely this issue – that the Parks Department would not be digging more than 1-3 feet deep. The city then proceeded to dig from 7 to 11 feet below grade.

The City told the Associated Press in January that the bones would be “analyzed” and “reburied respectfully.”

NYC 24 blog has a new story about the bones resurfacing in Washington Square Park.

And, of course, digging up skeletons can have many meanings. Skeletons ‘of our past’ means interfering with the historical and emotional center of our beings — which is exactly what New York City is attempting to do with their excavation of Washington Square Park.

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As a new blog, word of mouth is very important. We’d like to thank Patti Smith for linking to our site. She asks, “What is happening to OUR Washington Square Park?”