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Memorial Day With Chief Joseph

A Conversation in First Calvary Cemetery in Queens

May 24, 2015 / Woodside & Maspeth Neighborhoods / Queens Culture / Queens Fiction / Queens Buzz.

calvary cemetery photos queensOn Memorial Day, I decided to make a trip to the First Calvary Cemetery to visit the graves of those who gave their lives defending this nation where the founding charters promise all [wo]men the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They fought for a noble cause I thought as I made my way, on a beautiful day, to the Calvary cemetery in Queens.

The First Calvary cemetery opened in the late 1840’s [circa 1847 – 1848] and was located only a short ferry ride away from Manhattan, up Newtown Creek. A couple more cemeteries were opened as the 19th century wore on, as most of Queens was still rural farmlands and woodlands. Many of the burials of the first century of operation were of Catholic Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants - including many children. And many soldiers had been buried here as well, most of whom were from the Civil War era.

As I was viewing a collection of the tombstones, reflecting on the lives sacrificed in the war over slavery, as well as the more recent wars that pulled nearly the entire planet into battle, a human figure in the distance caught my attention. A man photos first calvary cemetery maspeth queensappeared to be making his way toward me, in this lonely empty section of the cemetery. I pulled out of my musings, and began to focus on his emerging presence as he made his way up the hill.

He was an old man, of medium height, with long black and grey hair and a weathered, leathery skin. He was wearing an old work shirt and dark trousers and beaten leather shoes. No, they were mocassins.

His countenance resembled that of a legendary Indian: Chief Joseph. Chief Joseph was a tribal leader of the Nez Perce tribe in the Wallowa Valley in northeast Oregon. Chief Joseph was born in 1840, only years before this cemetery was founded. And he had visited New York City in 1897 to march alongside Buffalo Bill in a Wild West Parade.

He slowly raised his right arm, palm open and fingers standing straight up like a Boy Scout, and in a deep full voice he said,


I stood a bit at attention as I returned the greeting.

“Hi. How are you doing?”

He spoke again, this time in a language I did not understand.

“Mumba goycha tay.”

I looked at him and shook my head back and forth indicating that I did not understand what he’d just said.

Click here to read the rest of our Memorial Day fiction in Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

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