Prospect Cemetery, Queens, NY

The picture below is of Prospect Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens. It’s not the greatest shot because I took it from a moving train in the rain. The cemetery is actually a lot prettier than this. I wrote about Prospect Cemetery in Waiting For My Cats to Die. The cemetery had been abandoned and forgotten for decades until …

“A local animal rights activist named Amy Anderson found it again in 1988 while rescuing an abandoned litter of puppies. It was already so overgrown with weeds and wildflowers that she didn’t even know at first she was even in a cemetery. Amy wrote down some of the names on the gravestones, picked up a phonebook, and starting calling people with the same last names at random. This led to Cate Ludlam, who may or may not be a descendant of someone buried there — she’s never actually checked — and now Cate pulls the weeds for dead people no one thinks about except people like me. I’ve been passing Prospect Cemetery on the Long Island Railroad for decades. I couldn’t see the graves until the Cate started weeding roughly ten years ago. Once I could, whenever my train went by it I’d daydream that Prospect Cemetery was my “Willoughby” and I always swore I’d get off someday and go there …

Not long after I do. I meet Cate who …

” … takes me into the Chapel of the Sisters which stands just inside the main gate. Built from fieldstone, sandstone, and black walnut in 1857 by her possible ancestor, Nicholas Ludlum, for his three dead daughters, Mary Cecelia, Cornelia Maria, and Mary, it hasn’t been used since 1936. The chapel consists of a small room, but the ceilings are at least 30 feet high. I dodge swooping pigeons, who come in through holes in the roof and breaks in the stained glass, and notice that the word “incorruptible” still appears in embossed gold lettering on the now gray walls. I walk from wall to wall, avoiding spiderwebs and brushing away feathers that cover the floor to read the names and dates of birth and death of the sisters, who only lived to 1, 13, and 21 years old …

“I pick up a few sordid facts about Prospect’s past. In 1954, the skull of 14-year-old Alice Josephine Smith was taken from the grave she had been buried in 90 years before. Her skull is still missing to this day … The body of a three-year-old boy murdered by his mother was found during a brief cleanup in 1989.”

Cate is much further along now! The Chapel has been completely restored and there’s a Prospect Cemetery website with the complete history and a registry of the people buried there (over 1,000). I wish I could find my “before” pictures. The Chapel was completely dilapidated and in ruins, but the website has pictures of how it looks today.

Prospect Cemetery, Queens, NY

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

4 thoughts on “Prospect Cemetery, Queens, NY

  1. I remember that post, it was AMAZING! Everyone should follow that link and read it!!

  2. Loved finding this reference to Prospect and your remarks. The Martha Douglas piece was most interesting. I didn’t see anyone stepping up to the plate, though, which is sad, but the first step is to get the word out as Karen has done. Best wishes to you both.

  3. Cate, hi!! I was amazed at how wonderful the Chapel looks, you really have worked wonders for that place. Good good work!!!

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