“I’m staring at the asphalt wondering what’s buried underneath where I am.”
There are over 20,000 bodies buried underneath Washington Square Park.
The bodies are from a period spanning 1797-1825. At that time, the land was purchased as a public buried ground for the city to bury its poor and unknown residents when they died. The area was also used to inter those who expired from yellow fever and cholera. City officials wanted to keep these diseased bodies at a distance because churches feared that even wealthy community members who died of contagious diseases could pollute the grounds of their cemeteries.
In January 2008, Washington Square Park was undergoing renovations. After the Community Board expressed concern about the dead beneath the park grounds, the Park Commissioner agreed that they would not dig more than 1-3 feet below the surface. However, city workers proceeded to dig 7-11 feet down. While excavating they found four intact skeletons along with almost 100 human bones.
I enjoy going to Washington Square Park for this very reason. There are still stories of people discovering bones as they stroll the grounds. Sometimes I think the dogs can sense the dead below them. Maybe they can smell it. Occasionally I see the dogs digging in the park. I curiously await their discovery of past lives. I envision them uncovering bodies just like ours, only decayed to the bone and strangers to everyone savoring the lawn above their communal grave.
The City stated that the skeletons found in January 2008 would be examined and “reburied respectfully”.