Did You Know?

Washington Square in New York used to be a cemetery with over 20,000 people buried there.

Washington Square in New York used to be a cemetery with over 20,000 people buried there.

Centered on Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village is a neighborhood made legendary by the world famous artists, musicians, and writers that have flourished and created within steps of its arch. However, what lies beneath that splendid, recently re-landscaped and renovated outdoor sanctuary is a bit more morbid.

In his 2003 book Around Washington Square, Luther S. Harris posed the question, “What had made Greenwich Village such an important seedbed for the growth and flowering of culture in New York City, the United States, and indeed the world?” Could it perhaps have been the fertilizing effects of the 20,000 or so human corpses that still lie beneath the park?

In its 2005 Archaeological Assessment of Washington Square Park, the New York City Parks and Recreation Department confirms that corpses “possibly numbered as many as 20,000 and it appears these burials remain under varying depths of fill.” In the popular guidebook Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City by Michelle Nevius and James Nevius, the authors detail, “While estimates vary, it seems likely that over 20,000 people were buried in the land.... The bulk of the bodies were never disinterred, which means that they remain to this day under the grass and pavement of Washington Square.”


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