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March 4, 2012

Desecration of graves at the Quaker Meeting House in Flushing, a National Historic Landmark

We were disturbed and dismayed to learn of the desecration of the historic burial ground at the Quaker Meeting House in Flushing. Both the 1694 Meeting House and its burying ground, which dates from 1676, are National Historic Landmarks, the highest designation given to America’s most important sites.

Hanna Bowne GraveThe desecration took place earlier this year, when an adjacent landowner was excavating in preparation for the construction of a large building on 37th Avenue, directly behind the historic property. The owner, without informing the Meeting or requesting permission, removed and damaged old and large trees and destroyed a fence belonging to the Meeting House. The fence marked the perimeter of the burial ground. The owner then constructed his own plywood fence well within the cemetery, excavating earth in the process, and installed tie rods and a utility pole on Meeting House land.

This area is the site of the oldest graves, many dating from the 17th century. It is where John Bowne is buried, along with a number of Bowne family members. Records from Swarthmore College, which is the repository for many Quaker records, show that this is also the burial site for some families connected to the 1657 Flushing Remonstrance. Since these earliest graves, in accordance with Quaker custom at that time, were not marked with headstones, it is difficult to determine the locations with precision, but the Meeting has confirmed that they are located in this vicinity. The cemetery is also the burial site for members of the Burling, Franklin, Leggett, Hicks, Farrington, Lawrence and Murray families, all prominent names in Long Island history. We will never know the full extent of the damage, since no archaeology work was done in connection with the excavation. The open pit behind the construction fence is perhaps 20-30 feet deep, and all soil has been removed from the site. We have no way of knowing if human remains were removed and destroyed in the process.

The Meeting has appealed to the property owner, but they have been ignored. The Meeting has written a letter to the Queens Building Department, but that letter, dated February 5, 2012, received no response. An appeal to New York City Landmarks was partially successful; the utility pole was removed under threat of a stop-work order, but the fence and tie rods remain in place, work is continuing at the site, and a new large hole has been dug in the cemetery.

We are joining with the Quaker Meeting House in asking your help to stop this continuing desecration of a historic landmark. Some of our descendant members have written letters to the media. We would like to hear from more of you; your views are important and make a real difference – so please be heard. Only public pressure can stop this travesty.

We will be posting a few letters from our descendants. The Quaker Meeting House has a website: www.nyym.org. There, you can find information about the burial ground and about the more recent gravesites. You may be able to locate family members among that list.

We will be following this issue closely and will include updates here on our website.