QueensLine: New Calvary Cemetery originally bought for $18K

By The Greater Astoria Historical Society

On Nov. 12, 1882, Calvary Cemetery announced new changes it claimed would not only enlarge the burial grounds, but also beautify them. The site originally consisted of 100 acres on elevated ground almost surrounded by a marsh and swamps. It was purchased in 1845 on the advice of Bishop Hughes for $18,000.

In 1863, additional acres were added at a cost of $33,000 and in 1869, 80 more acres lying about a quarter of a mile distant were purchased for $160,000. In little more than a decade 10,000 bodies were buried there. It is known as New Calvary Cemetery.

The most difficult problem in its early years was people reaching the location from Manhattan. The closest ferries only went to Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and were some distance from the cemetery. For a brief time the cemetery managers ran a ferry, called the “Bishop’s Ferry,” from 23rd Street up to Penny Bridge at the foot of the grounds, but it proved too expensive to maintain and had to be abandoned.

Only with the advent of horse car lines that extended from the Hunters Point ferry and Brooklyn did the cemetery become easy to reach.

Landscaping, asphalt roadways and a new stone wall with an iron picket fence now completely enclose the grounds.

A new gate on Greenpoint Avenue boasted large pillars and handsome brown stone trim. Inside were new walkways and a chapel built in the Gothic style. Its exterior was of Philadelphia brick and interior finished wood. The ground floor embraced the cemetery office and in the tower a 100-pound bell tolled as the funeral cortege entered. The roadway encircled the cemetery before reaching the chapel, giving visitors an opportunity to note all the recent improvements.

All new monuments faced the entrance. In 1881, 17,680 people were buried in Calvary — an astonishing 45 percent of that year’s deaths in the city.

On Nov. 19, 1945, the drive to bring the permanent capital of the United Nations to Queens gained added impetus when the Queens Chamber of Commerce urged Mayor-elect William O’Dwyer to appoint a citywide committee to press for selecting the borough.

O’Dwyer announced he had forwarded an invitation to locate the world capital in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, site of the World’s Fair. The Long Island Star-Journal noted the Chamber was the first to suggest that the UN come to Queens, which uniquely had both space to grow and was a worldwide transportation hub.

The park would give the new city, the planned home of the United Nations, space for a complete community with its own hotels, stores and office buildings. An endless series of conferences and deliberations, as well as the exhibits from member nations, would give it a festive atmosphere, not unlike a continuous World’s Fair.

Queens also had the advantage of two of the world’s greatest airports, North Beach (now LaGuardia) and Idlewild (now John F. Kennedy International).

For more information, call 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.

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