Sunday, June 7, 2009

My day at the Jersey City Cemetery

The cemetery on Newark Avenue will always have a place in my heart, and not just because I love dead people. I grew up a block away from it on 2nd Street. It's where I met my first shanty town hobo, Steve, where I went on my first date, and where I saw my first sacrificed animal (though not necessarily in that order). I never knew that the place I drank so much malt liquor behind had so much history, mostly because I never saw it in the daylight.

This wall was part of a fortification from the War of 1812. The holes were where cannons were, but I don't know about the weird doors on it. The website says that it was an "an active ammunition bunker and lookout point."

These are some pretty wild flowers that blanketed around the war debris.

Just in front of the wall is the Edge Mausoleum. It's pretty dilapidated, like most things in the cemetery, and if you look in the tiny hole on the door, it looks like it was decimated by grave robbers. But it's unique in that it is a brownstone mausoleum, which may be why it's not completely rubble yet. The Edge family was pretty big in Old Jersey City, and had one of the first manufacturing businesses in town: A gristmill.

Two different perspectives of it:

This hole is next to the mausoleum. It looks like some sort of chamber, but don't go spelunking in it by yourself because you will be crushed. Maybe it's part of the receiving area.

The current issue of Weird NJ, Issue #32, features the cemetery's receiving area. That's where they kept the bodies until the ground thawed and they could be buried in the spring. It also explores the underground tunnels and Underground Railroad connections. You can buy a copy from Grove Street Bicycles.

The Jersey City Cemetery Organization plans to restore it and actually give walking tours inside of it. As a matter of fact, they plan on restoring everything, the crumbled obelisks, the tunnels, the old mausoleums, the old picnic area, as well as making a museum in the old caretaker's house.

There were skylights on top of the reception area. Here's what remains of them. Be careful when you're walking around on top of it. The other skylights are holes, there's sharp debris, and the dirt slopes sharply.

The door of the receiving area had what looked like the remnants of duct tape or old paint in the shape of a cross. Forgive me for accidently deleting it. You can see it in Weird NJ. But the creepiest thing is the fallen tree in the shape of a cross in front of the door. Yikes!

There was lots of wildlife around there. There were fledgling birds in the grass. And groundhog holes to fall into. And tons of starlings, robins, and cardinals. A giant garter snake scared the crap out of me as four and a half feet of it disappeared under my feet into an invisible hole. One of the caretakers told me that they also have hawks and rabbits. If you go there, wear long pants because of the bugs, poison ivy and oak.

I couldn't get a picture of the cardinal. Unfortunately, the best picture I could get was this robin in the debris. If you squint you can see it in the middle.

Part of the cemetery was used as a dump. People would just throw their garbage over the wall. Because of that, and all the people who drink there at night, there's tons of artifacts lying around, especially vintage bottles. I found two bottles of something called "Hydrol," which looked like they were from the '40's or '50's. They had etchings on the side so you could keep track of the ounces you consume. I don't know what Hydrol is, and there's nothing about it online, but it sounds like it would fuck you up. I gave them to the caretaker for the museum that they're building. They could have a drunk display.

I also found a giant "Vibrator Unit." I didn't realize it was made by the Army until I took the pictures home and blew them up on my screen. According to the cemetery's website, it says that the military trained there during World War I and World War II. Maybe this vibrator unit helped defeat the nazis...with orgasms.

This is Mr. Gammel and his wife's headstone. He was the first interment at the cemetery in 1830, but I don't know where the accompanying gravesite is. The stone was resting against another one. The inscription is supposed to be very nice, but I couldn't make it out.

Here was one of my favorites stones, because of the inscription. Though I couldn't find any dead people with a sense of humor here (unlike the cemetery at Key West), at least these people were a little bitter about dying. The Draytons were also pretty big in Jersey City back in the day, but I'm not sure for what.

These headstones were just neat.


Whyte. It's shaped like a log!

And Stone, which looks like an upside down penis. This is an example of the hundreds of fallen obelisks on the grounds.

I'm going to volunteer at the cemetery to help them dig things up. If you go there, and find anything cool, make sure you tell the caretakers and give it to them for the museum. I know they need lots of volunteers with all different skill sets. And if you know anything about it, or anyone who's buried there, make sure you tell them too, so they can piece the history together.


MG said...

Cool article. I enjoyed the Weird NJ article too. I've been by there a thousand times but didn't know it had so much history.

Anonymous said...

The Jersey Journal ran an article a year or so ago stating there was a WW1 military facility at the cemetery. This was refuted by a poster that claimed a resident in the hood filled his house with surplus WW1 crap, the house was abandoned and kids from the hood dispersed the contents all over the area - including the cemetery. It included some old boots, food rations, inactive shells, etc.

Melissa Surach said...

I never heard that there were military facilities that trained there during WWI and WWII except for when I spoke with the caretakers at the cemetery. The woman (I forgot her name) told me that's what historians told her, and that's what it states on their website. I'm sure if you contact them, they'll give you references.

My guess is that the military probably didn't train AT the cemetery, but at and around Dickinson.

That said, I'd never believe anything an anonymous poster on would say.