It’s often reported that 40,000 graves were removed from the State Street Burying Grounds to the Church Grounds at Albany Rural.
A recent find in the Albany Institute of History & Library sets the record straight.
As noted in this previous post, the removal of remains from the State Street Burying Grounds was proposed as early 1845 (though it was more than twenty years later that the actual removal was undertaken by the Common Council). While the author of the previously posted letter was in support of the removal of remains from the old municipal cemetery to the new Rural Cemetery, the opinion was clearly not unanimous.
FROM THE EVENING JOURNAL
At the last meeting of the Common Council, Alderman Robert H. Pruyn, introduced a Resolution, having for its object the removal of the dead from the various Burying Grounds in the city, to the new Cemetery in Watervliet. This appears though something like the moral compulsion of the subject was in contemplation. That the new Cemetery is a beautiful place, and well adapted for the purpose designated; and that the undertaking is most praiseworthy; and that the gentlemen engaged in it are deserving of high credit for their good taste and public spirit, is denied by none; and the writer of this most cordially unites in the universal sentiment; but that the public should be compelled to break up, disturb and eradicate the present receptacle of the departed, and carry the bones of their ancestors (perhaps for the second or third times) to a new resting place, merely to please the fancy of a few individuals, will be an undertaking, it is believed, beyond the power of an Alderman, or even a body of Alderman, to accomplish.
The grounds appropriated, some forty years ago, for the public cemeteries of the different churches of the city, comprises about thirty acres of land, which, although yet but partially occupied, contains the remains of more than forty thousand persons and there is scarcely a family, or a individual in the community, who have not friends or relations interred there; it is, therefore, very obvious that it will be a herculean task, to coerce the change hinted at in the Resolution now pending before the Common Council. In the language of Alderman Bleecker, “the Corporation have not the right to interfere in this “matter;” and I will go yet further, and ask, what right do “the Clergy” (as one paper has it) or “the Trustees of the different Churches,” (as another paper states the Resolution,) posses to enter into any arrangements for such a removal?
I do not believe that the Trustees of the Watervliet Cemetery countenance this movement, or that they desire to advance their undertaking in any other way than by the voluntary preference of the citizen. Let them, those who think proper, bury their dead hereafter in the new Cemetery, and let those who prefer the present Burial Grounds, use them as heretofore; but let not the “place of our fathers’ sepulchres” be disturbed or desecrated. People are not yet prepared to root out and (word blurred) up the bones of their friends and relatives, without some better cause than now exists, and I venture to predicted that the mover of this resolution will gain neither credit nor success by any further agitation of the subject.
July 16, 1845 – Albany Evening Journal