Yesterday in evergreen, wryly Times reporting on hidden NYC and cosmic quirk: David Dunlap, of the City Room blog, visited the Cypress Hills Cemetery, specifically a plot of 24 lots purchased, in the 1870s, by the New York Press Club, for “friendless journalists” lacking the resources to make arrangements for their own interments. (Dunlap, parenthetically: “‘Friendless journalist’ may strike you as a tautology, but there was a time when such distinctions were made.” Droll, so achingly droll.)
As is inevitably the way of such pathetic, all too human gestures of reassurance in the face of mortality’s gaping and infinite void, the lots were infrequently utilized and fell quickly into disrepair:
[Early burial John] Wood’s grave and those of 16 other journalists were soon forgotten and neglected. In 1887, The New York Press Club rallied its members, dug into its pockets and erected a 38-foot obelisk to set the place apart, staking out the ground with granite markers. Nearly 2,000 people attended the dedication ceremony. They heard Chauncey M. Depew, the president of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad and the day’s orator, declare appreciatively, “A man dies calmly and courageously when he knows that he will be buried among his kindred or that loving hands will care for his remains.”
With the 20th century came fewer and fewer burials. Journalists in Manhattan had once before forgotten about their patch at distant Cypress Hills and it seemed they were forgetting again, particularly as their working conditions and wages improved, from miserable to modest. The last two interments occurred in 1925. During the Great Depression, the Press Club’s headquarters were foreclosed, so there was no longer even a way to arrange for a burial.
With even the organization in charge of the plot now defunct, as is the lot of all such earthly bonds, the gravesite sank once again into the dimming recesses of memory. 84 journalists are buried there today; a Taiwanese-American fraternal organization has taken over the lots and is allotting final resting places to its own otherwise friendless and adrift members.
The article’s hed is “In Cypress Hills, a Little-Known Monument to Journalism’s Short Memory,” but my browser tab says “The New York Press Club Buried Its Members in Cypress Hills Cemetery, But Few Remember”. What restraint it must have taken, not to title the article “In Death’s Oblivion, A Wiping Away of All Earthly Traces and a Consignment to Blackest Obscurity” or similar.)