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Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Project

In the spring 2016 semester, Queens Memory worked with Prof. Johnathan Thayer’s graduate Public History in Theory and Practice class at Queens College on its investigation of the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground. Students in the course — which is part of a dual master’s program offered by the school’s history and library science departments — researched the site’s history and interviewed community activists who have fought to restore its status as sacred ground. Interviews and photos collected by the students can be seen on the Queens Memory site in a dedicated Gallery.


The Spring 2016 Public History class
Back row (l. to r.): Christy Orquera, Obden Mondesir,
Rudy Hartmann, Prof. Johnathan Thayer,
Jeffrey Delgado, Jhensen Ortiz
Front row (l. to r.): Tamara Potts-Covan, Regina Carra, Cristina Fontánez Rodríguez, Yingwen Huang, Michele Longo

In October 2016, several students, along with Prof. Thayer, Queens Memory outreach coordinator Lori Wallach, and community activist Robbie Garrison, presented a panel discussion of the project at the CUNY Public History Collective’s Afterlives conference. The following research items were also created as part of the class:

Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Timeline

This timeline was created with the efforts of the Central Library Archive and the New York City Municipal Archive. The software used is called Timeline JS and is an open source software that allows users to create a timeline with ease. The articles depicted on the timeline illustrate the progression of the Old Towne of Flushing Burial Ground from its conception and transformation into a playground and the fight to restore its proper title as a burial ground. The earliest article detailing the burial ground is dated 1910, and every subsequent article shows the steps that occurred that ultimately turned the potter’s field into a playground and then reverted it back to a burial ground. Also included are various documents that depict the conversations taking place between the Flushing Civil Association and the New York City Parks Department on the acquisition of the field and their plans to turn it into a playground. This timeline is designed to illustrate this forgotten history in a more interactive fashion in order to promote community histories within Queens. — Jeffrey Delgado

Prosopographical Analysis of Death Records Associated with the Old Towne of Flushing Burial Ground: 1881 to 1898

While the Old Towne of Flushing Burial ground existed since at least 1840, death records for the Town of Flushing only survive between 1881 and 1898. These surviving death records, from both the Town and Village of Flushing, are an exciting piece of evidence, particularly because only four surviving headstones with names on them survived to be described in the 1919 survey before the playground was built. The death records, meanwhile, list a full 290 persons who were buried at the site. Perhaps many hundreds more were buried there during times of peak use when epidemics flared up between 1840 and 1880. The death records contain several small but key descriptions of the persons interred at the burial ground which provide rare glimpses into their identities and how they lived. This allows their lives to be studied using prosopography – that is, group biography. While one death record by itself is somewhat sparse, several hundred taken together can be studied for demographic patterns, even reconstructing several family trees. This information will help reinforce that the site is undeniably a historical cemetery, and should be treated with the respect this status deserves by local government. — Rudy Hartmann

A How-To Guide to Landmark Burial Grounds in New York

This how-to guide provides information on how to landmark burial sites through the state-level agency, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (NYSHPO); the national agency, National Register of Historic Places (NRHP); and New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to get burial grounds in New York recognized as culturally and historically significant landmarks. Efforts to landmark a burial ground would require cooperation and patience between various stakeholders. Please be advised any change in the agencies’ landmark policies and procedures can cause inaccuracy in this guide. Readers should contact the agencies directly and/or consult the updated guidelines. — Yingwen Huang

Achievements of Robert Moses

Robert Moses was an influential figure in the shaping of New York City during his time as Parks Commissioner from 1934 to 1960. He was the first commissioner to lead projects through a unified City Parks Department and so his work can be seen throughout all five boroughs. With funding through New Deal programs such as the Works Progress Administration, his projects were also able to put tens of thousands of able-bodied Americans back to work during the Great Depression. Once considered New York’s Master Builder, Moses has since been criticized for his autocratic methods and disregard for the historical communities of New York. However, as further consideration is given to the expansion of public works under Robert Moses, his character can once again be understood within its historical context. — Michele Longo


Members of community organizations including the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy attended the presentations of the Public History class.

Community-Based Heritage Projects How-To Guide

This guide provides instructions for community activists on how to develop community-based projects that help preserve, commemorate and exhibit histories that are integral to the heritage of the community and will help incorporate aid from like-minded organizations and stakeholders. The guide also offers suitable methods and resources that activists can use to efficiently start and maintain their heritage projects while using digital technologies to develop, collaborate on, and bring attention to works related to their projects. — Obden Mondesir

Native Americans of Flushing, Queens

Native Americans were the first inhabitants of New York State. Yet, they remain the smallest population with the least known history. The Shinnecock and Matinecock tribes were two of 13 tribes of Native Americans located on Long Island. Unfortunately, European settlers and the American government took extreme measures to remove Native Americans from their lands, thus leaving a trail of forgotten burial grounds such as the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground. This burial ground holds the remains of African slaves and Native American tribal members. Yet it has been paved over and removed from history. Shinnecock and Matinecock members still exist today and are trying very hard to keep their Native American legacy alive. The best way to keep the heritage alive is to remember those who have come before you. In this regard, we examine Native Americans living in 19th century Flushing, Queens. — Tamara Potts-Covan


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