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Queens Chronicle

Haven’t they ever seen ‘Poltergeist’?

Community rallies to save cemetery as historic landmark hearing looms

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Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 10:48 am, Thu May 17, 2012.

Elected and civic leaders were among the more than 100 people who came to Fresh Meadows on Sunday in an attempt to save a colonial family cemetery from development.

The Brinckerhoff Cemetery, located on 182nd Street, has had more than 70 recorded burials between 1730 and the late 1870s.

A prosperous Dutch farming family, the Brinckerhoffs were some of the earliest European settlers of Queens.

The Fresh Meadows Homeowners Civic Association organized Sunday’s rally to bring attention to the property’s historic significance, and to attempt to persuade the Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect the site when it comes up for a hearing on Tuesday.

“The property contains 77 graves which have been well documented by historical papers, recollections of residents, news articles, old photos and even a New York City deed that states it is a ‘private burying ground,’” said the civic association in a statement issued at the gathering.

The property was seized by the city and sold in 1957 to satisfy a tax lien. It was last sold in 2010 and neighbors, the civic association and Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) have said the new owners want to do what previous owners have been attempting for more than 12 years — develop the land.

The LPC will hold its hearing on 9 a.m. on May 15 at 1 Center St. in Manhattan. The property has been “calendared” by the commission since an initial hearing in 2000.

Gennaro said last week that the new owners called for the new hearing to resolve the matter once and for all.

The granting of landmark status would protect the site from development permanently.

While state law forbids building on cemeteries, Gennaro said the law may not apply to private burial grounds.

Neighbors like Iris and Harvey Schachter are not concerned about having a nearly 300-year-old cemetery on the block.

“We’ve submitted more than two pages of signature petitions to the civic association,” Iris Schachter said last Friday.

The Queens Historical Society has attempted to acquire the property over the years and has gone to court in the past to block development.

The plot now has dozens of trees on it, and much of the ground is covered by ivy vines.

It also is used as a local dumping ground for discarded shrubs, brush, old Christmas trees and general trash.

Lawyers for previous owners have argued that any human remains would certainly would have decomposed in the 140 years or so since the last documented burial, given the lack of modern embalming and preservation techniques.

A handful of neighborhood residents believe that any remaining headstones may have been covered over with soil by previous owners.

Following Sunday’s event, the Newtown Historical Society called on the City Council to buy the land, which last sold for $105,000 in 2010.

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1 comment:

  • sfisher posted at 1:44 pm on Thu, May 10, 2012.

    sfisher Posts: 1

    Michael: Nice follow-up article on the cemetery story. It will be interesting to see what transpires on the 15th at the Landmarks hearing. I don’t understand why the focus has been on it being a cemetery as opposed to a site of historical significance, especially since there is controversy as to whether it qualifies as a cemetery. You would think that the fact that some of the bodies were buried there since 1730 [regardless of whether they have since decomposed], that the Brinckerhoffs were one of the first families to settle in Queens, and I think some had participated in the Revolutionary War [while they were alive, obviously] would be sufficient to meet the criteria for obtaining landmarks status. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see.