For the second time in four years, Richmond Hill authors Carl Ballenas and Nancy Cataldi have collaborated on a study of their history steeped community.
Like their last project, a book about Richmond Hill, “Images of America: Maple Grove Cemetery” is photograph driven, containing more than 200 pictures of the cemetery, its headstones, monuments and portraits of some of the people buried there. Cataldi, Maple Grove Cemetery’s resident historian and a photographer by trade, took all of the “Memorials and Aesthetic Beauty” chapter’s pictures.
“I was inspired by the incredible history of this 130 year old cemetery and the local, historical significance of the neighborhood,” she said. The Richmond Hill cemetery sits between modern day Queens Boulevard and Kew Gardens Road.
While “Maple Grove,” published by Arcadia, hit bookshelves on Nov. 27, Cataldi and Ballenas spent almost three years combing through cemetery and library archives, reading old newspaper articles and inspecting cemetery headstones.
“It was a labor of love. We unearthed many stories from all different types of resources,” said Ballenas, a teacher at Jamaica Estates’ Immaculate Conception School and a Richmond Hill Historical Society board member. Cataldi is the organization’s president.
The book’s opening chapter, “The Creation of a Historic Cemetery,” covers its early history with reproductions of manuscripts, maps, letters and advertisements, including a 1903 ad in the Long Island Democrat. An early 1900s brochure said of the cemetery: “It presents a beautiful expanse of hill and dale, well covered with noble oaks and maples, and seems a place most providently selected for the repose of the dead.”
After the “Memorials and Aesthetic Beauty” chapter, Cataldi and Ballenas considered the lives of the noteworthy people buried on the grounds. Included are the brief biographies of Ann Wilkins, one of the first female missionaries to Africa, Elizabeth Riis, wife of social reformer Jacob Riis, and Russian pianists Josef and Rosina Lhevinne.
The work ends with photographs and an analysis of the cemetery today and its resurgence in the Richmond Hill community. The book explains the work cemetery advocates and different area groups put toward securing the site a listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Also included are photographs of the cemetery’s Sept. 11 memorial and its annual Spirits Alive walking tour.
When asked what readers may enjoy about the book, Cataldi replied: “The diverse architecture, history, beautiful photographs and the stories of the people buried in the cemetery.”