When searching for an apartment in New York, people typically have a few key features they're looking for. Lush, with lots of space and quiet neighbors are all usually pretty appealing descriptors. In Caroline Shadood’s case, her apartment in Glendale, Queens really has the “quiet neighbors” part nailed, because she’s surrounded by the quietest neighbors of all: dead people. Hundreds of thousands of them.
Shadood's place is all but surrounded by Evergreen Cemetery and a section of Knollwood Park Cemetery, two in a chain of cities of the dead that stretches from Bushwick to Rego Park. Being hemmed in by graveyards is less spooky than you’d think though, according to Shadood, who says that in addition to giving her a look at the business side of death and great ambience come Halloween, the cemeteries offer lots of space to catch some fresh air. Here's how she explains her current situation.
My neighborhood is like a peninsula, but surrounded by graveyards. The two streets near my place end in dead ends in three places which lead to graveyards, and one which leads to the streets. So when I say I live in a graveyard, I guess technically I'm in a plot of land surrounded by graveyards, but it's not like I'm on a path in the middle of a graveyard. Have you ever rode the L or the J past Broadway Junction and seen that huge graveyard? That’s what I’m next to.
A rushed arrival
I've been here in this huge two-bedroom corner apartment since June 2017. My friend's mom owns the building. At my last apartment, I was living alone and discovered my landlord was a pedophile who was on Rikers because he'd gotten caught. And then I got robbed by my maintenance guy. Instead of sticking around to deal with all these lovely people, I decided to split as soon as possible, which was within less than three days.
When my friend’s mom heard about the situation, she told me I could live there. My apartment is above hers, and she wants a person who's quiet and isn't around too much. Kind of like my neighbors.
My place is off of either the Halsey or Wilson L stop, both of them are like a 10 or 15 minute walk. To go as the crow flies it would be just five minutes, but you have to go around the graveyard. If you can walk through the graveyard, which you usually can on weekends, it's a lot faster to get to the train.
A suburban vibe
It feels really genuinely suburban here. Once you cross Cooper Avenue and leave the Bushwick/Ridgewood part where there are bars, it gets really suburban. There's nothing within a few blocks except for highway and gas stations. So, I live around a lot of families with yards and cars, and then there are a few abandoned buildings that are getting bought. Luckily they seem to be getting bought by families instead of developers.
In terms of building height, there's a few condo-looking buildings that don't seem to have anyone in them. It's mostly families, it seems to be Latina or Russian, like a lot of Ridgewood and Glendale. I'm one of the only ones without a yard, but it's okay, because I have the whole graveyard and a park nearby.
Greeting the spirits
I guess there was a certain level of superstition moving into this place, where I was like, "There are almost no living people around here, it's almost all dead people, and I should be respectful towards them." So when I moved in I did like a little ritual and lit some candles and said like, "Let's be at peace together."
It wasn't anything official. I don't identify as a witch or anything. I lit a bunch of white candles, because white's for the dead. I know a lot of dead people and was just like, “Let's just all be cool here. I'm gonna walk my dog near you and he might pee near your body, but it's not in a malicious way."
Navigating the sea of cemeteries
It's awesome walking around the graveyards. The rules are kind of weird about dogs because there's mixed signage. There's a lot of signs that say "Please curb your dog" and "Dogs welcome" but sometimes a security person will tell me I'm not allowed to have a dog there. It mostly depends on the person, but even though it's one huge green mass of land, it's actually several different graveyards. Some are based on religion and culture, and then there's some with huge sections of everyone. In Cemetery of the Evergreens you can have dogs, but at Mt. Carmel you can't.
The security there people are mostly trying to make sure no one is doing anything shady though, because there's so many dead ends. There's a lot of teens that come back there and want to do crimes. You know, the teens and their crimes. Because of the dead ends, there are really really bright security lights on at night to make sure no one hangs around there, so I have to put blackout curtains on my windows, which I never did before.
Graveyard with a view
I like going as deep into the middle of the graveyard as possible on Sundays when it's open, because that's where you can get really nice views of lower Manhattan. It’s really hilly around here, so standing on my stoop you can see lower Manhattan like you can in the graveyard. It's just that on my stoop I'm by Cypress Avenue which is really noisy, but deep in the graveyard you get the views without any of the noise. There are also really old cobblestones and stuff when you go deeper in, while on the outside section there are more recent graves.
You see the inside business of death sometimes when you’re in there. A couple times I've been walking through and I saw a casket getting lowered in the ground. And there are times I’ve seen a recent grave, and there’s a popsicle stick with some cardboard on it that says something along the lines of "This person's buried here but their headstone hasn't been delivered yet." Honestly it makes me want to work at the graveyard. A lot of the employees I see are doing a lot of landscaping, lots of mowing grass and planting flowers, that kinda stuff.
If you keep the windows open or you go outside in the morning, it smells like fresh cut grass. It doesn't smell like the city, which is really cool. Because the landscaping is really meticulous, those guys are out there making sure the graveyard looks really manicured. So it always smells like grass and plants and you hear birds, and then you go one block out and it's the highway and totally "F--- you New York." But in my little peninsula it's really chill.
A park to get away from people, including the deceased
I'm also about a 5 or 10 minute walk from Highland Park and all this pretty nature, but you do have to walk along the highway to get there. The walk to get to this peaceful place is f---ing terrible, because you're basically walking alongside the Jackie Robinson Parkway, there's cars whipping everywhere, and the sidewalk is really narrow and covered in trash. But then you get to Highland Park and it's like you're not even in New York City. It's so quiet and there are reeds and overgrowth and ferns.
I once walked in a loop around the Ridgewood Reservoir on a weekend and I only saw two people in a span of 45 minutes. When you compare it to going to other parks in Brooklyn, like McCarren or Prospect or Fort Greene Park, it's much more deserted in the nature parts. There's also the recreational parts, where there always seem to be people barbecuing. It always smells good, and I want to go and try to be friends with those people. When the graveyard's closed it's nice to walk over to Highland Park, but I prefer the graveyard because there's no traffic getting there.
Living with death
I think I was already relatively goth and a pretty dark-humored person. I've had quite a few family members and friends die, and I don't say that as a "Boo-hoo feel bad for me" sense, just to say I have a certain comfort level with death that I don't think other people at the age of 30 might have. I don't think living near the graveyard has made me any darker. I do think it takes a certain type of person and a certain comfort level to be okay with walking by construction workers and landscapers lowering caskets into the ground on a daily basis and not feel creeped out or grossed out, to just tell yourself, "This is another part of life and now I have a more constant reminders."
My boyfriend just moved in with me recently, and I don't think he’s too freaked out about the cemeteries. His only gripe is the same as mine, that both of us used to be a block or two from the train and now we're like a solid 10-15 minutes walk depending on how fast you feel like walking (I'm a slow walker).
Dress rehearsal for a zombie apocalypse
One thing I’ve seen here is that people take Halloween really seriously. That was a pleasant, fun surprise. You know how there are parts of the city where people get intense about Christmas decorations, like in Bay Ridge or Dyker Heights? In this part of town, people get really insane about Halloween decorations. If you walks around my block of any of the blocks around the perimeter of the graveyard, people go all out.
There's fake graves with zombie hands sticking out of the ground, and lights and jump scares and and those giant inflatable Santas and reindeer like you see in the winter, but instead it's ghosts and pumpkins and skeletons. Some of my neighbors at the end of the dead end will put their decorations on the fences near them. So not going in to the graveyard, but incorporating the scenery into their art. Why not work in where you're living to make your decorations better? And there are a ton of trick or treaters of course, because it's spooky.
I had a funny moment on Halloween this year. I dressed up as Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas and she's sort of a zombie rag-doll-looking character, with sunken cheeks and eyes and parts of her face sewn up. And I did really elaborate makeup and some guy was pulling into the graveyard to turn around off the highway and saw me walking my dog in my zombie makeup and got totally freaked out. He rolled down his window and yelled, "You scared the s--t out of me!"
People like to joke about zombies and stuff and I just sort of roll my eyes. If you're afraid for me in the zombie apocalypse, at least you'll have a friend who's the first to know about it. I'll be the first person who sees them climbing over the fence and I can call people and tell them to run. Although the zombies will probably just be at the bridges by then, and we're all gonna die, and it's fine.
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