Canarsie Cemetery resurrected!

Out with the old, in with the new...cemetery. Cypress Hills is renovating the formerly city-owned Canarsie Cemetery, adding new wrought iron fencing to the beleagured boneyard.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Canarsie Cemetery — the decrepit boneyard that was the last in the five boroughs to be managed by the city — is coming back from the dead thanks to new private ownership, and it won’t be long before people will once again be dying to get in.

The city sold Remsen Avenue’s dilapidated, 167-year-old graveyard to the owners of Cypress Hills Cemetery three months ago, and new management is breathing life into the final resting place of more than 4,900 — while finding room for more customers.

The new ownership says it’s added 200 new grave sites to the neighborhood stone farm that is bordered by Avenue K, Church Lane and E. 86th Street, and its installed a handsome, wrought iron balustrade to replace the existing worn-down, chain link fence at its borders.

And the new owners say that fix up is just the beginning.

“We’re clearing out areas that had nothing but weeds, unsightly brush and debris that had been thrown in the back over the years,” said. Patrick Russo, Canarsie Cemetery’s new vice president. “We’re also redoing the front entrance and repairing a ramp visitors use as they come inside.”

The changes will certainly improve the dilapidated memorial park which the city left to die, investing just $250,000 a year in employee salaries and maintenance costs before selling it to Cypress Hills in August for the ghoulishly low price of $50,000 — about $10 a headstone!

Russo admitted that the cemetery was in ghastly shape when Cypress Hills was given the keys.

“I met a woman on Remsen Street two weeks ago who told me, ‘Welcome to the ghetto cemetery’,” Russo recalled. “But I told her it was going to change. I’ve seen other cemeteries in worse condition. [Canarsie Cemetery] is a quaint community cemetery that just needed a little TLC.”

But Cypress Hills isn’t just going to beautify the place.

In addition to the purchase price, it has agreed to buck-up an additional $1 million — $500,000 at closing and an additional $500,000 over the next 10 years — for a state-mandated permanent maintenance fund to guarantee the necropolis an eternal life.

Cypress Hills also agreed to keep Canarsie Cemetery’s name, which other buyers refused to do, and work with a community advisory board on future changes.

Local leaders hailed the resurrection.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” said Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Canarsie). “The city of New York had no business being in the cemetery business. It just wasn’t good at it and it was losing money. At the same time the community benefits because [Cypress Hills] is going to spruce up and maintain the cemetery.”

Democratic District Leader Frank Seddio, a Canarsie native, agreed.

“Cypress Hills is really going to make the Canarsie Cemetery a dignified place once again,” he said.

And even more people will soon be able to call the cemetery their final resting place, as new ownership plans to find even more room for, well, able bodies.

“We’re also scouting out locations for mausoleums that will be built in a year,” Russo explained.

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