Buying for the afterlife

In NYC, the market for grave space is alive and on the rise

Mar.March 01, 2016 10:00 AM

Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn

By the time he died in 2013, Mayor Ed Koch had already meticulously planned everything about his burial, right down to what his tombstone at the exclusive Trinity Church graveyard in Washington Heights would read. The cost? $20,000. “The idea of leaving Manhattan permanently irritates me,” the late mayor said in 2008, according to the New York Times. While the sum may have seemed outrageous at the time, today there are New York City cemeteries where no amount of money can buy you a resting place. As such, the demand for burial plots is creating a thriving albeit morbid real estate boom. The problem is especially acute in Brooklyn. The trendy borough happens to be the most popular destination for a final resting place after Manhattan, where the burial plot market is already saturated. In Brooklyn’s 478-acre Green-Wood cemetery, prices for graves have jumped 40 percent in four years. “Brooklyn’s hot, so burial space in Brooklyn is hot,” explained Richard Moylan, who has been president at Green-Wood for 43 years. In the Bronx, however, Woodlawn cemetery is developing 20 acres of additional space that will create thousands of extra burial spots. But even the best-laid burial plans can go awry, as attested by Koch. In 2013, it was discovered that his tombstone had been etched with the incorrect birthdate. The engraving has since been corrected.


The approximate number of years remaining until all but two of the five boroughs in NYC are expected to completely run out of burial space. The only boroughs expected to have room are Staten Island and the Bronx. The sought-after Green-Wood cemetery is now down to three to four acres of available burial land.


The number of privately owned cemeteries in NYC. Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic Cemetery in Queens, is the largest with about 3 million burials over 365 acres. The smallest cemetery is West 11th Street Cemetery of the Shearith Israel Congregation, which opened in 1805. It holds just 30 graves.


casketThe minimum cost of buying a single grave at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery. Four years ago the price of a grave was $12,000. “Premium” plots have climbed to $28,000 this year from $20,000 in 2013. At Trinity Church, prices range from $10,000 to $22,000 for a single crypt. The church also offers above-ground mausoleums, but they are reserved for VIPs at an undisclosed price.


The price of one of two remaining vaults — or mausoleums — at the exclusive Marble Cemetery in the East Village. The vaults, the size of a one-car garage, are the last two remaining burial plots for sale in Manhattan. As a comparison, the price of a private mausoleum for two will run $75,000 at the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery.


The price of being buried close to either “Moby Dick” author Herman Melville or jazz musician Miles Davis, both of whom lie in graves at Woodlawn cemetery. Spaces at the Bronx cemetery’s fenced edges, meanwhile, cost $7,000 or $8,000.


The last year a new cemetery was built in NYC. Resurrection Cemetery, a 126-acre Roman Catholic cemetery on Staten Island, opened because most of the island’s Catholic burial plots were spoken for. In 2009, Green-Wood explored a bid to buy city-owned Canarsie Cemetery, but it went to Cypress Hill, another Brooklyn cemetery.


The number of years that the “rural cemetery” law in New York requires cemeteries to wait before reclaiming plots from families they have not heard from. Cemeteries can also buy back purchased but unused plots from heirs.

gold-urn$17 billion

Current total revenues for the U.S. funeral industry, up from $12.6 billion in 1997. Over the past decade, the average cost of an adult funeral in the U.S. has increased 28.6 percent, to around $8,000 in 2015 from $5,500 in 2004. NYC is the most expensive city to be buried in. One of the cheapest U.S. locations is rural Margaretta Township in Ohio, where a plot costs $425 for residents and $675 for non-residents.


The number of bones and bone fragments found last summer beneath the 126th Street Bus Depot in Upper Manhattan, once the site of a Reformed Dutch churchyard where New Yorkers of African descent had been buried from the 17th century through the 19th century. A similar graveyard discovery was made in 1991 at 290 Broadway. A total of 419 bodies were found. The location is now the site of the IRS.


The average cost of a cremation in the U.S. — the cheaper post-death option. In New York, cremations accounted for 39.6 percent of funerals in 2014, but are expected to increase to 62.6 percent in 2030. Prices for a decorative urn can start at just a few hundred dollars, compared to $1,300 for a casket from a funeral home.

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