When you think of a cemetery, you probably don’t think of it as a place to catch a play, a concert, attend an arts and crafts market, see a movie, or pet the occasional goat. yard maintenance. Cemeteries are generally not a hotspot for bird watching, beekeeping and gardening for local youth. But in Jersey City and at the Harsimus Cemetery, located at 435 Newark Ave in the Bergen Hill neighborhood of Jersey City, visitors are welcome to participate in all of these activities. Read on to discover the very unique and bustling cemetery, Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery.
A brief history of the cemetery
The Historic Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery is the oldest established cemetery in New Jersey. It was incorporated in 1831 in response to a deadly cholera epidemic. The original grounds were surveyed to include 347 18′ x 18′ family plots and 12 18′ vaulted lots divided by landscaped paths for walking. Initially, the tombs each belonged to private owners. Spread over six hilly acres, it was then notable as one of the first garden-style cemeteries.
The cemetery exhibits characteristics of the rural cemetery movement of the 1850s in which the careful landscape design featured shade trees, decorative plants, an iron gate, a Victorian greenhouse and a gatehouse. Its dramatic appeal made the cemetery a destination that at one time required visitors to purchase entrance tickets. These characteristics are hard to find today among the yards of invasive Japanese knotweed and poison ivy – and yet the gnarly romance of the place is still present.
Read more: A historic walking tour of Jersey City Heights
People buried in the cemetery
William Colgate – the illustrious British-American soap industrialist who founded Colgate-Palmolive in 1806, the company that later marked Jersey City with the iconic Colgate Clock – was one of the first people to be buried there. The Colgate family vault was later reinterred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. We still have the clock, however.
The accomplished Charles Ferson Durant was buried there in 1873. Durant is best known for making the first American balloon ascent at the Battery, New York, in 1833. He repeated the feat fourteen times thereafter. A great mathematician, he made headlines for his adventures both above the clouds and below ground where he collected some 73 specimens of macroalgae, of which he is the author of several scientific publications, including his magnum opus , Algae and Corallines of New York Bay and Harbor.
Visitors to the cemetery can pay their respects to the enterprising 19th-century photographer, Egbert Guy Fowx, whose wet-plate collodion photograph of New York’s 7th Regiment – the “Gallant 7th” – can be found today in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery and the New York Public Library.
Veterans of the Civil War and nearly every American war since are identified among the headstones. Symbols of Freemasonry and various religious affiliations—along with names that reveal myriad places of origin—show the cemetery’s broad appeal historically.
Many of those buried in the cemetery are unnamed mysteries, although efforts are underway to learn as much as possible of the stories buried there. Decades ago, volunteers clearing dense undergrowth stumbled upon a stone staircase that led up a hill to a rusting iron gate set into the hillside where they discovered a marble-walled antechamber that had not been disturbed for over a century. History sleuths have a worthy project waiting for them in the archives and artifacts that remain – for now – unsolved.
Events + Events at Harsimus Cemetery
There’s a lot going on at the Jersey City and Harsimus Cemetery these days. The volunteers who work to restore, preserve and maintain the park, caretaker’s house and historical monuments are very creative in their programming. This is definitely not your typical graveyard. For one thing, this cemetery has an official entertainment director. Anthony “Dancing Tony” Suscoa staple of the Jersey City arts and music scene that organizes social events for Groove on Grove, organizes concerts for the cemetery.
A local 4-H organization and Jersey City birdwatching advocates welcome young people to all kinds of great events on the cemetery grounds, from bird identification days to a big garden project where children grow vegetables in raised beds at the foot of the caretaker’s building. This spring, beekeeper Simran Nazareth brought two beehives to the cemetery. She plans to sell honey from the Harsimus Cemetery at future events.
Everyone is welcome to help out during the “Wake and Rake” cemetery cleanups which take place every Saturday, with gates opening at 9 a.m. and volunteers welcome at any time they can arrive.
Ghost of Uncle Joe concerts, Oddity Markets and a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show are October staples (October 15 this year). These Halloween season events also took place this summer (June 11). And Jersey City movies in the park series ends with a screening of Even mice belong in heaven August 23 at the cemetery.
The cemetery is a member of the Jersey City Park Coalition and hopes to achieve state and national monument preservation status. There is a lot of fun to be had at the cemetery, as well as an impressive amount of historical research and physical restoration. Cemetery Board Director Michele Lamonica-Egar urges everyone to come get involved. But, over there, she says, “Please don’t lean on the stones!”