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Respect for the Dead

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It is the mark of a civilized society when an organization is willing to stand up for the rights of people they have never met, whose names they don’t know and who happen to be dead.

Speakers recently pleaded with the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the Brinckerhoff Cemetery in Fresh Meadows, preventing development of the plot of land near 72nd Avenue.

The family cemetery was first used in the 18th century and the property was sold to people who want to develop it.

A survey taken nearly a hundred years ago found 77 headstones in the cemetery, but Lynn Rogers, of the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries in Staten Island, told the commission that there could be as many as 500 bodies interred there because at one time it was not unusual to bury more than one body under a single headstone.

So who cares? Fortunately, Rogers and others do.

“I think for the contractor to go in and obliterate the cemetery and dispose of the remains in a New Jersey landfill is unconscionable, personally,” she said.

This cemetery is part of Queens history. The Brinckerhoff family was one of the first clans to settle Queens. Their plot was sold to the DeDomenico family in the 1950s. The commission put it on its calendar of places to consider for landmarking in 2000, which has protected it from development.

The new owner of the lot did not speak at the hearing, but a man named Fang Zou spoke on the owners’ behalf: “I believe we deserve the right as a property owner to develop on the site,” he said.

He added his speculation that the bodies have likely disintegrated since they were not kept in caskets.

“I was actually a little bit dumbfound when … it was stated it was unknown if any remains still existed there,” another speaker replied. “My question is where do you think the remains have gone?”

Every Queens cemetery tells a story. The older the cemetery, the more interesting. We hope the plots where our loved ones are buried will be respected for generations after we are dead and gone.

The developers who purchased the Brinckerhoff land have a right to realize a fair return on their investment, but at the same time they knew this was a cemetery, even if it was neglected.

They should have seen this coming.

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