NR Digital

City Desk

Cool Tombs

by Richard Brookhiser

Buying a coffin is nobody’s idea of shopping, a friend of mine once said. I would certainly rather go to a yard sale or to Etro or even to the grocery, but a coffin is one of those inescapable purchases. Like gas, but for a shorter trip. Also like gas, you want to make sure you have it before you set out.

The city is large and, according to the census, still growing. As a consequence of its fecundity it is interwoven with cemeteries. Digging around in the financial district recently they found an old slaves’ burial ground. Mammon covered it, but now you can peer at it through a Plexiglas peephole at street level. The city’s first Sephardic synagogue left three little rearguards as it moved uptown, in Chinatown and the Village and along the old Ladies’ Mile. The first is inhabited by Revolutionary War veterans, the second by hostas that put out pale purple flowers in summer. As time passed, the city and its cemeteries moved farther and farther north and east. The drive to the airport from midtown takes you past a necropolis in Queens. Jan Lukas, the émigré photographer who did so many NR covers, loved urban juxtapositions, and one of his favorites was the view, back towards the skyline, from among the headstones, catching the verticals of both, skyscrapers vs. earthscrapers.