James J. Walker Park was once an uptown branch of Trinity Cemetery, established in 1801 as a churchyard for the long-razed St. John’s Chapel; it was bordered by Hudson, Carmine, and Morton Streets in Greenwich Village. Meanwhile, Leroy Street went only from Hudson to West Street. Leroy was extended past the cemetery in 1845, with the connector named for St. Luke in the Fields Church, still standing at Hudson and Grove.
Though the cemetery inspired Edgar Allan Poe to write several macabre tales when he lived in the area in the 1830s, it was closed by 1898 and turned into Hudson Park, a high-concept collection of lush marble terraces and gazebos built by renowned architects Carrere and Hastings. In ensuing decades the gazebos and terraces were removed, and it became a standard-issue playground named for Jimmy “Beau James” Walker, NYC mayor between 1925 and 1932. He left office under a cloud of corruption charges, and was succeeded by the “Little Flower” Fiorello LaGuardia.
Though some of the interred were moved to cemeteries like Uptown Trinity, some never were and remain in place underground. The only remnant of the cemetery visible to the eye is this firemen’s memorial, set in place in 1834, honoring Engine Co. 13 firemen Eugene Underhill and Frederick J. Ward, who were 20 and 22 years old, respectively. They perished fighting a blaze in Pearl Street, crushed to death under a falling wall. When the plot became a park the memorial was moved to the St. Luke’s Place side. The memorial is topped by representations of firemen’s helmets and trumpets, used to shout commands and directions in the pre-walkie-talkie era.
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