This post was inspired by Geneabloggers event “Cemeteries – 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy”.
Moravian Cemetery (Richmond Road, New Dorp, Staten Island, NY) is one of the most beautiful parks I have ever walked in. Yes, in addition to being a cemetery, it’s a lovely place to take a stroll, especially on a warm spring day when the cherry trees and azalea are blossoming.
First opened in 1740, it’s not the oldest of the many active and abandoned cemeteries on the Island, but it’s certainly one of the most beautiful. Moravian covers 113 acres of meticulously landscaped grounds. The Vanderbilt family, one of its early benefactors, owns a gated section of the cemetery. Frederick Law Olmstead, founder of American landscape architecture, designed the grounds surrounding the Commodore Vanderbilt’s tomb. The Vanderbilt section was closed to the public after one of its iron gates fell on a visitor and killed her instantly.
Moravian is an active cemetery and as such is open to the public. Richard Simpson, Historian and Tour Guide for Moravian Cemetery, offers public and private walking tours of different sections of the cemetery, including the oldest section where many of the early Staten Islanders were buried. Mr. Simpson also offers genealogical research into the cemetery records. I contacted him once for information about Vincent Fountain (1748-1819) and he was very helpful. The cemetery also has an information kiosk where you can do a free look up for burial records and get a print out of the information card and a map of the cemetery showing exactly where the person was buried. I wish every cemetery had that!
My first trip to Moravian in 1979 was however, not to take a walk in the park. Nor was it for a genealogical research expedition. My fiancé, his immediate family, and I were simply there to bury his mother in the family plot. It was not until a few years later when Aunt Hap got me hooked on genealogical research that I became interested in visiting cemeteries for reasons other than to attend a funeral or visit a loved one’s grave. Given my connections to Maine and New York I was particularly interested when she told me about the Heal and Barrett families who had lived in both.
Originally from Lincolnville and Hope Maine, Eliza Barrett (1801-1886) and her husband James Augustus Heal (1797-1876), moved to West New Brighton (formerly known as Factoryville), Staten Island where James and six of their eleven children joined some of Eliza’s brothers in their very successful business enterprise, the New York Dyeing and Printing Establishment. Later, three of their sons, Joseph H., Nathan M., and Edwin B. Heal, and Eliza’s brother Col. Nathan Barrett, started a rival business Barrett, Nephews and Company’s Staten Island Fancy Dyeing Establishment in March 1851. James and Eliza returned often to their beloved farm in South Hope Maine where one of their sons remained to farm the land). They are buried in Hope Grove Cemetery in Maine, a place I admit that have visited more often than I have visited Moravian in the past few years. Their son Joseph H. (1824-1895) and his wife Mary VanPelt Smith (1832-1895) Heal are buried in Moravian, however that didn’t happen until 21 years after their deaths.
Joseph and Mary Heal were originally buried in Staten Island / Fountain Cemetery (Richmond Terrace, West New Brighton) with other members of the Heal and Barrett family. At our first (and last) visit to search for family headstones in the abandoned cemetery we could barely find our way through the thicket of briars and brush that had overgrown the paths. (Since then the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries has been organizing a volunteer grounds clean up each Fall, which has made a huge difference). So perhaps with a bit of foresight on her part their daughter Anna had them disinterred in 1916 and removed to Moravian Cemetery. Buried along side their parents are Anna and her infant brother Joseph H. Heal, Jr. On the other side of the shared memorial stone are Joseph and Mary’s other daughter Augusta H. Heal and her husband John B. Dakin. A short distance away along a pleasant pathway are Augusta and Anna’s brothers, Frank and George and their families. Other relatives and close friends of the family are also interred at Moravian, including a loved one we lost just a few years ago.
I hope to visit Moravian this Spring again. I’ll try to make sure I’ve got enough time to walk along the garden paths, to visit each resting place in prayer or meditation, and to allow myself the luxury of being comforted by the beauty and serenity of this very special place.