Second 19th Century Burial Vault, Coffins & Bones Discovered Under Washington Square Park

inside second discovered burial vault
inside second discovered burial vault

After news surfaced earlier this week that a 19th Century burial vault was unearthed under Washington Square Park during water main construction, yesterday (11/5), another burial vault was dug up. And there may be more.

These latest underground discoveries follow the intact tombstone from 1799 found in the park in 2009 and 4 intact skeletons and 70-80 human bones in 2008 during the re-design construction.

The current work is part of the Washington Square Park Watermain Project.

The latest, Second Old Burial Vault Found Under Washington Square Park via WABC News:

Archaeologists and anthropologists were out at the site Thursday to gather more information. While there, they discovered the second vault, which contains coffins with name plates and dates included. This vault is “well-preserved,” with the door and lock being intact, according to city officials.

The size of the second vault is 15 foot wide, 18 foot long.

The second vault doesn’t appear to be a “potter’s field,” which is known to be a part of another section of the park. It appears to rather be the burial grounds of one or two churches no longer in existence.

It is believed that these burial vaults came from one of two churches in the area. It is noted in the WABC News piece that there is “a demarcation line between the potters field and the cemetery.”

Archaeologists are trying to figure out what to do with the remains. Do they leave them as-is, move them, work around them? That has yet to be determined.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is also involved in the exploration of the vaults.

The New York City Department of Design and Construction will continue to excavate south of the burial vault. The vault is being protected and passage by vehicles and pedestrians will be restricted. The impacted area will be blocked off until further information is developed.

There are many city agencies involved (they also outsource the work which you would think they would have people on staff to do this). Archaeologists are hoping to be able to discern the names from the name plates discovered with the coffins and piece together more personal and historical details.

It’s curious, there doesn’t seem to be much mention of the previous discoveries at the park in the media reports.

It is interesting – to think about this whole infrastructure under the park with dead bodies, burial vaults, tombstones, coffins. And at some point they just paved roadways and pathways over this knowingly?

Photos coming from a fall day at the park yesterday and some of this area where work was being done.

Photo: Chrysalis Archaeology

Spread the love

4 thoughts on “Second 19th Century Burial Vault, Coffins & Bones Discovered Under Washington Square Park”

  1. You ask an interesting question, Cathryn, and it deserves some research:

    How did tons of soil and parkland get on top of these burial grounds, vaults, tombstones and skeletons? Were these visible and simply buried?

    If so, who made those decisions? Who was the Mayor back then? The police chief? Are there church records relating to the burial grounds for the two no-longer-existing churches that used this as their cemetery? Were those records passed on to the “parent” churches? Could they be found in the files stored in the huge chambers of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges?

    This would be a really interesting project for archaeologists and historians in our midst.

    Thanks for your reporting!

    Mitchel Cohen
    Brooklyn Greens / Green Party, and
    WBAI Radio (99.5 FM and

  2. Hi Mitchel,

    Thanks for your comment. These are really good questions which I have not seen addressed anywhere. I have not scoured some of the books I have with the history yet. I will check those out — is it possible this information does not exist? I dont know! I will let you know.

    Thanks —


    p.s. I did not know there were files stored in huge chambers of the Manhattan & Brooklyn Bridges!

  3. Does anyone know if the wooden door was investigated? Did it go anywhere or was the original entrance to the chamber accessed by steps down from the original ground level?

  4. Hi Rosario, I feel like some of these details were in some of the original stories (maybe New York Times…?) but I do not remember details. I would have to go back to re-read.

    Thanks for your comment!



Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: