MOST HOLY TRINITY CEMETERY, Bushwick

by Kevin Walsh

By MARIE CARTER

The train rumbles through Williamsburg to Bushwick, before exiting into the bright light of day where Most Holy Trinity Cemetery becomes instantly visible. The cemetery is situated a block away from the Wilson Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. This is old school New York, with neighbors hanging out on their stoops, playing board games, and purchasing coffee for fifty cents from the local bodega. According to the associated church website, this neighborhood is now a mix of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Mexicans and people from other Spanish-speaking countries, as well as new arrivals from Poland. Making a left on Moffat Street to Central Avenue, one has to pass underneath the subway bridge before the entrance to Most Holy Cemetery becomes perceptible.

 

At a superficial glance, Most Holy Trinity Cemetery doesn’t look like anything special, and no one famous is buried here. What makes it unique is that many of the graves are made of metal. The cemetery was established in 1851 by a German Catholic congregation at Most Holy Trinity in Williamsburg. New York Cemetery Project estimates it holds 25,000 graves. The belief among the congregation was that in death, there should be no difference between rich and poor, and therefore many of the markers are made of galvanized iron or are simple wooden crosses. After years of a combination of being outdoors in the elements, neglect, and vandalism, the graves are now rusting, melting, deformed, falling over, or sinking into the soil.

 

German names like Wunsch and Weglarz are peeling off, rusted, or in some cases, bleeding metal.

 

Broken off statues of Jesus, Mary, and praying children nestle in the grass. On the grave of Hesbach, Jesus is sinking into the cross. Some of the graves are covered over in weeds and plants. One tin hollow grave had been blown over on its side in the wind and was blocking the path. Erecting it upright, it weighed no more than a can of beans.

 

Helena and Jacob Ament

 

John J. Hildemann (who died in infancy) and John F. Hildemann

Marie Carter is a writer, editor, and tour guide from Scotland, residing in New York City. She is the author of the books Holly’s Hurricane (forthcoming in November 2018) and The Trapeze Diaries. For more information: www.mariewritesandedits.com.

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9/3/18

14 comments

John Dereszewski September 4, 2018 - 12:15 pm

Thanks for this very interesting article. Most Holy Trinity cemetery was, until the 1980’s or so, still managed by the parish of that name that is situated on Montrose Ave. in Williamsburg. (The Brooklyn diocese now runs it.) It replaced the parish’s initial graveyard, which was situated next to its first church. (The current and far more elaborate church dates from the 1880’s.) The building that occupies the graveyard’s site now houses an elementary school and once also hosted a high school for men, which closed in 1972. (I was a member of the class of 1968.) The fact that this building contains no basement strongly suggests that the remains of some bodies still rest there – though efforts were made to remove all of them to the new cemetery.

There are two stories given for the metallic nature of the tombstones. The first, the noble one, was included in the article. The second more skeptical reason concerns the extremely soggy nature of the cemetery’s ground, which was apparently unable to support the installation of heavier stone and concrete markers. Since the lighter metal monuments worked better, they were used. (This might have been the reason why the owners of the adjacent Evergreen Cemetery, which initially owned the site, were willing to unload it to the good people of MHT.)

While no notable persons are currently buried here, initially the tombs of the parish’s first two pastors were. There is a rather big monument toward the middle of the cemetery that marks the initial place of entombment. Some years ago – I have no idea when – the bodies were moved to the church’s crypt. If you take a tour of the church – which I highly recommend – you can visit the tombs. These were notable churchmen who established the first substantial Catholic parish in northern Brooklyn as well as a number of satellite churches – St. Nicholas and Assumption being only two of the bunch – and founded St. Catherine’s Hospital, which until it closed in – I think – the 1960’s – was a major medical presence in north Brooklyn.

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Larry September 5, 2018 - 7:50 am

I have a question…Isnt this the split level station on the Canarsie line..Because of the Cemetery….I took the train there once and then changed for the B-60 Bus on Wilson Ave

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John Dereszewski September 7, 2018 - 1:52 pm

Yes, this is the Wilson Ave. station of the L line. It also has an interesting history. When they needed to build the Canarsie line in this area, the only available space was a portion of a narrow mapped street – Chauncey by name – which was situated between the cemetery and a wide and elevated LIRR right of way. In order to do this, the engineers needed to make it a two level station and construct a long passageway under the LIRR to the station’s entrance at the end of Wilson Ave. The station’s entrance is at ground level as is the (lower) Manhattan bound track. While it looks like your average below ground station, if you pulled down the walls, you would be at the exact level of the cemetery grounds. I am not aware of any other NYC station that is anything like this.

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Mary January 26, 2019 - 9:11 am

When I used to take an elderly Aunt to the Holy Trinity in the 1970s .. she was happy that some family members were exhumed and transferred to St. John’s cemetery in Middle Village circa 1900 … to keep members together. Such a shame that the Catholic Cemeteries hasn’t assumed responsibility.

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HOWIE March 2, 2019 - 4:33 pm

I am catching up on articles in forgotten-NY and this article hit close to home. My great great grandfather a parishinor of MHT was interred there in the 1890s and like Mary’s relatives above moved to St. John’s in 1918. Their daughter bought the grave in St. Johns upon the death of her mother ( my great great grandmother) and not too soon after that had her father and late sister transferred to St. Johns. Many of the metal headstones are missing which someone in the cemetery office told me was because vandals would steal the headstones and sell the metal to scrap dealers. I also highly recommend the tour of MHT church ( it is supposedly haunted by a church sexton who was murdered there.)

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Kathleen kelly lynch March 14, 2019 - 8:54 pm

ThthtI have a deed to the cemetery but it’s all in German. So much so that I didn’t know what it was a German friend said
It was receipt for a grave

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Geraldine Fowler March 17, 2019 - 2:42 pm

Trying to find my grandparent’s grave. Their names were Michael Jacobs & Anna Jacobs.

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Diane November 19, 2019 - 7:00 pm

You can call MHT Cemetery at 718-894-4888 and ask for Customer Service. They will need to know the date your grandparents died in order to find where in the cemetery they are buried. They will tell you the Block#, Row# and Grave#. Also ask them if anyone else is interred with them

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Nadine April 23, 2019 - 10:18 am

Just visited the grave of my German great grandparents at Most Holy Trinity Cemetery for the first time yesterday. Their metal gravestone looked almost new. I’m wondering if a family member replaced a decaying one. They passed away well over 100 years ago. Does anyone know if the decaying “stones” can be replaced?

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Marilyn October 18, 2019 - 2:49 pm

My Grandmothers marker was replaced fairly recently after it was damaged. My Dad paid for perpetual care and I suppose that is why it was replaced at no charge to my father.

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Irene January 9, 2020 - 8:26 pm

My grandmother, father and sister are buried in one plot there. You can no longer put metal markers there. At one point in the 80’s the metal marker was stolen by drug addicts as it was a copper monument sprayed over with paint. At some point in 2004 I replaced it with a flat granite stone as that is what is allowed now. It is a shame that this cemetery has been in disarray for so many years and the Catholic Church has done nothing to help preserve it.

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Jan June 10, 2019 - 12:49 pm

Yes- you can replace the stone or add a stone if one no longer exists. My grandparents, Leo and Marie Herrmann, and their 10 year old son, Emil, are buried there. The cemetery contacted my father in the early 1980’s asking if they could remove the existing stone because it was in such bad shape. My grandmother was still living, but not well, so my father (also Emil) said yes to removal. Unfortunately, after she died, my father became very ill and never replaced the stone. Just this year I contacted the RC Cemeteries located in Middle Village and asked about erecting a stone. Permission was granted and they even provided the recommendation of a couple of stone cutters in Queens. My cousins and sister and I chipped in and had a stone (an actual granite stone!) cut by Lewis Monuments and it will be installed soon. The ladies at Lewis were wonderful to work with and I am happy knowing there is a memorial for my grandparents and uncle. It helps to know the block, row and lot number of the grave, although RC Cemeteries can look that info up for you if you do not have. I did all this from South Carolina, where I now live.

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Kathy M September 9, 2019 - 9:03 am

Hi Jan!

Thank you so much for your post! My sisters and I visited the cemetery yesterday in search of my grandfather’s grave, and we were disappointed to find that there was no monument there.
My grandfather had died at a young age, and my father never knew where he was buried, and my sisters and I were so excited to be able to finally visit where he is buried…
I will contact RC Cemeteries to see about erecting a stone.
Blessings,
Kathy

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Steven Gerardi August 22, 2019 - 2:17 pm

Interesting postings. Most of my family was attached to MHT Parish and schools. I attended MHT through 6th Grade (1969). I have always retained a nostalgic fascination with the Parish and surrounding neighborhood. I visit periodically and have organized a couple of family outings to the Church. I have never had the opportunity to visit the cemetery, though my interest is piqued. I enjoy reading posts from others who grew up in the neighborhood. Those years and the memories, for me, are so vivid!

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