Lawrence Cemetery stages historical tour

The whole cast of the Lawrence Cemetery history tour poses following the end of the tour. Photo by Maria Lopez
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The historical figures who are buried at Lawrence Cemetery came back to life Saturday, but instead of giving some post-Halloween haunts to visitors, the burial ground’s members educated them on the importance of the site.

The Bayside Historical Society hosted its second annual interactive tour of the cemetery, at 216th Street and 42nd Avenue, and the event delighted learners young and old.

Members of the group and other volunteers from the community dressed up as some of the famous people buried in the graveyard, including the former governor of New Amsterdam, Willem Kieft, and two city mayors, Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence and Andrew H. Mickle.

The historical society’s vice president of education, Denise Johnson, helped work on the script for the show and said she made it entertaining but informative.

“Each one of them talks to each other about what they had done in the past,” she explained.

The actors dressed in garb that represented the era during which they lived and engaged in friendly banter with each other and the visitors.

“Tell me, how is Bayside’s farm life doing today?” former Queens Judge Effingham Lawrence, who died in 1850, asked the audience.

The tour attracted both longtime historical buffs and newcomers to the cemetery. Bayside mother Mary Kelly, who has lived in the neighborhood for years, brought her son Kyle, 9, and daughter Lauren, 7, to the grave site for the first time and they were impressed with the quality of the show and the lessons they learned from it.

“I didn’t know there were two mayors buried here,” she said.

The Lawrence family were among the first settlers of Bayside and in 1645, they bought the land that would become the cemetery from Kieft of New Amsterdam. Johnson said the family’s influence in Queens was strong during the 17th and 18th centuries.

“The Lawrence family had a lot of property from Francis Lewis [Boulevard] to the bay,” she said.

Originally, the family used the land as a picnic area that they called Pine Grove, but in 1832 it was turned into a family and community burial ground. The ground was closed for burials in 1932 and the city designated it an official landmark 35 years later.

The historical society has done a lot of work to maintain the space, including a major volunteer cleanup that took place last month. Johnson said the society is planning more events to raise awareness of the cemetery and make it a top destination for visitors.

“The whole idea is to protect it and make it a historical place,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Posted 10:51 pm, November 9, 2011
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