On Nov. 4, water pipeline construction unearthed a vault of skeletons underneath Washington Square Park. They found a second one a day later, which contained 20 wooden coffins dating back to the 19th century. Members of the NYU community shared their thoughts on this deathly discovery as well as what they thought should be done with this finding.
It’s pretty shocking. A broken coffin and a large pile of skeletons? That’s interesting. I think it’s just reflective of how the city changes over time: the city grows, you put things and parks on top of things with different purposes. It’s a little shocking, and I don’t want to be hanging out in the park with my dog when they dig up a bone or something.
—Stephanie Fox, Steinhardt graduate student
I think the government, the local government and the New York government, needs to know the information about their own city, because if this was a burial ground, this would be documented, and the city government would have known and realized that you can’t build a park here. You don’t decimate a burial ground in any respect, wherever it is: you wouldn’t decimate a cemetery to go build a park, because you should know your information and allocate your projects somewhere else if you are trying to respect the dead.
—Brian Muzayyin, Stern junior
On one hand, we should acknowledge there is this past to the park and to the university, but at the same time, there is a lot of ignorance in it as well. We walk around Washington Square Park, because it is a foundation and an arch — that’s not to say we should start putting up plaques and tombstones — but it’s an interesting dichotomy to have the university with 60,000 people, meanwhile there are 20,000 resting in peace under us.
—Sara Nason, Gallatin freshman
I do think there’s a certain level of erasure with New York and history, with the way it builds things to cover, rather than accepting what’s there. I do find it a little disturbing but also, it is a natural part of what a city is. I think they’re right to stop construction. I do think that it’s something that should be maintained and that they should keep people away from it while they’re figuring out who it is. But at the same time, I understand that it’s a city that needs to keep moving.
—Fiona Malone, Tisch senior
I feel the society is more worried about construction and getting things fixed instead of having a conversation about the bodies like they should. I’m sure there are specialists that would know what is going on with that area and what that mass grave should be. They could find information through that specialist and figure out a way to deal with it that would be respectful of their gravesite and to dig through it.
—Katie Dolcimascolo, Steinhardt freshman
I wasn’t too surprised about the finding, because Washington Square Park used to be a graveyard, if I’m not mistaken. Other grisly things happened in the park, like the hanging tree, or the tree they used to hang people. I can’t say I was surprised when my roommate told me. To be honest, since a lot of time passed, it’s not so big of an issue, but if they’re recent, it would have been worrying. I don’t know why that makes a difference, but it does. The city could just bury these skeletons somewhere that’s a proper graveyard.
—Jun Sekiya, Tisch sophomore
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