ICYMI: Eyewitness News Report – Public Hearing on Reburial of Human Remains Back into Washington Square Park

ICYMI: Eyewitness News Report – Public Hearing on Reburial of Human Remains Back into Washington Square Park

Last week, Community Board 2 held a “public hearing” on the NYC Parks Department’s plans to rebury “human remains” dug up during the park’s redesign construction back into Washington Square Park. We covered what we knew prior to the June 5th meeting here.

There are some aspects that ABC/Ch. 7 New York got wrong but this is their report on the meeting of last week. We’ll post our own report on the meeting shortly.

By CeFaan Kim
Thursday, June 6, 2019 5:58AM

NEW YORK (WABC) —

Washington Square Park was New York City’s burial ground for decades, hundreds of years ago.

But now there are questions about what to do with bone fragments that were excavated during a construction project in the park.

Four years ago, city workers found a 19th-century vault and a tomb containing skeletal remains.

20,000 bodies were believed to be buried under the iconic city park.

“As per the established protocols with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, any intact burials were left in place, documented and protected and then redesign around those took place,” said Cybill Young of the New York City Parks Department.

Wednesday night, the Parks Department at a community board meeting presented its plans to reinter the several hundred fragmentary remains.

The department thinks the hundreds of fragments will fit in a box about the size of a coffin.

The plan is to have the remains reinterred within an existing planting bed, five feet below, just inside the park’s southern entrance at Sullivan Street.

As part of the city’s proposal, a 2 by 4 plaque marking the site reads in part…
“From 1797 until 1825, what is now Washington Square Park was the city’s Potter’s field, where the unidentified, the indigent, and after 1799, anyone who died of yellow fever were buried.”

But residents want to see more.

“I really want to see a proper ceremony with singing. These people were important to us,” said Sharon Woolums of Community Board 2.

“They are people who died on the streets unknown and who died and have no family,” said resident Ingrid Wiegand. “And the government somewhere has to bury them.”

“The redesign of Washington Square Park was between 2007-2014 so these were dug up during that time period and that should be on the signage,” said resident Cathryn Swan.

“There’s no mention of the races or ethnicity of the people who were buried in the Potter’s Field,” said Georgia Silvera-Seamans of Community Board 2. “It just says early New Yorkers and I think the assumption would be that they were white New Yorkers. Since they’ve tested and found that they were indeed European New Yorkers I think that they need to state that.”

“Greenwich Village loves its history and any opportunity to tell the narrative of that history is a wonderful opportunity,” said Susanna Aaron of Community Board 2.

The parks department says it will consider the suggestions. The process will likely take one day to complete, hopefully sometime before fall.

Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:

Public Hearing Set: What to do with the bodies? Followup on NYC Plans to Rebury Human Remains Unearthed in Washington Square Park May 31, 2019