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Volunteers clear debris from historic Bayside graveyard

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Devon O'Connor, from Welcome to Whitestone, helps out at a cleanup in Lawrence Cemetery in Bayside organized by state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Meagan Chen rakes up leaves and branches at Lawrence Cemetery during a cleanup organized by state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Kerry Boehme, of Bayside, mows between tombstones at Lawrence Cemetery. Photo by Christina Santucci

Hidden deep in the corner of 216th Street and 42nd Avenue is a piece of land that is a major part of Bayside’s history, and last weekend a group of volunteers helped to make sure it did not turn into an eyesore.

Nearly 40 people came out Saturday morning to spruce up the Lawrence Cemetery after stormy weather during the summer left large tree branches, leaves and other debris scattered over the landmarked historic site.

State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) partnered with the Bayside Historical Society and the Bayside Business Improvement District to organize the cleanup and they got a huge response from the community.

Braunstein said he was impressed with how many people wanted to spend their Saturday morning getting their hands dirty to improve the space.

“A lot of people brought their own tools,” he said.

Several rainstorms over the summer caused parts of the trees in the cemetery to break off, according to Carol Marian, president of the Bayside Historical Society, the caretaker of the lot.

The volunteers of all ages gave the cemetery a full cleanup with all the equipment and manpower that was made available. Gas-powered blowers helped clear the leaves, while chainsaws were used to cut the large branches that would be put away in Dumpsters.

Some of the volunteers had experience doing such a cleanup like Lorna Monterosso, who has helped the society maintain the cemetery along with her son Nicholas for the last five years. Nicholas Monterosso, 19, kept coming back to clean the park after he did it as part of an Eagle Scout project, according to his mother.

“He felt it was a personal and humble thing to do,” she said.

First-time volunteers like Frank Parodi felt the same way. Parodi, who has been living next to the cemetery for 60 years, said he always liked seeing the graveyard and wanted to help out in his free time.

“It’s a nice place and after they clean it up it, will be more beautiful,” he said.

A local business was able to do its part, too, as the Bayside BID was able get two Dumpsters donated to collect all the debris from Mr. T. Carting.

Marian said the cleanup is another one of their many efforts to create awareness of the cemetery, which was officially landmarked by the city in 1967.

The Lawrence family was one of the original settlers in Bayside and bought the land with a patent granted by Dutch Gov. Kieft of New Amsterdam in 1645. The family used the land, which was originally called Pine Grove, as picnic grounds. It was turned into a burial ground for the family members and other residents in the area in 1832 and was officially closed to burials in 1939.

Several famous people were laid to rest in the location, according to Marian.

“There are several former mayors in here,” she said.

The historian said the group would be doing more events in the future to attract visitors, including a tour in which actors will play the historical figures who were buried there and talk to people about their roles in shaping Bayside.

“What we are trying to do is make it a focal point in the Bayside community,” Marian said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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