The Virgin Mary sinking into the earth of Brooklyn’s Most Holy Trinity Cemetery (all photographs by the author)
Glimpsed from the L train as it rumbles up to the open air at the Wilson Avenue station in Bushwick, Most Holy Trinity Cemetery isn’t immediately different from the other numerous burial grounds that cluster around the Brookyn-Queens border. Yet step inside its entrance at 685 Central Avenue before it dead ends, and a rolling landscape of rust stretches before your eyes.
All except the most recent graves are wood or metal, an early regulation set in place by the German Catholic Most Holy Trinity Church to enforce a posthumous equality. As the church’s website explains, “from the earliest days, stone monuments were not allowed because no distinctions were permitted to be made between the rich and the poor.”
The New York City cemetery dates back to 1851, replacing an earlier church cemetery that adjoined Most Holy Trinity Church in Williamsburg. While the Bushwick neighborhood has shifted around it with few traces of the German Catholics to be found, and the cemetery is no longer administered by the parish as part of the Catholic Cemeteries of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, its 23 acres still contain this history, warped and worn as it may be.
According to the New York Cemetery Project, there are an estimated 25,000 graves in Most Holy Trinity. It’s remarkable given that many are a century old that the hollow tin monuments and even a few wood markers remain. Some were also in copper, although attracted more theft over the years, as in 1990 when two men were caught tossing them over the fence into a shopping cart. Walking among the graves you are likely to be alone with the metal statues of Mary and Jesus slowly sinking into the soil as if drowning in earth. Rap your hand gently against a monument and a sonorous reverberation resounds against the air as the L train rumbles by overhead. Nowhere else is there a cemetery quite like this, and in its decay of jagged edges and tumbled crucifixes, there’s an unexpected barbarous beauty.
All photographs by the author for Atlas Obscura.
To get to Most Holy Trinity Cemetery in Brooklyn, take the L train to Wilson Avenue. Turn onto Central Avenue from Moffatt Street. The entrance is at 685 Central Avenue.