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.


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

  1. i have been told that my great grandmother was buried in Washington square park in 1937. how can i find out if she was???????

  2. Hi Linda,

    I don’t think people were still being buried in the park as late as 1937. Are you sure about the year? Do you have any more info?


  3. Linda,
    Did you check Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn? It’s a Jewish/german cemetery in Brooklyn and more likely your Anna’s burial spot. Washington Square Park hadn’t been a burial spot for decades by 1937.
    Washington Cemetery: 5400 Bay Parkway (corner McDonald Ave.), Bklyn., NY 11230-3346 (718)377-8690.

  4. Thanks Angela!

    This back and forth got me wondering about this and so I did a google search of Anna’s name. It wasn’t hard to find info about her with the information you provided, Linda. She *was* buried in Brooklyn but at Maimonedes Cemetery. I would be curious to know how this particular family rumor got started! Anyway, you can search – which I’d never done so thanks for the introduction to it! – and she is listed under the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry with the exact dates you mentioned:

    Anna Warschauer
    Birth Date: abt 1875
    Death Date: 6 Sep 1937
    Death Place: Out of Town
    Age at Death: 62
    Burial Date: 8 Sep 1937
    Burial Plot: R
    Burial Place: Brooklyn, New York, United States
    Comments: Burial Book Page: 158; Comment/Note or Funeral Home: Temple Memorial
    Cemetery: Maimonides Cemetery
    Cemetery Address: 895 Jamaica Avenue
    Cemetery Burials: 7857

    Washington Square Park’s cemetery usage closed around 1825. I had to go back to check the exact dates. And with the way the city goes, you never know what can transpire! You seemed so sure. Please talk to your family tho’ about this incorrect rumor! (smile.) But it’s pretty cool that you might be able to visit her grave if you are in NYC.


  5. I think everything wrote was very logical. However, what about this?
    what if you were to write a awesome headline? I ain’t saying your
    content isn’t solid, however what if you added a title that grabbed a person’s attention? I mean More on Tombstone Discovery At Washington Square Park
    Which Could Date Back to 18th Century – Update: Confirmed!
    is kinda boring. You ought to glance at Yahoo’s home page and note how they write article titles to grab viewers interested.
    You might add a related video or a related pic or two
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    Just my opinion, it would bring your posts a little livelier.

    • Thanks, Tina. You are probably right. At the time this was written (2009) there was not as much attention on headline-grabbing, click-enticing headlines and it was also a follow-up story. But thanks. And sorry for wayyy delay in response.


  6. Hello: Are there any markers that tell visitors that they are walking over an estimated 20,000 graves? These were poor people, slaves, indians and victims of yellow fever. I have been to Washington Square many times and this history is not really public knowledge.

  7. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your comment. Sorry for the delay. That is a good question. There are * historical * signs recently placed (last year) at one or two entrances with a lot of text (some inaccurate about the current redesign). I am sure it mentions it but not in a very standout way. I never see anyone really stop to read the signs. I have been considering a post on this and will lead off from your comment. The originally planned signs, while really bad looking, probably would have highlighted this history in a more telling way.

    Plus the tombstone was originally supposed to be placed in the park but then the Parks Dept backtracked from that decision.



    • Thanks for the note. Any sign should include the basic facts-that the park was built over the bodies of poor people, slaves, and what few Indians were left after the Dutch and English settlers colonized New York. This is hallowed ground, and while the park department is obviously not going to dig up the park to locate the graves, the city should at least acknowledge that this in fact is a cemetary. It is a matter of respect and history. Expanded sineage would make the park a more interesting place, and give it a highlighted place in the NY story.


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