Matt Kovary grew up in Greenwich Village, is working nearby and passes by the location every day. He contacted WSP Blog on Friday after walking by the Park that afternoon when he noticed that there was a large hole dug about 6 feet below the surface in the fenced-off construction area, right at the perimeter of the chain-link fence on the southern edge at Washington Square South and Sullivan Street.
According to Mr. Kovary, there were two people inside the fence, a
man and a woman, poring over and dusting off what appeared to be a tombstone
which he believed had been recovered from the hole. They were taking
pictures of it, and, when he asked whether it was indeed a tombstone,
the woman would only state that it was “sandstone,” admitting she was
not authorized to talk about it.
Mr. Kovary said that the artifact looked like “a tombstone, not unlike those you’d see at Trinity Church – but in much better condition.”
He wondered if it could have been “related to the original land owner”
and questioned whether this came from a “family cemetery” from 200 years ago or more.
Although skeletons and human bones from the Park’s time period as a “potter’s field” (1797-1825) have been discovered as recently as last year (see WSP blog entry “The Skeletons of Washington Square Park“), there seems to be less information about – and discovery related to – private cemetery usage before the area was a New York City park.
Inside the Apple adds this insight:
It is well-known that the park was once a potter’s field and by
some estimates up to 20,000 people were buried there. (We write about
the park’s early history in depth in Inside the Apple.) However, what has people scratching their heads is the fact that you don’t normally find a tombstone in a potter’s field.The
tombstone isn’t so mysterious, however. Only a portion of today’s park
was the potter’s field. As Luther Harris writes in his wonderful book, Around Washington Square:The
land area [of the original square]…was about 6-1/4 acres, a
respectable public space, but not a grand one. Much narrower than
today’s square, the potter’s field was limited on the east by a strip of church cemeteries,
and on the west by Minetta Creek, which ran southwest from the foot of
Fifth Avenue to the corner of MacDougal and West Fourth Street. (italics added)Thus,
it seems likely considering where the current excavations are happening
that what’s been unearthed is a tombstone from one of these church
graveyards. The Scotch Presbyterian Church owned the largest cemetery
and vehemently opposed the park’s usurpation of their land. Perhaps
this is one of their brethren? We await a full report.
So do we. What a fun Halloween gift!
Previously on AHNY.