Resting place sought for Staten Island bones

This serves as a cautionary tale for people seeking to oppose a project through archaeolgical mitigation – it might delay a project, but it won’t stop it.

Resting place sought for Staten Island bones
by amy zimmer / metro new york

FEB 27, 2007

STATEN ISLAND. It was no surprise to Lynn Rogers when human bones were dug up last year at a municipal parking lot in St. George where the state plans to build a new courthouse.

The site was once a cemetery for immigrants with smallpox, cholera and other diseases who were housed at a quarantine built here in 1799. Angry mobs burned it down in 1858 during a yellow fever scare.

Rogers — whose great-great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Egan’s relatives are believed buried there — has a plan for the bones that were packed up in cardboard boxes and are now in a Brooklyn lab.

“It’s time to get them a decent burial in a proper cemetery,” said Rogers, executive director of Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries.

“We have an area where they can be buried,” she said, referring to a spot at the Staten Island Cemetery in West Brighton. “It’s the final resting place of the Lenape tribe, former slave families, Irish, Dutch, French and other immigrants, veterans of the War of 1812 and Civil War guys.” She said there were local undertakers willing to donate coffins.

Putting the remains back where they were found would desecrate her ancestors’ memory, she believes. So, she enlisted several organizations, such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians, to write letters to the state’s Dormitory Authority overseeing the courthouse project.

Last week, however, DASNY officials told Rogers they wanted letters from individuals, not groups, she said.

“They said to get them the letters by the end of the month or they will dispose of the remains how they see fit,” she said. “I spent last weekend posting on genealogy Web sites for letters of support.”

So far, she’s received roughly 50 e-mails.

But DASNY’s request for public comment is just the beginning of a lengthy process that will give people more opportunity to weigh in, according to spokeswoman Claudia Hutton. The courthouse project’s environmental impact will be open to public review this summer, and the issue of the remains will undoubtedly be part of this process, she said. Final say will rest with the city, which owns the land, the State Historic Preservation Office and the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, Hutton said.

“It’s going to be a while before the bones can be buried anywhere,” Hutton added.

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