The DougBlog
"Et sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!" —Baudelaire

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Digging up old relatives (sorry, I couldn't resist)

Normally I save the fun for the end of my entries, but this time it’s where I’ll start. That’s because the bulk of what I have to share today will really only be of interest to family members so the rest of you can tune out after the fun stuff if you should so desire.

I’ve been working on a family history, and in doing so I’ve discovered the locations of some long-forgotten graves. So this Sunday (appropriately Memorial Day weekend, I suppose) my mother and I went to pay all of them a visit. We also went through the “old neighborhoods” where my parents and grandparents grew up. I took pictures all the way, and thought I’d share them here.

First a few random shots. This business is located across from Mount Zion Cemetery in Queens. Funny? Inappropriate? You decide:

This sign appeared at a flower shop near Mount Hebron Cemetery. There are so many things wrong with it that I don’t even know where to begin:

Now on to some more serious matters. Our first stop was Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn. It’s one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the city (despite it’s very un-Jewish name) and is the reason that this neighborhood in Brooklyn is called “Gravesend”. It’s an interesting cemetery: they now sell the nooks and crannies still available to the neighborhood’s new Russian Jewish population, who seem to be big on black stones with giant portraits and keeping up the graves. This is a stark contrast from the majority of the tombstones, which are very old and traditional. We saw many a “babushka” widow busily giving her husband’s headstone a good cleaning.

Philip Hirsch (1909-1910)
We were there to find Philip Hirsch. Philip was my Grandpa Hirsch’s brother, the third child of Rosie and Hyman Hirsch. He died of pneumonia when he was less than a year old. There are no pictures of him. As we approached the section where he is buried, we found that it is a field of baby graves:

Most of them are worn away, and it was clear that our chances of locating him among these hundreds of tiny, illegible stones were extremely slim. But, ahf tzu loches, we found him after scanning only a few rows. “Hirsch” is clearly legible. “Philip” less so, but in person is was pretty clear that that’s what it said:

I was pretty impressed that we found this little grave that has probably not been visited in nearly a century, and hopefully, somewhere, little Philip was happy to be remembered. Our next stop was Mount Zion in Maspeth, Queens. This is truly a remarkable cemetery. Unlike modern cemeteries with their even rows and open spaces, this one packs the graves in so tight that it is impossible to visit one grave without stepping on others. Some are simple, others quite ornate, and many portraits on them—a popular practice in the early 20th Century. It’s also where 3 early family members are buried.

Here you can see how crowded it is. People are just dying to get in (HAHAHA! That one never gets old):

Meyer Miller (1883-1918)
Meyer Maxman was born in Turov, Russia. He came to America in 1904, Americanized his name to Miller, and married Beckie Resnick. They had four children: Anne (my grandmother, the eldest and still alive at 101!), Jenny, Estelle, and Freddy. Here’s a picture of the family with little Anne and infant Jenny around 1910, the only photo we knew to exist of him:

Meyer died in the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, when he was only 35 years old. Even my grandma barely remembers him because during his life he worked 7 days a week to support the family by designing women’s clothing. His grave is very impressive and in amazing shape, with both a headstone and footstone. The headstone is shaped like the tree of life. Most impressively, there is a portrait of him that is perfectly preserved despite 90 years of neglect and exposure to the Queens environment! It is haunting, and gives us a second glimpse of what he looked like:

Arthur Picarsky (1925-1931)
Arthur was the son of my Grandpa Hirsch’s sister, Aunt Ann (and Uncle Morris). He died just shy of his 6th birthday from acute poliomyelitis (polio) and poor medical care. Ann and Morris went on to have two other children, Sandy and Ruth:

Tobias “Toby” Hirsch (1912-1918)
Toby was my Great Grandparents Rosie and Hyman’s fourth child, born after baby Philip died. Legend has it that he was a very sickly child, and like Arthur he died before his 6th birthday. According to his death certificate the cause was measles, bronchopneumonia, AND sepsis following an appendectomy. Toby is likely the infant sitting on his father’s lap in this photo, along with his mother Rosie and siblings Ann and Jacob. While it is also possible that the baby is Philip, it is more likely that this photo was taken after Philip’s death and Philip is represented by the empty chair (as was a custom at the time):

While we were there we also checked out the memorial where the remains of 16 unidentified victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire are buried:

Then we headed over to Mount Hebron to visit the usual folks:

On a random note, Mount Hebron is also where Barbra Streisand has built a mausoleum for her parents and (eventually) herself!:

Then, after a morning visiting the dead, we headed down to Brooklyn to visit the places where people lived. First stop was 106 Louisiana Avenue where, over the years, the Hirsches, Kramers, and Picarskys lived:

Then the East 59th Street homes of the later Hirsches and the Shayons, which are in pretty good shape:

On the other side of the family, we went to 2314 Avenue S where the Tischlers lived. The new residents have done some significant renovations to the front and backyard of the house, but the old garage is still there:

And then, around the corner, Papa’s old office (and Aunt Judy’s apartment):

Finally, a few artsy shots (cemeteries just beg for black and white!)


  • Amazing post. Not sure if you're reading the comments the comments but I grew up at 106 Louisiana Ave.

    By Anonymous Kat, at 8:54 PM  

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