Scouting A Crypt

Nothing beats days when you’re asked to scout something as unusual as a crypt.

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Though you’d expect location scouting would take you to every sort of place imaginable, movies shot in New York mostly tend to ask for the old standards: Upscale apartment. Dank alley. Corporate office space. Vacant storefront. So when I was asked to shoot the chapel crypt in the Church of the Intercession in Harlem (on the border of Washington Heights), I was thrilled.

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Located at 155th & Broadway, this is the third church to occupy the space, designed by Bertram Goodhue and built between 1911-1914. Surrounding it is the Old Trinity Cemetery, covering a sprawling 4 square city blocks.

I met my guide at a large wooden door on the side of the church. We proceeded down a dark set of stairs into the crypt.

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At first, we were in darkness. Then, he hit the light, illuminating an incredible space with enormous columns and beautiful vaulted ceilings.

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panorama – click to see larger viewing options

A reverse view. It’s actually much darker than my pictures make it out to be. Though there’s some lighting, I had the lens wide open to take these pictures.

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panorama – click to see larger viewing options

It’s also very cool, despite the warm summer day just a few steps up. A wall of cremated remains:

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The west wall (yes, thoughts of Indiana Jones were in my head):

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A small altar:

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The north side of the crypt – I believe the door takes you into additional burial space.

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Church of the Intercession is an amazing shooting location, offering a ton of great options, including its own cloister:

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The cloister garden, which feels as removed from New York as you can get:

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A pan of the cloister, which I suppose could be made into a widescreen desktop if cloisters are your thing:

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panorama – click to see larger viewing options

The gate to the cloister garden:

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The church also has its share of interesting ornamentation. If you look at the north wall, for example…

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…you’ll find a series of imaginative stone carvings of various monsters above the windows:

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An interesting crest – this person seems to have a sun for a head, wings, and a very puffy torso:

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And if you’ve never been to the surrounding Old Trinity Cemetery, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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Not only will you find some amazing crypts and vaults to peer into (in addition to crumbling gravestones)…

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…you’re almost guaranteed to find some evidence of Santaria practice (check out a whole post about it here).

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A local once told me he had once found half a cow offered in sacrifice in front of a grave. Eerie stuff.

-SCOUT

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6 comments

  1. Clement Moore, who wrote the classic “Visit from Saint Nicholas” (aka Twas the Night Before Christmas) is buried in that cemetery.

    FABULOUS crypt, by the way!

  2. Fantastic. Will have to plan a visit!

  3. Good stuff. I need to explore this area more.

  4. It’s gorgeous, historic, and, alas, dropping to bits. When I was a kid, there was a polychromed Christus Rex in that crypt chapel. My dad was baptised there, Mom started there at five, they met there, were married there, my brother and I were baptized and confirmed there, our parents funerals were there, and, if you trip coming out of that crypt, you might just stumble onto their graves. My father’s family also had a niche in the columbarium (Grandma being grandma bought it when Dad enlisted in WWII, in case he was blown to bits and there wasn’t much left to bury, why waste a good space in the family plot in Woodlawn — and no, I’m not kidding, she even told Dad). You should see the main church upstairs! Oh, and your link is wrong: that’s not the third church on *that site*. It IS the third Intercession, though. When I was a child my father pointed out to me where you could see from the cemetary, looking east, the outline of the roof of the first Intercession (I don’t remember exactly where or know if it’s still visible), and the second one was a couple of blocks north on the other side of Broadway, about where there’s a branch of Apple Bank (which in my childhood was Harlem Savings Bank) now. They were in financial trouble when Trinity was building the new cemetary, and Trinity offered to take care of the bills and build them a new church if they became a chapel and sat in the cemetary as a sort of caretaker.

  5. Trinity is the cemetery on ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’. I love it!

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