One author with roots in Whitestone wants more people to see the beauty in the borough’s cemeteries.
“The history we have in Queens — I’m not sure many people are aware of it,” Alexandra Mosca said, “and cemeteries are outdoor museums.”
Mosca grew up in the Beechhurst area of Whitestone and attended Bayside High School. She then attended Queensborough Community College and Queens College where she studied English and history.
It was an after-school job Mosca took on during high school that solidified her other career choice: funeral directing.
“After working [at the funeral home] and then going through college, I became interested in it,” Mosca said.
Mosca has served as funeral director at her business Hellenic Funeral Home in Elmhurst since 1983. Her writing and a funeral directing careers have melded together smoothly.
“It was just such a natural progression,” Mosca said. “I would go home and look up, ‘who are these people?’ Often, stories that come out of a cemetery you would never know [otherwise].”
Mosca’s first book, a memoir titled “Grave Undertakings: Mortician by Day, Model by Night,” was published in 2003 and explores the mortician’s trade and what it is like to be a woman operating in the male-dominated industry, as well as her time as a model.
Her third and latest book, “Gardens of Stone: The Cemeteries of New York City from Colonial Times to the Present,” was published this October. It begins with an early history of cemeteries found in Manhattan and then branches out, detailing the history of cemeteries in the outer boroughs.
“The book is an overview of some of the most notable New York City cemeteries,” Mosca said. “I also tried to bring out some history of cemeteries people are not familiar with.”
Queens’ rich history is well-documented in its cemeteries. St. John Cemetery in Middle Village is home to politicians Governor Mario Cuomo and Geraldine Ferraro, as well as famous mobsters Charles “Lucky” Luciano and John Gotti, Mosca explained. It also features many grand memorials, including awe-inspiring figures of crosses and angels.
At All Faiths Cemetery, also in Middle Village, those eternally resting there include Fred Trump — President-elect Donald Trump’s father — and Cord Meyer, president and founder of the Cord Meyer development company.
Within Flushing Cemetery is the grave of famed jazz musicians Louis Armstrong, whose headstone is adorned with a trumpet.
“Sometime what happens is you’re walking through these places and you see a name and it really evokes a memory in history,” Mosca said.
But for Mosca, the ordinary person laid to rest is just as interesting as the famed.
“Cemeteries, historians, tour guides: we keep the memory of these people alive,” Mosca said.
Mosca’s favorite Queens burial ground is Woodside’s Calvary Cemetery, which is the first major cemetery established outside of Manhattan.
“The history goes back to the 1800s,” Mosca said. “I love its old architecture; the grand architecture.”
“[The response for the book] been really good,” Mosca said. “I hear from historians from time to time. I really researched for this book — because when you’re writing about history, you don’t want to make a mistake.”