Mr. Hunter’s Grave

Here’s the story and the pictures I mentioned the other day. The pictures were taken with a disposable camera, and aren’t very good alas.

In 1956 the New Yorker published “Mr. Hunter’s Grave,” one of writer Joseph Mitchell’s best known articles. It told the story of George H. Hunter and the abandoned cemetery on Staten Island where he wanted to be buried.

Mitchell met Hunter on one of his trips exploring wildflowers in Sandy Ground, a largely abandoned town founded by free blacks before the civil war. Mitchell’s mother Virginia, a former slave, came there with her son after escaping to Ossining via the Underground Railroad. Hunter lived on Bloomingdale Road, across the street from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church (he was on the board of trustees). Mitchell had written that he could walk the whole day on that road without seeing a single soul because the children and grandchildren of the original oysterman had long since moved away.

Hunter took Mitchell to the church cemetery where the widest variety of wildflowers could be found. Established in the early 1880’s on a dead end dirt lane called Crabtree Avenue, it hadn’t been tended for years. Gravestones covered with flowers with names like beggars lice and partridge pea were almost impossible to read. Some were marked with wooden crosses.

Then Hunter pointed out the grave of his first wife, Celia Ann Finney. To her left was the grave of his second wife Edith. George’s name was listed underneath Edith’s, along with the date of his birth, 1869. This was where George Hunter wanted to be buried, with his second wife Edith.

The piece ends with Hunter learning that Edith was not buried deep enough, and that chances were he would not be buried with her, but in an empty plot to her left.

I went to Staten Island in 2001 to look for the cemetery and to find out where Mr. Hunter was finally buried. I took the exact same Tottenville bus Mitchell would have taken to get there. At the time I wrote: the cemetery is well tended now. Vandalized in 1997, it has since been declared a New York City landmark and restored. Too restored. It’s bare and cold and missing a sense of renewal it might have had when it was lush, fragrant and overgrown. The wooden crosses are gone, as are most of the trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. But Mr. Hunter’s grave is unchanged. It’s exactly as Mitchell described it, except now there’s a gravestone for Hunter’s only child William, who died in 1955. He lies at the foot of his mother, Celia. Everyone thought William drank himself to death, I later learned, but when they got him to the hospital they discovered he had cancer.

There was no date of death for Mr. Hunter on any of the graves so there was no way of knowing which grave he was in. I went looking for his church and met Lois Mosley, a former tenant of Mr. Hunter’s who had just turned 75 the day before, and she was able to tell me that Hunter had died on April 6th, 1967, at 97, having never left Sandy Ground.

Sadly, he wasn’t buried with Edith as he had wanted to be, and he wasn’t buried next to her, as he thought he would be. He was buried in his first wife’s Celia’s grave. I hoped he was okay with that.

Crabtree Avenue is paved now. Along the former empty lane were the then new “Sandy Ground Estates.” At the time of my visit, all the houses were $315,000 except the one directly across from the graveyard which was $310,000. The realtor who was there that day had never heard of Joseph Mitchell or George H. Hunter. She didn’t know that to some people, this was the prime location.

I’ll bet those houses are a lot more now. Or maybe not. Unlike every other inch of real estate around Manhattan, I don’t get much of a buzz about Staten Island. I thought it was beautiful there though. I wouldn’t mind living there at all.

The Sandy Ground Cemetery.


The three Hunter family graves.


Where Mr. Hunter wanted to be buried.


Where he was actually buried.


This is a picture of Mr. Hunter’s house. I have another picture of much sadder looking house, except I can’t remember why I took that picture. I have a vague recollection that it was once Mr. Hunter’s house and this was the house he lived in at his death.


Another grave at Sandy Ground, a WWII veteran.
(Joseph Brown, died on May 4, 1957. He was 32.)


Carnival of Souls

Souls2.jpg I can’t remember if it was the Million Dollar Movie or the 4:30 Movie, but through one of them I was introduced to the horror movie Carnival of Souls when I was a kid. (If you grew up in New York you know what I’m talking about, they were movie programs from our youth.)

I was immediately drawn to this movie, which really doesn’t have much of a plot and very little happens that’s scary. But it’s atmospheric and haunting, and I think what grabbed me were all the scenes shot in an abandoned amusement park. This was the Saltair Pavilion in Salt Lake City, I learned. God, how did we survive before Google and Wikipedia?? I must use them 50,000 billion times a day every day of my life.

Sadly, the Pavillion burned down. It’s harder to find abandoned things to wander through and explore now. Every available space is used, every old building rehabbed. I was watching this movie yesterday, and I started thinking about one of my favorite articles of all time, Joseph Mitchell’s Up In The Old Hotel. It would be hard to find something like that anymore, if not impossible. At least here in the city.

For those of you who haven’t read it, there was a restaurant down at the Fulton Fish Market called Sloppy Louie’s. (92 South Street.) No one had gone up to the upper floors in I forget how long, 50 years maybe, and no one even knew what was up there except that it had once been a hotel. The whole piece was about Mitchell going up there and exploring. You can go there now and kinda see it how Mitchell saw it. They cleaned up the floors, but didn’t restore them so it looks like what he would have seen except swept up.

It would be hard to imagine something like that happening now, all the upper floors of a building shuttered up for decades, like something out of Edgar Allen Poe (or Dickens). But places like this have always had an allure for me.

That reminds me. I found Mr. Hunter’s grave — this is from one of Mitchell’s other pieces, another favorite of all time. I wrote about finding it, but no one wanted my piece. I don’t think I did a very good job, I was in a weird place at the time. Anyway, I should find the picture and scan it in. Fans of Joseph Mitchell might enjoy seeing it.

The Tulip Staircase

Tulip.jpg Finney is on me and I can’t take my own picture so here’s the Tulip Staircase ghost. From

“Rev. Ralph Hardy, a retired clergyman from White Rock, British Columbia, took this now-famous photograph in 1966. He intended merely to photograph the elegant spiral staircase (known as the “Tulip Staircase”) in the Queen’s House section of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. Upon development, however, the photo revealed a shrouded figure climbing the stairs, seeming to hold the railing with both hands. Experts, including some from Kodak, who examined the original negative concluded that it had not been tampered with. It’s been said that unexplained figures have been seen on occasion in the vicinity of the staircase, and unexplained footsteps have also been heard.”

Fun, no? Today there’s a dog in Halloween costume thing … somewhere. Was it Washington Square. Now I forget. No, maybe it was Tompkins Square. But that should be worth some great pictures.


Beloved.jpg Last night I didn’t feel like reading or watching TV so I was browsing photographs on Flickr. I just cannot freaking believe how many mind-blowingly talented people there are in the world, and this was just one infinitesimally small piece of it. Just one area where people are talented, and yet there was more than I could ever look at in a lifetime. Seriously, the gorgeousness of some of the photographs, the incredibly sublime beauty and emotion I saw.

This one was uploaded by someone called cherynf. I couldn’t find a complete name. I was searching on “abandoned graves,” thinking I might find a possible cover for my book, although an abandoned grave wouldn’t really be right. Honestly, right now I don’t have a clue what should be on the cover. Not that I really get a say. Actually, I get a say, but it’s the publisher’s call, although usually they don’t want to go with a cover you hate.

I KNOW. I just figured it out! A picture of the Duke Building they used to be in, but taken at night. One, it’s a really beautiful building, two, taken at night it will symbolize that they are not there anymore, but give a slightly haunted feel. It could work! It’s perfect!

Here’s a shot I took, but this was just a quick, uninspired straight on shot. Someone shooting at night for something more atmospheric could certainly get more creative, shoot just one lovely corner, or window, in the moonlight. Maybe even looking out one of the windows.


Here’s the other side, with the statue. This is one of the old photographs I scanned when I went down there. As you can see, there’s a lot to work with here, for someone who is talented.