150-Year-Old Remains to Be Laid to Rest Under St. George Courthouse
ST. GEORGE — Remains found at the construction site of the St. George Courthouse more than 10 years ago will be put back in their original burial spot next month.
The Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island and the city and state of New York will bury the remains of immigrants of Celtic origin in an underground vault at the courthouse in April.
"There were no last rites, there was nothing — when they died they were instantly buried," said Lynn Rogers, head of the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries group. "Their burial was less than honorable. This will be a rare opportunity to provide them with a dignified burial."
The remains date back to when Staten Island was home to the New York Marine Hospital that served as a quarantine site from 1799 to 1858, and were first discovered in 2001 by archaeologists at the construction site, Rogers said.
The archaeologists discovered 100 full skeletal remains, as well as thousands more partial remains in the surrounding area. Following DNA testing, the unearthed remains were placed inside two large coffins — one for children and one for adults.
The coffins have been kept at Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp while construction has continued on the 29 Central Ave. courthouse and Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island worked with the government to bring them back to their original grave.
Because many Irish, German and English immigrants eventually wound up in the hospital, Rogers believes it's an important piece of the country's immigrant history.
"Little, sleepy Staten Island is hugely important to immigration," she said. "I get lots of phone calls of people that can trace an ancestor from Ireland to England. They come into New York harbor and they can't find them."
No records were kept for the patients that entered the hospital, but during the 59 years the hospital was open, any ship that entered into New York had to stop at Staten Island for medical inspection, and the sick would remain at the quarantine until they got better or died, Rogers said.
"They would wait and a health inspector from the Staten Island facility would go out and inspect the ship, even military vessels," she said. "Anybody that was sick, they would take them to the hospital."
During the Irish famine of 1844, New York City had a huge immigrant boom and the hospital was overfilled with sick passengers while families waited around St. George for updates on the sick.
If patients died in the hospital, they would be immediately buried at a cemetery where the new courthouse is currently under construction, Rogers said.
The building was eventually burned down in 1858 by an angry mob upset it was bringing disease to the neighborhood, and was much later turned into a municipal parking lot, before the new courthouse.
"I'm happy it's going to be over," Rogers said about working to put the remains back in St. George. "I'm thrilled that its going to end a good way."
The re-internment will be presided over by Monsignor James Dorney, and the Staten Island Pipes and Drums, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and tenor Andy Cooney will participate in the ceremony.
The state will also memorialize the site by putting a plaque inside the courthouse to explain its history, and Rogers is considering offering tours of the vault.
Rogers has also started to work on printing a commemorative booklet where people can take out memorial ads about their distant family members who died in the hospital and tell their families' story to help fund the reburial.
"We have no money to bury them," she said. "Those funds will help us bury these dead."
The re-internment will take place on April 27, at noon, at 29 Central Ave., and will be free to the public. For more information, or to take out a memorial ad, email Lynn Rogers at SICemetery@gmail.com or call 917-545-3309.