Thursday, March 18, 2010

Harlem Burial Ground: Old Map Views

below, the area in 1879

below in 1836

from the manhattan kids blog

Human remains from an African burial ground circa 1700 may still be present near East 126th St. & 1st Avenue (NW corner) in East Harlem
Ever since Nellie Hester Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council, Inc. mentioned in passing at a Summer 2008 rally that an African burial ground dating from the Dutch and British colonial era may exist in East Harlem, we have been frantically looking for more details to no avail. Recall that an African Burial Ground dating from the 1600s and 1700s was re-discovered in 1991 in downtown Manhattan near City Hall which finally became a national monument memorial in 2007.
The New York Times has published the most exhaustive survey of the potential site of a Harlem African burial ground we have seen on January 19, 2009 (which coincidentally is the Martin Luther King Day federal holiday): Article from the New York Times: Are traces of the original Harlem settlement — including an African burial ground — awaiting discovery during the replacement of the Willis Avenue Bridge and the planned rehabilitation of the 126th Street Bus Depot? The painting below shows the Harlem waterfront as it appeared in 1765. The steeple of the Reformed Low Dutch Church can be seen at the far right. Just below are what appear to be headstones.
There will be no way to know for certain until the soil is dug up, but the prospect of such a discovery is being greeted both anxiously and eagerly by a couple of stewards of Harlem history. The bucolic farming village of Nieuw Haarlem was established in March 1658, meaning that it is still in its 350th anniversary year. “What an awesome way to celebrate!” said Christopher Paul Moore, a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the research coordinator for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library. “Seems like a cultural bonus could be reaped from this, and not just about preserving the cemetery, but preserving or recapturing a hugely significant era in New York’s history, the founding and settlement of Harlem.”


A said...

Just fascinating!!!

Anonymous said...

I am a man of color who worked at 126th Depot (NYCTA Surface, Manhattan Division) from 1980-December 1989.

Prior to NYCTA Manhattan Division, this was a neighborhood populated by the Dutch, then in the late 19th century, the Irish, then in the early 20th Finns and Italians, then in the 1930-40s African Americans and finally Puerto Ricans in the 60s.

I can tell you immediately, looking, at the map, the burial ground in just underneath the bus fueling entrance and extends over to the 'bus wash' (as it existed then)

In 1984-5 or so, there was a huge bureaucratic and engineering mess when it was discovered that many hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel as well as an underground swamp / bog / river were just a few feet under the building.

Over a two year period, many, many, tons of heavy concrete were poured through bore holes in the thick concrete slabs that are the floor, into the wet voids under the building to stabilize it... as it was slowly subsiding.

Now, here's the kicker... I cannot tell you how many people, transit workers and managers, of all nationalities extremely healthy people, that I knew, usually high seniority men 'working inside' died in that building from extremely rapid cancer during that period.

They would get respiratory problems and just get a tumor... and die. Within a year. Lung cancer, skin cancer, throat cancer... brain cancer. these were not drug addicts or aids, or alcohol cases... they just picked' a seniority pick and then worked inside... and then suddenly died... these were hard working, men.

I attribute it to a toxic sludge of diesel under the building as well; as to lead paint and asbestos and diesel particulates in the poorly ventilated, indoor air of the bus barn.

Personally, because of those deaths of my friends, I always thought it was haunted, that a malevolent force was pulling people in that building to an early death, as soon as they choose to work inside.

Therefore that place always gave me the creeps.

It was haunted by the dead we in the NYCTA left there and now, I know why.

Personally, I believe, anything down there has been grossly polluted by chemicals that leached in the 1940s-1980s and should be left in place and not released into the surrounding air and neighborhood.

Seriously, I have nightmares about the place for 30 years now... and have never been back after retirement.

I would no more visit or look under that building than I would look at going to hell.

God Bless the Souls who were buried there, but that building and the entire block are haunted by the hundred or so who died on the job in the mere 10 years I was there as well as the souls of the bodys underneath, if any still exist.

As I said, that place in NYC Transit-speak 'Location' always gave me the chills.

Just a few facts as I experienced them.

Former NYCTA Bus Operator # 48387


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