New York

Green-Wood Cemetery is Buzzing

Historically, Brooklyn's Green-Wood cemetery has been selected as the final resting place for many buzz-worthy people, such as composer Leonard Bernstein, newspaperman Horace Greeley, "Wizard of Oz" actor Frank Morgan and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. But, of late, Green-Wood has some new, lively residents, over 600,000 honeybees. Cemetery-Beekeepers4-1880x1219These bees are responsible for producing the locally acclaimed honey named, "The Sweet Hereafter," which is sold from a wheeled cart outside the cemetery's gothic gate. 

Up until 2010, New York City had a ban on beekeeping. But, one day in 2014, while sitting in Green-Wood's central chapel, Davin Larson, who worked with bees while growing up in the Midwest, came up with the idea to keep beehives onsite. Green-Wood and its sprawling 478 acres of greenery is one of the larger green areas in New York City, which seemed like an ideal location to keep bees within the limits of the city.  Larson proposed his idea to a cemetery volunteer and backyard beekeeper, Nicole Francis, who then sold the concept to the cemetery's public programming director. Larson was originally concerned that families who have relatives buried at the cemetery would object to the idea, but he says, "they've been nothing but supportive."

The bees not only produce lots of honey, this year alone the beekeepers harvested 200 pounds of honey, but also help to beautify the landscape by pollinating tons of flowering plants and trees. Larson did not want to interrupt the surrounding landscape when installing the hives, so with some innovation, he propped up the hives on excess, uncarved headstones that were previously stored 485Cemetery Beekeepersin the cemetery's workshop to make them appear almost as grave markers. But, maintaining the hives can be expensive, so supporters of the beekeeping are encouraged to make donations on the Green-Wood website to sponsor hives and efforts of Larson: $500 for one hive, or $250 for half a hive. This is the second year that Green-Wood has produced honey. The honey from this year's harvest is for sale the weekend of November 12-14 outside the main entrance of the cemetery. Overall, the community seems to enjoy the idea of having locally produced honey and regards the efforts of Larson as the "Bee's Knees."

Alexa Gaudioso


What's the Buzz Between the Tombstones?

The final resting place of celebrities who created a buzz when they were alive, is now the home to some 600,000 honeybees and a beekeeping operation that continue the buzz between the tombstones.  Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery allows beekeeper Davin Larson to run the beekeeping operation on the cemetery grounds near 500 acres of rolling hills.  Upon visiting the cemetery, Larson knew that the grounds were the perfect place to keep bees in the city; the cemetery is one of the larger green areas in the city.

Green-Wood Cemetery is also granting Larson to sell the churned out honey outside of the cemetery's Gothic main gate under the name "The Sweet Hereafter."  Larson was able to achieve this dream by proposing the idea to fellow beekeeper, and cemetery volunteer, Nicole Francis who sold the concept to the cemetery's public programming director.

The relationship is mutual between the cemetery and the beekeeping operation.  Today, the bees help pollinate the cemetery's tons of flowering plants and trees.  Along with keeping the grounds healthy, the cemetery has allowed individuals to sponsor hives to help defray the cost of maintaining the hives.  In order for the bees to build honeycombs, they feed on sugar water.  However, for the bees to obtain sugar water in the winter months, Larson had to buy 400 pounds of sugar this year to meet the bees needs to produce honeycombs.  Maintaining these hives is not cheap and if you wish to sponsor a hive, you may make a donation of $500 to sponsor a hive, or $250 for halve a hive. 

Green-Wood's beekeepers have harvested 200 pounds of honey already this year.  As business is booming the question becomes whether or not the public or relatives of those buried in the cemetery minded the bees company.  “I was concerned people who have relatives buried in Green-Wood would object, but they’ve been nothing but supportive,” Larson said.

Rivver Cox

 


Orchestra Pit at the Met Showered with More Than Just Cheers

Spooky things usually tend to happen around Halloween. Well, for some opera fans, Halloween was certainly in the air during an afternoon performance of Rossini's "Guillaume Tell" at New York's Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, October 29, 2016.

A 52- year-old man, who was seated in the first row, decided to sprinkle a powdery substance into the orchestra pit during the second intermission. According to John Miller, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner in charge of intelligence and counterterrorism, the man, who has now been identified and is from Dallas, told other members of the audience that he was there to sprinkle the ashes of his mentor, a fellow opera lover, during the performance. 

New-York-Metropolitan-OperaMet officials were forced to cancel the rest of the "Guillaume Tell" performance on Saturday, as well as an evening performance of "L'Italiana in Algeri," so that the police could investigate the scene. Audience members were left in the dark, having originally been told that there was a technical issue during the intermission, as the Met officials decided how to proceed once the powder substance was found. Ultimately, nearly 4,000 spectators were told to leave, but as they exited, they noticed the counterterrorism unit entering the building, which was a bit alarming for some of the opera enthusiasts. Other audience members were disappointed that they did not get to experience the final Act, especially considering the fact that this opera had not been performed at the Met in more than 80 years before this season. The Met is offering refunds to the audience members that were forced to evacuate from the performance and is supposed to be open as of Monday, October 31. 

The police are still in the process of actually testing the powder that was found in the orchestra pit to determine if the powder is in fact human remains. Miller was quoted saying that while the disposal of ashes at an opera house may violate city codes, he doesn't "believe at this point that we see any criminal intent here." The Met General Manager said that this was the first time he has seen this happen in eleven years. But, Miller said in his experience, they have seen this in many public places, including monuments, stadiums and other venues, in attempts to honor their loved ones.

For an opera lover, the chance to have their ashes sprinkled at the New York Metropolitan Opera seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, or rather the after-lifetime, but obviously this poses some public health concerns, which is why the Met does not condone the continuing of this practice, as much as they appreciate those who love their performances and art. 

Alexa Gaudioso


Buying A Used Final Resting Place

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Not interested in designing or building your forever home?  There is a niche market that will help you locate and bid on a slightly used final resting place. Are you desiring top-quality granite exterior, marble interior, high ceiling, and custom-made windows?  Then you may be interested in Rev. Norman Vincent Peale's mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City that has been vacant since the 1950s.  This modest mausoleum sleeps eight and is selling for $750,000 with the option of personalizing the entrance with your last name.

In New York, where the city revolves around real estate, it stands to reason that big-money prices and maxims like “location, location, location” figure in death as well. Mausoleums change hands just like apartments and townhouses.  And with cemeteries running short on space, cemetery officials have been known to call descendants who own long-empty grave-sites or mausoleums, and suggest a sale. 

Several mausoleums at Woodlawn Cemetery have been home to famous poets, musicians, and business tycoons.  These mausoleums can often raise their asking price due to their attached reputations and legacies.  William B. Leeds, a tin and railroad tycoon, had his mausoleum designed by famous architect in the early 1900s; Woodlawn Cemetery is asking for $4.2 million.  However, Woodlawn offers smaller mausoleums for a nominal $534,000.

Susan Olsen, the cemetery historian, has found letter records that show the "change of hands" of mausoleums at Woodlawn Cemetery throughout its existence.  These letters show the intent of future residents to build or buy mausoleums on the cemetery grounds.  There is also a history of transition of bodies from "receiving tombs," temporary resting areas while mausoleums are being built, to there years in the mausoleum, to the family deciding on a new resting destination for their dearly departed.

Treating burial spots as a recycling business is a new perspective on cemeteries.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues to spread to other states as the competition for burial locations exponentially increases

Rivver Cox


Did Litchfield Prison Officials’ Delay in Reporting a Death Violate New York Law?

In the season four finale of Orange is the New Black, tensions between guards and inmates came to a head. The inmates joined together in an “Oh Captain, My Captain” style peaceful protest – all standing atop tables in the cafeteria during dinner. However, the peaceful protest soon turned tragic when reviled guard, Piscatella, orders the other guards to pull the women down off the tables. Fans watched in horror and disbelief as beloved character, Poussey Washington, was crushed to death in the chaos that ensues. As the other inmates mourn Poussey’s death, viewers watched prison director, Joe Caputo, struggle with the bureaucracy of MCC, the private corporation that runs the prison, and their delay in reporting Poussey’s death to the authorities and her family. In the end, Poussey’s dead body lays on the floor in the cafeteria for almost a full day before the coroner comes to collect it.

One of the central themes of the episode is the implied disrespect of leaving Poussey’s body on the floor for a full day. The other inmates’ and Caputo’s reactions to MCC’s failure to immediately notify authorities and remove the body mirror the assumption present in American culture that a death must be immediately reported and that there is something inherently wrong with having a corpse stay at the location of death for any length of time. 

While the specific circumstances of Poussey’s death during a prison riot did seem to require more immediate action, the law in the state of New York, the location of the fictional prison, requires that a death be registered “immediately and not later than seventy-two hours after death.” So, while it appears that the prison should have contacted the coroner “immediately” after Poussey’s death, because the coroner van arrived at the prison approximately twenty-four hours after her death – within the required seventy-two hour time frame – it seems that prison officials did not violate New York law.

Elizabeth DeFrance


Jewish Cemetery Vandalized Days Before Jewish Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the Jewish year.  A few select individuals in New York can only hope for atonement this year after vandalizing a New York-area Jewish cemetery just days prior to the start of Yom Kippur.

On October 9, just two days before the evening Yom Kippur began, a Jewish cemetery in upstate New York was found defaced with swastikas, "Heil Hitler," and the letters "SS," representative of the Nazi security force, spray-painted at the entrance.  Although none of the headstones within the cemetery were damaged, the vandals left their mark in conspicuous black spray paint.

The vandals, if caught, may be subject to punishment under New York Penal Law.  Section 145.22 of the Law defines cemetery desecration in the second degree as when "with intent to damage property of another person, and having no right to do so nor any reasonable ground to believe he has such right, he damages any real or personal property maintained as a cemetery, plot, grave, burial place or other place of interment of human remains…"  As a class A misdemeanor, a sentence between fifteen days and one year can be imposed.

Alternatively, § 145.23(a) may apply when the assessed damage amounts to two hundred fifty dollars or more, thus constituting cemetery desecration in the first degree.  Cemetery desecration in the first degree is a class E felony, which is a fixed term crime with a sentence of between three and four years.

Without regard for any potential spiritual ramifications of desecrating a religious cemetery days before the religion's observation of its Day of Atonement, the vandals in question are most certainly subject to these earthly consequences.

Jillian Sexton


A Furry Friend to Comfort the Grieving

13116460_875324819263332_362816585251506194_oAs anyone who has lost someone close to them knows, the days following a loved one’s death can be an emotional rollercoaster. Between the visitation, funeral, and burial services, there are numerous events following a death that can emotionally taxing. One funeral home in White Plains, New York has found a way to help ease the pain and emotional strife of the deceased's grieving relatives and friends. Ballard-Durand Funeral and Cremation Services has enlisted the help of Lulu, a sweet and lovable goldendoodle therapy dog, to attend funeral services and interact with grieving loved ones, with the hopes that some of the sadness and pain will be eased, even if just for a short while. Matt Florillo, the owner of Ballard-Duran, has said that Lulu is incredibly in-tune with the emotions of people around her. She has the ability to know who needs her the most, and will sit by those loved ones during funeral services for as long as they need. Lulu also knows how to “pray” during the funeral – crossing her paws and bowing her head – a trick that Florillo says helps ease the tension surrounding such a sad day. Lulu is available for any and all events throughout the grieving process.

While many news outlets such as the Huffington Post and the Today Show have taken a particular interest in Lulu and her adorable trick, a number of funeral homes across the country have also utilized therapy dogs to comfort grieving family members. Three funeral homes in Ohio employ therapy dogs Magic, Dempsey, and Lily to provide “quiet comfort” to loved ones left behind. A variety of breeds can be used for therapy dogs as Magic is Portuguese Water Dog, Dempsey is a Bernese Mountain Dog and Lily seems to be a Bichon Frise. While the breed, size, and age of the dogs all differ, they have one thing in common – their ability to comfort those who need it the most.

I have just become a first-time dog owner myself, and it is almost uncanny how aware dogs are of the emotions of the people surrounding them. I can only imagine how comforting it must be to have a furry friend nearby when dealing with such a sad time in one’s life. There seems to be a growing number of funeral homes that offer therapy dogs, and I can see why this is a popular trend. Of course, there is always the option to not have a therapy dog at a funeral service, but for those who need comfort the most, it seems a furry friend can be a loveable source of relief.

Kelsey Mellan


Why should time with your pets be limited to your life? In New York, your time can now be FURever

As a pet owner and an animal lover, I have come to know that over their short lifetime, pets become a member of your family. When a pet dies, even if your family later decides to adopt a new pet, the void is never truly filled from your beloved friend. Approximately 62% of American households own a pet, so this grieving process is fairly widespread. People grieve the loss of their pets in many ways and have turned to various methods of memorializing them postmortem. Many people decide to cremate their pets after they have passed, keeping the ashes nearby in their home, but the question has remained as to what to do with the pets' cremains when the owner eventually passes.

072315_PlaqueMaker_NewItems_cat-granite-headstone-1On September 26, 2016, Governor Cuomo helped to answer this question by signing legislation that allows New Yorkers to be buried with their pets' cremains in not-for-profit cemeteries. The new bill (S.2582/A.2647) allows pet owners the option to have their domestic pets' cremains buried with them, so long as they obtain the cemetery's written consent, but this legislation does not apply to cemeteries owned and operated by religious associations and societies. The interment of the pet cremains needs to be incidental to the burial of the human remains; they can be placed in a niche, crypt or a grave with their human. Not-for-profit cemeteries now will need to provide customers with an itemized list of charges pertaining to their pet's burial and any payments that are made for the pet interment are to be deposited into the permanent maintenance fund of the cemetery. 

This new legislation does not come without a lot of mixed emotions from New Yorkers. While animals cannot be buried by themselves in the human cemetery, many people do not like the idea that animals can now be buried in a plot next to where their loved one is at their final resting place. Other people are concerned with the cost that can be attributed to the addition of the pet, since the price of a burial is expensive as it is. Ultimately, there has been overwhelming support for this legislation considering that people now feel, as pet owners and lovers, their final wishes can be honored.

Alexa Gaudioso


Funeral Home Mistake Leads to Cremation of Wrong Body

Over one hundred mourners viewed Val-Jean McDonald's body at her funeral at Union Baptist Church in Harlem, New York.  Her children thought she looked different than she had in life but rationalized that her cancer, final days spent in a hospital bed, and the embalming process had altered appearance.  Her grandchildren claimed that the woman in the coffin was not their grandmother.  The following day the family attended Ms. McDonald’s cremation at Woodlawn Cemetery.  Six days later McCall’s Bronxwood Funeral Home contacted the McDonald family and informed them that they had made a mistake.  Ms. McDonald’s grandchildren had been correct: Val-Jean McDonald was not in the coffin that day and her body had not been cremated, in fact the woman in the coffin was Annie Pearl Little.

Annie Pearl Little’s son, Donald Little, was informed of this tragic mistake on the day of his mother’s funeral.  The manager at McCall’s told him that they would have a closed casket because his mother got cremated.  He was told the mistake was made because “the other lady looked like your mother.”  Annie Pearl Little was to be buried with her husband, a Korean War Veteran who died in 2015 and was buried at Calverton National Cemetery, but that was no longer a possibility.  The Little family does not believe in cremation so cremation of Mrs. Little’s remains was never an option.  Since learning of the cremation, Mr. Little has experienced bad dreams about his mother being burned up and has visited a therapist multiple times.

Mr. Little plans to sue McCall’s Bronxwood Funeral Home for breaching his right of sepulcher.  New York courts have found that the right of sepulcher is the legal right of the surviving next of kin to find solace in comfort in the ritual of burial.  In Melfi v. Mount Sinai Hospital the New York appellate court found that for a right of sepulcher claim to accrue there must be interference with the next of kin’s immediate possession of the decedent’s body and the interference has caused mental anguish.  While Mr. Little’s claim appears to meet this standard, the McDonald family may not because they ultimately were able to cremate Ms. McDonald’s body as they intended.  It is unclear whether McCall’s faces any disciplinary action from the New York agencies that regulate the funeral industry. 

Elliott Harry


In Death They Were Not Alone—a guide to The New York Times coverage of Hart Island from 1869-2016

Screen Shot 2016-09-25 at 2.12.05 PMI admit that I am conflicted about the controversy surrounding Hart Island, the potter's field that has served New York City since the 1840s.  Isolated on an island and operated by the New York City Department of Correction, Hart Island is the last resting place of approximately 1 million New Yorkers -- each in an individual casket but stacked in trench graves.  Many view this as disrespectful to New York's indigent dead because of the limited access, the lack of individualized graves, the use of correctional labor, and the use of trench graves.  Many other cities, on the other hand, cremate the indigent dead or donate their cadavers to a variety of institutions and educational facilities, including mortuary schools, dental schools, and medical schools.  Which of these options is more or less respectful? 

The trench graves at Hart Island, shown in an 1890 photograph by Jacob Riis:

A_trench_at_the_potter's_field_on_Hart_Island,_circa_1890_by_Jacob_Riis

The New York Times has written extensively about Hart Island over the years.  If you want to get up to speed on the history of this unique burial ground and the modern controversy surrounding it, you can do so without every leaving The New York Times website. 

The Old Potter's Field (The New York Times, May 31, 1853)

The City Authorities are cutting a street through the old Potter's Field, in East Fiftieth-street, where so many victims of the Cholera were hurriedly interred in 1832. The coffins were then, in many instances, stacked one upon another; and now, in digging through the hill, the remains of twenty coffins may be seen thus piled together. It is altogether an unpleasant sight, but does not seem to cause any interest beyond the immediate neighborhood.

New Potter's Field (The New York Times, March 29, 1854)

A proposition is before the Board of Governors for the purchase of additional lands on Ward's Island for the purposes of a City Cemetery, or Potter's Field. It is time that the remains of paupers were interred in some quarter better fitted for their last resting-place than the one now used on Randall's Island. A more disgusting spectacle can scarcely be conceived than the trenches filled with coffins, loosely covered with earth and subject to trespass, which now receive the bodies of the City's poor. The old Potter's Field was a disgrace to the City, years ago; and continued use has made it much worse. The dictates of propriety point to the obvious requirement of a new location.

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