In 1823, New York City forbade burials in a grave or vault south of Canal, Sullivan, and Grant Streets. In 1851, the City forbade interments south of 86th Street and prohibited the creation of any new cemeteries in Manhattan. Due to the lack of available space, New York City residents have been forced to look for burial sites outside of Manhattan. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn has some available space, but experts predict Green-Wood will be depleted of in-ground plots in less than ten years. Jeff Richman, historian for Green-Wood Cemetery, believes New York City residents will now consider burials in New Jersey, despite the less “historic” burial sites. Long Island cemeteries have little to no availability, including Long Island National Cemetery, which, according to its website, only has space available for cremated remains or “casketed remains of subsequent eligible family members in the same gravesite of previously interred family members.”
Some New Yorkers have resorted to buying and selling expensive burial space. Mr. Arthur Allan purchased his 2,064 square foot lot and mausoleum at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx for $1.1 million. Mr. Allan has added $150,000 in improvements to the facility. While Mr. Allan's investment seems excessive, some New York City mausoleums have actually fetched over $3 million. Middle class residents also want a piece of the action. Richard Fishman, direction of New York State Division of Cemeteries, revealed that people ask his department if they can disinter their parents in order to sell grave sites for a profit.
Cemeteries have changed their operations in response to the limited space. New York passed a law that gives cemeteries the right to take over empty plots that were purchased more than 75 years ago if the owner cannot be contacted. Maple Grove in Queens has reclaimed over 150 plots, according to state officials. Cemetery managers are also attempting to squeeze as many plots onto their land as possible. Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn has created grave sites on its cemetery pathways, including the front lawn which runs perpendicular to the road. Experts expect that more changes will come as the need to accommodate Baby Boomers’ burial needs begins to grow.
For more information on New York City cemeteries, click here.