Sunset Park

Photos: Memorial at The Green-Wood Cemetery honors those lost to COVID-19

June 5, 2020 Jaime DeJesus
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The gates of The Green-Wood Cemetery at Fifth Avenue and 25th Street in Sunset Park have been transformed into a tribute for those who have died from the coronavirus.

Several photos, names and drawings have been added to the gate since the memorial’s opening on Wednesday, May 20.

Sunset Park resident Margaret Ann lost a friend due to COVID-19 and visited the memorial on Wednesday, May 27.

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“When I went to the memorial yesterday, I felt sad because I placed a picture of my very good friend up,” she told this paper. “She was like a sister. Her name was Antoinette Ventola. I have been friends with her since she was five years old. She was born and raised [in] and still lived in Sunset Park. After I left the memorial, I felt at peace that I was able to pay tribute to my beautiful friend who I am going to miss always. It made her sister Rosie feel happy. She has been having a very hard time with the passing of Antoinette.”

The memorial is part of the Naming the Lost project, which attempts to humanize the many victims of COVID-19. Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

A national group launched Naming the Lost, a 24-hour online vigil, which took place on May 20. A subgroup emerged to work in parallel to do a memorial site.

Community activist Alexa Avilés created the memorial with other locals and discussed how the plan came together.

“There had been a group of organizers and artists, a good number from New York City and around the country … having a conversation around this real need for collective grief, anger around acknowledgement and the death of people, especially around the community,” she told this paper. “I was having conversations locally and wanted to create a local project specifically for Sunset Park. I wasn’t thinking of the national or New York State at large. Our community was really hard hit but the two came together very quickly.

Tributes to lost love ones adorn a fence outside Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

“We had conversations with a group of artists, regular people who had been impacted [by COVID-19],” Avilés said. “We wanted to do five sites across the city as a place for collective mourning and grief and to honor lost ones.”

Avilés herself has lost four elder family members to the virus.

“Three on my husband’s side and one on my side [died of COVID-19],” she said. “All really at the peak when we were losing 800 people a night in New York City.”

A woman passed a the memorial outside The Green-Wood Cemetery. Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

The Sunset Park tribute has grown since its beginnings.

“It has grown and I’ve received a number of requests from people to make sure to leave up [signs],” she said. “We are going to have to expand it because there isn’t much space. A big challenge has been the rain. Many of the mementos on the gate were made from paper. There are a couple of people in the neighborhood who are like weather watchers and they cover it up with a tarp and pull it down.  The intention is that it would always be something owned by the community.”

The wall features banners that say “Naming the Lost” in six languages — English, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Hebrew, and Bengali. Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

Sunset Park resident and photographer Harry Mena talked about the importance of the memorial and about the strength of locals.

“This memorial is a chance for a collective cathartic experience to grieve for our dearly departed taken from us so suddenly like a thief in the night,” he said. “We all know a neighbor that has passed due to this insidious virus. We will come to the aid of our neighbors just as we did during 9/11, Hurricane Maria, the co-op fire on 43rd, and now many groups have stepped up. The entire community is in quiet pain but we Sunset Park people are fighters. We are a strong bunch and shall fear no evil. I hope this will suffice.”

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  1. MissionControl

    The co-op fire was on 44th Street at 7th Avenue. It was over a year ago and nothing’s been done to repair it. Lots of people out on the street.