Workers replacing a 100-year old water main in Manhattan’s famous Washington Square Park had quite a surprise waiting for them under the ground. While digging to get to the old water main in order to replace it with a new, they accidentally broke into a vault used to bury New Yorkers in the 19th century.
Shockingly, not even the local Church knew that the 15 x 20 vaults with arched ceilings, heavy wooden doors, and stone walls were there, even though dozens of people were buried in them.
The New York Post reported on what is a historic finding for archaeologists interested in the early days of New York City, when Washington Square Park was used as a potter’s field for poor people.
“It’s significant,” said [Archaeologist Alyssa] Loorya. “Usually we’re dealing with broken bits of pottery and objects and we can learn so much from that and from past infrastructure. But actually being able to put names to areas and to commemorate some of those people, it’s different than seeing a name in a document. It makes it very real.”
This isn’t the first time workers have found historic skeletal remains in the park. In 2008 during a park restoration, pieces from four separate bodies were found during soil tests.
Work has stopped on this area of the park and the City is redesigning its water main project to leave the vaults undisturbed, as is its policy when burial sites are discovered.
To a smaller degree, the discovery mirrors another uncovering in the early 1990s. The New York Harbor Parks, which built a memorial on the site called the African Burial Ground, explains the significance of that site:
Hailed as the most important archaeological find of the 20th century, the African Burial Ground dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries and is an important reminder of a dark and often forgotten period in New York City history.
Between 1991 and 1992, 419 sets of human remains were discovered and unearthed from a less than one acre section of a 6.6 acre historical African cemetery, during the construction of the Ted Weiss Federal Building in Lower Manhattan. They were taken to Howard University for scientific research which shed light on the lives, origin and customs of these little known New Yorkers. Following examination, the remains were re-interred on October 4, 2003 at the African Burial Ground.
Do you think the park is holding other secrets? Do you think it’s haunted?