In Prospect Park, off of Center Drive, there are two thousand gravestones and buried bodies older than the park itself. This property, the only private one in the park, is a cemetery owned by the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers. The group bought and established the property, then consisting of undeveloped farmland, in 1849, but according to Atlas Obscura, burials on the land date as far back as the 1820s. The graves remained when the Prospect Park opened in 1867, and is still an active cemetery site.
Most gravestones in the cemetery are simple, somewhat eroded, and nearly identical. Apparently, this applies to the gravestone of Montgomery Clift, the critically-acclaimed star of “From Here to Eternity” who was buried there. In 1998, The New York Times reported that the cemetery was threatening to completely cease giving quarterly tours because of the high number of “people with purple hair and black T-shirts” who came to inquire about the confidential location of Clift’s gravestone.
Image via Wikimedia Commons courtesy of the City of New York
We wouldn’t mind being laid to rest in one of the nicest parks in New York, but the cemetery is still only open to Quakers and their family members. It’s nearly impossible for non-Quakers to pay a visit even when living. The cemetery is surrounded by high fences topped by barbed wire to keep the Montgomery Clift-obsessed public out, as well as those who, according to extremely unsubstantiated rumors, used to practice devil worship or Santeria within the cemetery. (If these practices ever took place, they’ve moved slightly outside the cemetery, if the decapitated goat and dismembered chickens found in Prospect Park in recent years indicate anything). Extremely infrequent tours are given, and in 2008, Quakers performed a play among the tombstones to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Religious Society of Friends and educate the public about the group. Our advice for getting in: convert, or wait a short while for the group’s upcoming 200th anniversary in 2058.
Discover more secrets of Prospect Park on one of our upcoming walking tours!