Day 39

Hunt family burial ground

February 7th, 2012

This cemetery, whose oldest headstone dates to 1749, is contained within Drake Park, one of the few spots of green left amidst the vast industrial landscape of Hunts Point, and the site of a Cornell University/Parks Department investigation into the effectiveness of different types of trees in removing pollutants from the air.

Hunts Point was once a pastoral paradise, drawing wealthy New Yorkers to its teeming shores and verdant fields. First settled in the late 1600s by Robert Hunt and his family, it maintained a rural character into the early years of the 20th century. Looking around now, it's hard to imagine the orchards and dairy farms that stood here less than 100 years ago.

The Hunt estate was a home away from home for Joseph Rodman Drake, a physician and poet who died of tuberculosis in 1820 at the age of 25. Fifteen years later his daughter published a collection of his works, the best known of which are The Culprit Fay and The American Flag. For a good part of the 19th century, Drake and Fitz-Greene Halleck (his friend and fellow poet), were widely renowned as two of America's greatest literary figures (although Edgar Allan Poe would beg to differ), but they have since been almost entirely forgotten by the public. They do live on, however, in the names of Drake and Halleck Streets, which, together with the parallel thoroughfares of Whittier, Longfellow, and (probably) Bryant, form a four-block-wide poetic boulevard running through Hunts Point.

Drake is buried here in the Hunt family cemetery, his epitaph written by his friend Halleck:

Green be the turf above thee
Friend of my better days
None knew thee but to love thee
Nor named thee but to praise

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