A century-old water main in bustling Greenwich Village in New York City had outlived its usefulness, and contractors for the city department of design and construction (DDC) were working Tuesday to excavate and replace it. Imagine their surprise when they stumbled into a vault beneath the earth while digging. They stopped and called in an archaeologist, who opened a way into a chamber that sits a mere 3.5ft beneath the sidewalburial vault. It was filled with the skeletons of 25 people.
The archaeologist weren’t that surprised; they actually knew the tomb was there somewhere. In 1965, power company ConEdison first uncovered it, but poor record-keeping allowed them to lose track of it again. But this time around they also uncovered a second vault that contained about 20 wooden coffins, at least some with name and date plates bolted on their sides.
The second vault contains a wooden door hanging by iron or copper hinges, its lock apparently intact. Archaeologist are moving slowly to avoid disturbing anything at this point, so the door has not yet been opened. It is unknown where that door leads, other than westward under the park.
For now, work to try to date the contents of the vaults is being done from a distance with high-resolution cameras and telescope lenses. The area in which the vaults were underneath is within Washington Square Park, which has served as many things in the past. It was a graveyard in the early 19th century, after the revolutionary war it was a burial plot for both the poor and criminals of New York, and shortly before that it was a final resting place for victims of a yellow fever epidemic.
Despite the amazing amount of disturbance in NYC from utilities or subway installations over the years, these remains have remained untouched for centuries. Now that they have been uncovered and are being studied, they will serve to add more to the cities’ already storied history.