By Bill Parry
A Jackson Heights church will bury a 150-year old mummy next month.
After nearly five years of testing, investigation and research, the Iron Coffin Lady, uncovered at a construction site in Elmhurst that was once the first site of today’s Saint Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church, will be commemorated, memorialized and buried on the weekend Nov. 6.
The church was originally founded in 1828 on the site of a burial ground of the United African Society. St. Mark pastor, Rev. Kimberly Detherage says it is one of the first places freed slaves started their own church.
When construction began on a 32-unit apartment building at 90-11 Corona Ave. in 2011, a crew accidently dug up the coffin of a woman believed to have died in the 1850s. Her body was so well preserved she was thought to be a recent murder victim buried at the site. An archeological investigation discovered the remains of 15 others buried at the site.
Construction of the building has been on hold as preservationists and the church fight to preserve the burial ground while negotiations continue.
Thomas McKenzie, president of the Newtown Civic Association, explained: “Elmhurst is the oldest permanent settlement in Queens County and we have to preserve this bit of history. All great societies are remembered by the way it took care of their dead.”
The officers and members of St. Mark have planned a memorial reception with lectures, exhibits and a silent auction Nov. 5. Speakers will include archeologist Scott Warnash, PhD, who was working out of the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office identifying 9/11 remains when he was called to the site to conduct the investigation on the “murder victim” remains.
Warnash, who has made an extensive study of iron coffins and the remains found inside them, will speak on their history as well as a possible identification of the Iron Coffin Lady through her DNA and artifacts.
The traditional funeral will be Sunday, Nov. 6, at 4 p.m. at St. Mark AME Church on Northern Boulevard and 96th Street. Detherage will eulogize the Iron Coffin Lady, and the service will feature tributes from the church family as well as officials of the AME Church.
The Iron Coffin Lady will be buried at Flushing Cemetery in Flushing Nov. 7 following a procession that will leave St. Mark at 9:30 a.m.
“Her body was disturbed and poked and prodded and DNA’d,” Detherage said. “We just want to give her a proper send-off.”
Donations to offset the burial expenses, a memorial park creation and maintenance are encouraged and greatly appreciated, she added.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr