Canarsie

Come see Canarsie Cemetery, where Civil War veterans and Dutch Colonial descendants are buried

September 12, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It's such a serene scene at Canarsie Cemetery. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Eye On Real Estate

While we rally round the flag, boys, rally once again,

Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

 – George F. Root, “The Battle Cry of Freedom”

Brave Brooklynites who fought in the Civil War rest in eternal peace beneath an obelisk and a high-flying American flag.

Where? In Canarsie Cemetery.

Have you ever been there? It’s an excellent place to honor the patriots of yesteryear — and see some beautiful tombstones, too.

It’s right in the middle of Canarsie, the neighborhood where the L train makes its final stop.

You will find the graveyard by strolling down Remsen Avenue towards Jamaica Bay. There’s an entrance near the intersection of Avenue K.

The venerable non-sectarian cemetery’s origins date back to 1843. It is both a historic site where many of Canarsie’s and Flatlands’ founders are interred and an active burial ground.

The portion of the cemetery where Union soldiers are buried is called the GAR Plot. The acronym stands for Grand Army of the Republic. White tombstones, worn soft with age, stand in rows flanking the obelisk.

The flag that flies above the Civil War veterans’ graves was donated by the family of a 20th-century military veteran, Peter V. Siggia. He served in the Air Force from 1967 to 1969.

A weeping willow tree planted in 2012 adds additional greenery to the poignant scene.

 

Cypress Hills Cemetery is the owner

For more than a century, the 13-acre graveyard belonged to the City of New York, which tried unsuccessfully to sell it a couple times.

Ultimately, the city found a buyer, namely Cypress Hills Cemetery. The $50,000 purchase closed in 2011. The purchaser also created a $1 million permanent maintenance fund for Canarsie Cemetery.

The Canarsie graveyard is a place of touching contrasts.

There are handsome mausoleums for distinguished old families.  A memorial garden brightens the Poor Grounds, where impoverished residents of yesteryear are buried.

Some of Canarsie Cemetery’s most eye-catching tombstones are the Schmeelk monument and Katie Behrmann’s headstone.

Take a seat — in Canarsie Cemetery's Poor Grounds.

Captain Harry was an immigrant success story

The Schmeelk memorial marker is adorned with an anchor, which makes sense.  

According to Brooklyn Eagle stories published more than a century ago, Henry W. Schmeelk, who established the family presence in Canarsie, was a pioneer in the Jamaica Bay oyster business.

According to his obituary in the Nov. 12, 1913 Eagle, the German-born entrepreneur was a sailor before settling in Canarsie in the 1850s.

Schmeelk was an immigrant success story. He became one of the best known oyster planters in the area and had a big wholesale business. People called him “Captain Harry.”

Schmeelk died of ptomaine poisoning — which he got from eating canned salmon, his obituary says. Not oysters.

Several members of the Schmeelk family are buried at Canarsie Cemetery.

As for Katie Behrmann’s tombstone, it has a beautiful young woman chiseled on it. Berhmann died in 1919.

The Van Houten gravestone, another eye-catcher, has an angel on it.

We also noticed a memorial marker for Annie M. Schenck Trent. The Schenck family first arrived in Brooklyn in the 1600s during Dutch Colonial days.

Jan Martense Schenck built a house in the 1670s in present-day Mill Basin. It was dismantled in the 1950s. But you can still see it today — on display inside the Brooklyn Museum.