Although the Congregationalist community tolerated the Anglicans’ presence in Boston, they weren’t willing to sell them enough land around Old North Church for the community’s cemetery.
Therefore, the Anglican church buried its parish members in the building’s basement crypt. The underground burial site was used from 1732 – 1860. In order to fit more bodies into the crypt – and continue the steady source of income – the church began the practice of opening tombs and separating the skeletons’ skull and collarbones from the rest of the body. These more compact versions of the deceased were put back into the tomb, and more coffins could squeeze in.
As you can imagine, the windowless vault could get pretty ripe on a summer’s day. Vents at the bottom of the church’s foundation can be seen today as the answer to this morbid problem.
The church discontinued use of the vault in 1853 for fear of spreading disease. Visitors can tour the basement crypt on a private tour of the Old North Church for about $5.