The Three Private Graves In Manhattan

If you’re ever up at Riverside Park around Grant’s Tomb, be sure to take a moment and visit a slightly smaller grave nearby.

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Consisting of a simple urn and pedestal surrounded by a small fence, it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it…

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But in a way, it’s a pretty important monument: this is one of only three private graves on public land on the entire island of Manhattan. The first is Grant’s tomb…

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The second, located in Worth Square north of the Flatiron Building, belongs to military General William Jenkins Worth, who fought during the Mexican American War.

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And the third…

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…belongs to a five year old boy.

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On July 15, 1797, young St. Claire Pollock died, presumably from a fall off the nearby cliffs onto the rocks below. In the late 1700′s, the property surrounding the grave was owned by George Pollack, either St. Claire’s father or uncle, and he was buried on the site.

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In 1800, George Pollock sold his property to a neighbor, with a request:

There is a small enclosure near your boundary fence within which lie the remains of a favorite child, covered by a marble monument. You will confer a peculiar and interesting favor upon me by allowing me to convey the enclosure to you so that you will consider it a part of your own estate, keeping it, however, always enclosed and sacred.”

Over time, the surrounding area became known as Claremont Hill, site of the Battle of Harlem Heights during the Revolutionary War, and later, the very popular Claremont Hotel.

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The Claremont Hotel eventually became a restaurant. Below, a picture of the Claremont taken by photographer Karl Struss in 1915.

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Sadly, the building burned down in 1950 and was replaced by the Claremont Playground (a marker commemorates the location of the original hotel).

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Incredibly, over the years, little St. Claire’s grave was always respected. In fact, at one point, the city supposedly attempted to relocate the remains for the construction of Grant’s tomb, only to be met with a surge of opposition from citizens. Nearby St Clair Place is named for the boy.

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The monument has been replaced twice due to deterioration, the most recent having been installed in 1967.

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St. Claire’s grave is one of my favorite monuments in the city. There’s just something incredibly touching about the fact that, despite sitting in the shadow of a gargantuan tomb for a military hero and former president,  the grave of a little boy has almost an equal importance, ultimately touching the lives of millions.

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12 comments

  1. Thanks. I’ve passed the tomb near the flatiron every day without realizing what it is. As for St. Clair’s grave, agreed, it’s a wonderfully humane counterpoint to Grant’s tomb.

  2. I must have walked or run past St. Claire’s grave a hundred times- and had no idea that Worth Square held a grave. Thanks for bringing such beautiful stories about the city out of the woodwork!

  3. Good story! FYI, you misspelled Pollock “Pollack” halfway through the post… my last name is Pollock so I always notice these things. ;-)

  4. The story of St. Claire’s grave is also discussed in the Forgotten NY tour book (an excellent resource for NY junkies!)

  5. Thank you for pointing out such interesting things and writing about them. I find your site endlessly fascinating and always look forward to reading it. I especially like this one, as I have always been drawn to the history found in local cemeteries. Thanks again for bring this touching story to light.

  6. There are several types of jackhammers, which usually run on compressed air from a machine, but can also be electrically or even hydraulically powered. The latter is usually attached to a backhoe, trackhoe or even a front-end loader. For the average user, a compressed air jackhammer or an electrical one is the way to go.

  7. Kind of shocking and amazing.
    But these aren’t the only three graves in Manhattan. Though they stand out as singular burial sites, there is a graveyard in between the buildings on 2nd Ave (near 5th Street – I forget the exact location), the African burial grounds downtown, and the potters field at Washington Square Park (which might be impossible to locate following the park’s renovation).
    Maybe the last two aren’t the best visual locations, but that hidden graveyard in LES is kind of amazing.

  8. Sinclair Pollock. Bet he was Scots.

    • Yes,the small boy “Amiable Child” is a ancestor of mine. His parents and decendents were from Ireland and prior to that Scotland.During the civil war troops past the grave and soluted the grave in respect because they knew that this boy’s ancestors have been in every battle known to history of europe. “The Knights Templar family” The boy is the last know line to the first king of england dagbert the first. Every thing ends with him. I am related in his paternal line.

  9. I walked through Worth Square this morning on my way to work in the Flatiron Building, and was looking at the monument there. I normally get off the train directly under the Flatiron, and don’t have much need to walk through the square, but I missed my stop this morning, so had to walk down from 28th Street. I had no idea that monument marked an actual grave. Amazing city we have here.

  10. There’s a similar gravesite in Middlesex County, NJ, in the middle of a busy movie theater parking lot on Route 1. Mary Ellis was buried there in 1828 when, what is now Route 1 was all farm land. Local legend says that as part of the deal to sell the original farm, Mary’s grave had to be protected and left there throughout any future owners. Considering it’s still there to this day, it’s nice that those wishes have continued to be honored. Here’s more info:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Ellis_grave

  11. What a touching story. I remember seeing this as a child then again as an adult and wondered what this was all about. I couldn’t believe this was actually a grave in NYC but it is. Now after all these years I finally find out the truth behind this mysterious grave.

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