Tag Archives: Gravesend Cemetery

Sally Gil’s Gravesend

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. Fire Engine Company 253 (center), New Utrecht Reformed Dutch Church (second from right).

Riders of the N train (a.k.a. the Sea Beach line) in southern Brooklyn have been tortured since 2015, when the MTA began work to revitalize the system’s nine crumbling, open-air platforms and station houses. Constructed between 1913 and 1915, the line remained largely untouched for a century, with maintenance limited to slathering on layers of beige paint in futile attempt to mask decades of exposure to vandals and the elements.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform.

To “expedite” renovations, the line shut down in stages, first the Manhattan-bound platforms, then the Coney-Island bound side. After nearly four years of being forced to ride several stops in the wrong direction to catch a train running the opposite way, things are finally nearing completion. At Avenue U both platforms are open once again and both station houses are looking better than ever, although the one at the southern end is not quite finished as of this writing.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. Magen David Synagogue (upside down, at left), P.S. 95 (center).

I knew the MTA planned to include artwork as part of the Sea Beach improvements, as it had when it renovated the West End (D), Culver (F) and Brighton (B/Q) lines. Those stations are all elevated in this part of Brooklyn, so their artwork has taken the form of translucent panels that filter daylight through images and abstract patterns. Similar installations, but in mosaic tile, have started appearing along the N line, like the botanical-inspired splashes at 86th Street, and the big blocks of color at Bay Parkway, reminiscent of the Max Spivak mural uncovered at 5 Bryant Park in Manhattan.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform.

Imagine my happy shock one recent morning when, after boarding a Manhattan-bound N train at 86th Street and snagging a seat, the doors opened at the next stop, Avenue U, and I looked up to see Lady Moody’s House on the wall! The doors closed, leaving me slack-jawed and straining to see what else was there as the train sped away.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. 62nd Precinct station house (center).

That night I couldn’t wait to get home to see if I hadn’t imagined it all. The station had no artwork the day before. But now, miraculously, it had fourteen mosaic tile panels, seven on the Manhattan-bound platform, and seven on the Coney Island side. Those on the Manhattan side show blue skies swirled with clouds and sparkly stars over a dark, asphalt-colored ground. On the Coney Island side, the sky is black and the ground a shimmery blue.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center (right).

Sitting along the horizon on each panel, sometimes at ground level, sometimes floating askew, and occasionally upside down, are familiar buildings from Gravesend and the greater neighborhood. It’s fitting that I spotted the Moody house first, but I instinctively knew so many more sites. They’re all so realistically done that it’s hard to believe they’re fashioned from small tiles and not painted on canvas.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. Van Sicklen (a.k.a. Lady Moody) House (right of center).

The places I recognize include

  • Van Sicklen House (a.k.a. Lady Moody House), 27 Gravesend Neck Road, built early 18th century, (a designated landmark).
  • Fire Engine Company 253, 2425-2427 86th Street, built 1895-1896 (a designated landmark).
  • New Utrecht Reformed Dutch Church, 18th Avenue, built 1828 (a designated landmark).
  • Rear of the house at 2066 West 7th Street between Avenues T and U, as visible from Coney Island-bound platform of the Avenue U Station.
  • P.S. 95, 345 Van Sicklen Street.
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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Antonio Meucci monument (center), Stryker House (right).

  • Magen David Synagogue, 2017 67th Street, built 1920-1921 (a designated landmark); depicted upside down.
  • 62nd Precinct Station House of the New York City Police Department, 1925 Bath Avenue.
  • Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center, 2015 64th Street, as visible from the Manhattan-bound platform of the 20th Avenue Station; depicted on two panels.
  • Top of the house at 2076 West 7th Street between Avenues U and T.
  • Top of the house at 30 Village Road North; depicted upside down.
  • Monument to Antonio Meucci (1808-1889), inventor of the telephone, in Meucci Triangle, at the intersection of Avenue U, 86th Street, and West 12th Street.
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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Hubbard House in silhouette (center).

  • Top floor and tower of the Stryker house, 346 Van Sicklen Street, opposite P.S. 95.
  • Hubbard House, 2138 McDonald Avenue, built circa 1830-1835 (a designated landmark); depicted in silhouette on three panels.
  • Avenue U station house of the Sea Beach Line.
  • Top floors of the houses at 71 and 75 Avenue U.
  • New York State Education Department sign (1938) at the Gravesend Cemetery (the original of which reads: GRAVESEND | SETTLED IN 1643 BY ENGLISH | QUAKERS [sic] UNDER LADY DEBORAH | MOODY ON LAND GRANTED TO | THEM BY THE DUTCH | GOVERNOR OF NEW AMSTERDAM).
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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Avenue U station house (left of center).

Architectural fragments–awnings, grill-work doors, and rowhouse cornices–are scattered among the panels, as are cups of coffee, a rainbow cookie, and loaves of bread. Tulips and other blooms breathe life into it all.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Houses at 71-75 Avenue U (right).

If you have not been to the Avenue U station for a while, go examine these whimsical mosaics for yourself. Go early and plan to miss a morning train. Or linger when you get home at night. I promise it’s worth it. See if you can pick out the images I’ve listed. And tell me if you spot others I’ve missed.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center (left), New Utrecht Reformed Dutch Church (center).

The artist, Sally Gil, who calls her work “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” was commissioned by MTA Arts & Design to create this permanent series using “found” places from the neighborhood to represent the diversity of its residents, present and past. She placed them along the horizon because that is where “the business of living happens.” As she explained by email, the objects in the mosaics “reference meaningful, mundane, iconic things and places in the neighborhood, all there for people to slowly (or quickly) realize they know.”

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Hubbard House in silhouette (left of tulips).

Gil’s original, small-scale, mixed media pieces were enlarged and fabricated in glass by Mosaicos Venezianos de Mexico. The artist hopes her work will remind us how “every day we are making our place in the world, and the subway is the conduit that transports us. We live on a physical plane while dwelling in our thoughts and imaginations–the world of our own stories.” We all have the same goal, Gil continues, “To live peacefully, with what we need and want.”

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Hubbard House in silhouette (left), Gravesend Cemetery sign (left of center).


Copyright © 2018 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Save Lady Moody’s House!

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (joseph.ditta@gmail.com)

On October 8, 2015, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing to determine if the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road — known as Lady Moody’s House — meets the criteria for landmark status. Despite what many locals believe, the house is not an official landmark. That means it is not protected by law, and could, conceivably, be torn down by some uncaring developer. (If you’d like to be its guardian, the house is currently for sale!) However, the house has been on the LPC’s radar since 1966, when it was “calendared.” That provides a modicum of protection in that any application for demolition should send up a red flag, spurring the LPC to action. But they’ve had half a century to decide. After the October hearing, a public meeting in early 2016 will determine the next step, which — fingers crossed — will hopefully lead to designation of this most iconic of Gravesend houses.

What follows is my open letter to Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, urging her to act now. I beg you all to drop a line, however brief, to the LPC, by the October 1st deadline (whether or not you plan to attend the hearing), stating your support for the house. The more of us they hear from, the better. Take a look at the LPC’s informative fact sheet about the house (even I learned some things!), then write to backlog95@lpc.nyc.gov. I’d love to read your thoughts if you’d care to copy me (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com).

Oh, and don’t miss the gallery of wonderful images at the bottom of this post!


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle featured the Lady Moody House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

The Brooklyn Eagle featured the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

August 29, 2015

Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, North

New York, NY 10007

Dear Commissioner Srinivasan:

Ask anyone in Gravesend, Brooklyn where Lady Moody lived. Invariably they’ll point to the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road, just next to Public School 95. How do they know she lived there? A teacher told them. Or their grandmother. And who was Lady Moody anyway? Oh, she helped George Washington escape the Redcoats through a tunnel running from her basement to the cemetery across the street. And during the Civil War she hid slaves in that tunnel on their way north to freedom.

None of this happened, of course: Deborah Moody died late in 1658, nearly seventy-five years before the birth of Washington, and over two centuries before the Civil War. The general public, knowing instinctively that Lady Moody bore some significance, but lacking specifics, attaches her — and the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road — to the seminal events of American history.

The facts are these: Deborah Moody (ca. 1586-1658) was the wealthy, freethinking widow of a baronet. By 1639 she was in Puritan Massachusetts, where her Anabaptist leanings branded her “a dangerous woman.” To avoid censure she moved in 1643 to New Netherland, where she petitioned the tolerant Dutch to grant her and some followers a spot on western Long Island where they could worship as they pleased. They called their settlement Gravesend, the patent to which ensured they could enjoy “liberty of Conscience . . . without molestation or disturbance from any magistrate or . . . ecclesiastical minister that may pretend jurisdiction over them.”

Moody’s fellow patentee, the surveyor James Hubbard, designed the town’s central plan: a sixteen-acre square bounded by present-day Village Road North, Village Road East, Village Road South, and Van Sicklen Street, and cut into quadrants by the intersection of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road. In each quadrant ten house lots bordered a common yard for holding livestock. Records show that in 1646 Lady Moody was assigned a double lot in the northwest quadrant, corresponding (in part) to the modern street address of 27 Gravesend Neck Road, Brooklyn (block 7123, lot 64).

Lady Moody must have built a house on her property between 1646 and 1658. Is the house standing there today the one she occupied? A structural evaluation conducted in 2005 by Robert Silman Associates, Consulting Engineers, suggests the present building incorporates three phases of construction: The part most visible — Phase 2 — is an eighteenth-century “random rubble [stone] building supporting hand-hewn wood floor beams and simple log beam roof trusses.” Phase 3 reflects the early twentieth-century changes made by then-owners William and Isabelle Platt, who excavated a full basement under the ground floor, added dormers to the roof, and stuccoed the exterior to conform with the prevailing Arts and Crafts aesthetic. But evidence of an earlier structure, one possibly dating from the seventeenth century, is visible in the basement, where there are four stone bearing walls, three of which support the current above-ground walls. The fourth lies buried beneath the main house and its rear extension. This “out-of-place” wall led Silman Associates to hypothesize that the Phase 2 house is a reconfiguration of an older building, a Phase 1 house that was enlarged in the 1700s.

This 1893 watercolor of an African-American laundress by Charles W. Bauhan --

This watercolor by Charles W. Bauhan  — “Wash-day. Gravesend L. I. Sep. 4 / [18]93.” — was painted looking east from a spot now in the schoolyard of P.S. 95. It captures the west gable end of the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House rising above the fence. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Was this Phase 1 house Lady Moody’s? Or was it built by one of the later seventeenth-century owners of her land? We may never know. But its expanded  form — the rubble-stone Phase 2 house — is probably the work of the Van Sicklen family, who came into possession of the property in 1702. Most eighteenth-century houses in sandy, coastal Gravesend were of wood-frame construction. Stone houses tended to be built near ridges, where appropriate-sized boulders were plentiful. To build a stone house at a location where rubble was scarce required significant manual labor, and the Van Sicklens, who, like most Dutch farmers of the period owned slaves, likely employed those slaves to transport rock to the site.

The Van Sicklen family occupied the house for the rest of the eighteenth century and through most of the nineteenth. Eventually it descended to Cornelia Van Sicklen, whose husband, Thomas Hicks, acquired it in 1842. (His carved initials survive on a ceiling beam near the eastern ground-floor fireplace of the house.) Hicks died in 1884, and his wife followed in 1893. The house sat vacant for a time, and then served briefly as meeting place for the fledgling Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church in 1899. In 1904 the Hicks estate sold the house to William and Isabelle Platt, whose renovations resulted in a romanticized Dutch farmhouse set in a lush garden, which Mrs. Platt profiled in the June 1909 issue of Country Life in America. The Platts were the first to call this the “Lady Moody Homestead,” a name it has kept for more than a century.

By 1910 the Platts put the house up for sale (William Platt was a real estate speculator who was then involved in developments on Staten Island), and so began the perennial cries from preservationists and press that the Lady Moody House be rescued by the City or a civic group, or moved to Prospect Park or even to the grounds of the 1939 World’s Fair. Its fate seemed secure after it became a V.F.W. post in 1945, but that was a short-lived incarnation. The house reverted to private status, and was bought in 1955 by Nunzio Maisano, who covered the front in imitation stone veneer. Ironically, this facing hides the real thing. (It wouldn’t be too difficult to restore the house to the attractive state in which the Platts left it; the original door, removed by Maisano, survives in care of Eric J. Ierardi, president of the Gravesend Historical Society.)

Nunzio Maisano’s descendants held the house for nearly fifty years before selling it. Now it is on the market again, and time is running out. (Couldn’t the City acquire the house as a gift to the neighboring school for use as a meeting place or exhibition space? Both the Historic Districts Council and the New York Landmarks Conservancy have expressed interest in the house. Why not tap them for assistance and grants?)

The Landmarks Preservation Commission calendared the property in 1966, but a hearing that year did not result in designation. Nor did subsequent hearings in 1970 or 2004, due to owner opposition. But the Commission has designated other sites when faced with similar resistance (e.g., the Hendrick I. Lott House at 1940 East 36th Street in Brooklyn), and in cases where the fabric of a structure has been significantly altered (e.g., the asphalt-shingled Sandy Ground cottages at 565 and 569 Bloomingdale Road on Staten Island). And the recent designation of the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the modern LGBT movement at 51-53 Christopher Street in Manhattan, illustrates that the Commission is cognizant of the historical associations of a building, even when its architectural integrity has been compromised.

Despite the changes it has weathered, the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House remains the sole surviving eighteenth-century stone farmhouse in Brooklyn. It is one of two extant Dutch-American houses within the boundaries of the original Gravesend town square, where as late as the 1920s there were seven. It sits directly opposite the landmarked Van Sicklen Family Cemetery, which holds the remains of many generations who occupied the house. At the very least, it stands on the property of the remarkable Lady Deborah Moody, the first European woman to found a community in North America, a settlement chartered on the principle of religious freedom some hundred and thirty years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I trust you will seize this opportunity to recognize publicly, formally, and legally, the significance of this site tied inextricably to the themes of Brooklyn history, Women’s history, American slavery, and religious freedom. Without landmark protection the house is doomed.

Thank you for your valuable time.

Sincerely,

Joseph Ditta

Author, Then & Now: Gravesend, Brooklyn (Arcadia Publishing, 2009)


 Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under buildings, Charles William Bauhan, churches, Gilbert Hicks, Gravesend artists, Gravesend Cemetery, Gravesend Neck Road, Hicks family, Lady Moody House, Maud Esther Dilliard, Slavery, streets, Van Sicklen family

A Melancholy Bicentennial

Barnardus Ryder stone (d. 1814), photograph by Ned Berke.

Barnardus Ryder stone (d. 1814), Gravesend Cemetery. (Photograph by Ned Berke, 2010. Used by permission.)

Near the center of Brooklyn’s Gravesend Cemetery stand two unexceptional sandstone markers from the early nineteenth century, separated only by the crumbled remains of a third stone between them. Like many stones in this fragile graveyard, they are cracked and flaking. Parts of their inscriptions are chipped and missing. The southern stone tilts back precariously. It reads:

[In]

Memory of

BARNARDUS RYDER

son of Jacobus & Johanna

Ry[de]r who departed this

[life] May 29, 1814

age[d] 2 years & 29 day[s.]

O sleep sweet babe and take thy r[est]

God call’d thee hence he thought it b[est]

The other says:

In

Memory of

JACOBUS B. RYDER

who departed this life

June 8th 1814

aged 44 years 3 months

and 23 days. 

This world is vain and full of pain

With grief and trouble sore

But those are blest who are at rest

With Christ for evermore.

Those of us who frequent cemeteries know that stones with a common surname, standing near each other, usually mark the graves of family members. If the stones bear close or identical dates of death, the implication is that contagion carried off multiple relatives, as it did for eons before the advent of standardized sanitation and medical care.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Saturday 25 August 1849, p. #, col. #.

Account of the Van Sicklen family tragedy, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Saturday, August 25, 1849, p. 3, col. 1. [Click image to enlarge.]

One might assume that because they died ten days apart, Barnardus and Jacobus (pronounced ya-CO-bus) Ryder succumbed to the same disease. The Gravesend Cemetery is peppered with other chronologically adjacent burials, like the five members of the Van Sicklen family who died of cholera between August 18 and 23, 1849 (see the article at left). Or Mathias Derby and his mother, Emelie, who died of scarlet fever two days apart in November 1895. And Richard Samuel Vanderbilt, who expired a week after catching a heavy cold at his son Richard’s funeral on January 30, 1919. Ida Voorhies, widow of Jacobus, died during her husband’s funeral on October 6, 1831, though whether from the “prevailing fever” that killed her husband, or from grief, is lost to time.

But assumptions often prove dangerously wrong. On Monday, May 30, 1814, the day after little Barnardus Ryder died, readers of the Commercial Advertiser, one of New York City’s leading newspapers, stumbled across this shocking report from the otherwise tranquil reaches of southern Kings County:

New York, Commercial Advertiser, Monday, May 30, 1814, p.2, col. 3.

New York, Commercial Advertiser, Monday, May 30, 1814, p.2, col. 3. [Note: “Saturday morning last” = May 28, 1814.]

Newspapers up and down the eastern seaboard, from New Hampshire to Maryland, and as far inland as Ohio, recounted the tale of Gravesend’s “horrid transaction.” The version printed on June 1 in the Long-Island Star, Brooklyn’s leading weekly, managed to spell “Ryder” correctly, and added the detail that Jacobus — “long esteemed as a worthy and pious man, and . . . apparently in his right mind on the evening previous to the melancholy and dreadful act” — confessed in the letter to his father that he “imagined he heard a voice commanding him to execute the deed.” He lingered, sadly, until June 8, and died at the age of 44 years, three months, and 23 days. (As well as misspelling “Rider,” the newspapers all misstate his age: Jacobus was not “about thirty-five,” but, rather, nearly four months past 44.) The Long-Island Star ran a brief death notice on June 15:

Long-Island Star, Wednesday, June 15, 1814, p. 3, col. 2.

Brooklyn, Long-Island Star, Wednesday, June 15, 1814, p. 3, col. 2. [Note: “Wednesday last” = June 8, 1814. The “28th ult.” = the 28th day of the previous month, i.e., May 28, 1814.]

His widow, Johanna, never remarried. She lived another 33 years, and died at age 65 on August 7, 1847. She is buried near Jacobus and Barnardus, and another infant son, William, who was born in 1804 and died in 1805, long before their family’s tragedy. The other children — Femmetie (1802-?), Johanna (1807-1894), and a second William (1809-?) — presumably all outlived their mother. They almost certainly did not hand down the terrible memories of 1814 to their descendants. May they rest in peace.

Jaocubs B. Ryder stone (d. 1814), photograph by Andrea Coyle.

Jacobus B. Ryder stone (d. 1814), Gravesend Cemetery. (Photograph by Andrea Coyle, 2010. Used by permission.)


Copyright © 2014 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under Derby family, Gravesend Cemetery, Ryder family, Van Sicklen family, Vanderbilt family, Voorhies family