Burials at Marble Cemetery for First Time in 75 Years?

Screen shot 2012-05-07 at 12.14.32 AMKwanwoo Jun A man prays at the grave of a relative who
was buried in 1830.

Two of the New York Marble Cemetery’s vaults may soon be reclaimed and put up for sale for the first time since 1830.

The cemetery hasn’t seen a new burial since 1937. But that may soon change. On July 15, its operators will ask the New York State Department of Cemeteries if they can reclaim two of its graves. In New York, a vault may be reclaimed if it is empty, if there has been no contact with the owners for over 75 years and if no owners can be found after diligent searching and advertising.

Two out of the Cemetery’s 156 underground Tucahoe-marble vaults fit the first two criteria. And after 15 years of searching for any living descendants of Robert McJimsey and Frederick Sheldon, the original purchasers of the vaults, it appears they fit the third as well. If the Department of Cemeteries approves the reclamation, ownership reverts to the Cemetery itself, which is then free to keep the plots for research or to sell them again.

Screen shot 2012-05-07 at 12.06.53 AMCourtesy of Marble Cemetery Portrait of Jacob Aimes, butcher,
buried in vault 46.

Anne Brown, a trustee of the Cemetery, has been working to find the heirs to vaults 43 and 134 since 1997. She has done will and death certificate searches, newspaper advertising, posted notices in the cemetery, and sent certified letters to the last known addresses of the nineteenth-century owners. “We have done a great deal more than that – we’ve hired genealogists to double-check my work and look for wills,” said Mrs. Brown, 68. “There is no doubt in my mind that McJimsey and Sheldon have no living descendants.”

New York Marble Cemetery last sold a vault 180 years ago. The price was $250, a hefty sum that, in 1830, would have paid for a live-in maid for six years or for four acres of land on Long Island. With real estate in New York City at an all time premium, it’s anyone’s guess just how expensive one of these vaults would be on the market today.

Robert McJimsey, formerly of vault 43, was born in 1802 in Neelytown, N.Y. He was a merchant and stockbroker, twice wedded, but none of his children married. He died of pneumonia at age 65 at 18 East 14th Street, now a Taco Bell. Thirteen members of the McJimsey clan were interred in vault 43, but their remains were moved to Woodlawn Cemetery in 1878.

Screen shot 2012-05-07 at 12.06.03 AM Mrs. Jacob Aimes, also buried
in vault 46.

Frederick Sheldon, of vault 134, was a dry goods salesman who died at the age of 76 in Westchester County. His wife, Mary Augusta Sheldon, died in 1850 at 19 Washington Place of breast cancer. They had two married grandchildren, but that’s where the Sheldon line stopped. Only Mary was buried at the Marble Cemetery, and her remains were moved to Sleepy Hollow in 1905.

There are no images of McJimsey or Sheldon, primarily because no descendants can be found, and because neither was in the shipping business, which would have garnered them excellent portraiture at the time. But a few of Sheldon’s newspaper ads for dry goods survive in archives.

Well-known permanent residents of the Cemetery have included David Hosack (1769-1835), a friend to Alexander Hamilton and attending physician at his duel with Aaron Burr in 1804, and James Kent (1763-1847), a chief justice of the New York Supreme Court, chancellor of New York, and author of “Commentaries on American Law.” The remains of both have been removed from their plots.

But don’t look for 43 and 134 in the classifieds next year. Mrs. Brown expects that the sale will stay in the existing community of owners and trustees. “We will probably put a notice in the newsletter that goes to current owners, and hope that someone has a well-heeled friend,” she said.

The New York Marble Cemetery, located at 41 ½ Second Avenue, is open on the fourth Sunday of every month from noon to 4 p.m. (this year: May 20, June 24, July 22, Aug. 26, Sept. 23 and Oct. 28). During Open House New York, the cemetery will be open from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. on Oct. 6 and 7.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 11, 2012

An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that David Hosack and Aaron Burr were still buried in the cemetery. In fact, Mr. Hosack’s remains were removed to Trinity Church and Mr. Burr’s remains were also removed.