New York Daily News

DIG INTO PAST

Grave find at S.I. undergroun­d railroad site

- BY PATRICJA OKUNIEWSKA and REUVEN BLAU

A STATEN ISLAND church used as a stop on the Undergroun­d Railroad has discovered 574 new burial spots in its cemetery — the final resting places for one of the first free black communitie­s in the country.

The graves were found on the grounds of Rossville AME Zion church cemetery by experts using radar to check up to 10 feet below the surface. Church officials believed there were more plots than the existing 97 tombstones, but were surprised to learn that there were hundreds more graves all over the 1.6-acre cemetery in the Sandy Ground community.

“It is important that the history of this community is retained and remembered,” said Rev. Janet Jones. “Now I have a new appreciati­on of what is here, of what it means to the church, to this community, to the history of Staten Island, even to the history of the nation.”

In an effort to record and preserve the number of plots, the church reached out in the spring of 2015 to the New York Landmarks Conservanc­y and Richmond County Savings Foundation to inspect the cemetery. Those groups surveyed the topography of the land, then researched records to scope out its history. The review also included broader research on African-American burial practices.

Sandy Ground was first establishe­d in the 1830s by AfricanAme­rican oystermen who had fled the Chesapeake Bay area in Maryland, the research revealed.

The members of the community took advantage of its close proximity to the Prince’s Bay docks and the abundant oyster beds. The church plans to replace the asphalt that is over parts of the cemetery and put in fresh oyster shells. The church also hopes the location can be used for educationa­l purposes and be designated an historic landmark.

“The story of Sandy Grove got lost in time,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservanc­y. “And we hope that by bringing emphasis to the cemetery, the people who were here and the people who still remain, that this important story can be told.”

 ??  ?? Linda Cooper Ganzy looks at her family plot in the Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery on Staten Island, where 574 burial spots were discovered.
Linda Cooper Ganzy looks at her family plot in the Rossville AME Zion Church Cemetery on Staten Island, where 574 burial spots were discovered.

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