My mother is into genealogy and when she mentioned that a number of our relatives were buried in a cemetery not exceedingly far from The Velvet Rocket’s New York office, I Googled the cemetery to learn more about it.
The name of the cemetery is St. John and despite being owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, it is located in Middle Village in the New York City borough of Queens.
Now, something immediately jumps out at anyone that gives even the most cursory of glances over the Wikipedia entry on St. John Cemetery…
Holy shit! There are a lot of household names from the organized crime world buried there.
I mentioned this discovery to our cultural correspondent, Mr. Downing, and it was almost immediately decided that a visit to St. John Cemetery was compulsory.
It can be awkward to get anywhere in Queens as the train coverage is not good and so one must frequently incorporate the train and bus into any travel plans. However, in this case we both agreed afterward that the experience was more than worth the hassle of the journey.
This is the main entrance to St. John Cemetery at Metropolitan Avenue and 80th Street:
And once inside, it does not take long to realize how absolutely massive the cemetery is:
As such, I immediately gave up any hope of finding my relatives (although I did, nevertheless, keep my eyes open for their names) and decided to focus on some of the other interesting characters in the cemetery. We did not know the exact location of anyone, but old pictures and rumors gave us enough to at least know which area to look in…
In the center of the larger section of St. John Cemetery (Metropolitan Avenue divides the sprawling cemetery) one will certainly not fail to notice a massive structure that looks like a prison or a fortress. It is, in fact, a mausoleum and one should head for it.
Arrayed around the mausoleum, one will find a number of organized crime figures of no small significance.
One of the first that a visitor will come across is the grave of Joseph Profaci in Section 11:
And just a hop, skip and jump behind Joe Profaci’s grave is the grave of Vito Genovese. This one is not easy to find and I actually walked right by it before Mr. Downing spotted it.
Yes, believe it or not, Don Vito’s grave is hidden behind that jungle in the middle of this picture:
Here is a view of the grave of Vito Genovese when viewed straight on… We were surprised that his grave was not better cared for and maintained:
I scrambled through the overgrown hedge to get to the base of the tombstone and to take this picture… You can make out the name “Genovese” at the bottom.
Given Don Vito’s personal history, you’ve got to love the angel, no?
Circling around to the other side of the
prison mausoleum, one will find the grave of Lucky Luciano contained within this vault in Section 3:
“Lucky” Luciano’s real name was Salvatore Lucania which you see reflected on the vault above.
On to the mausoleum… The section you will be interested in is St. John Cloister (marked as “O” on the cemetery maps). This place is huge and it is easy to become disoriented within its labyrinth of condo-style vaults:
One may feel a sense of relief upon noticing an electronic database of grave locations next to the entrances of the mausoleum, but this is a false source of comfort. St. John has not included any of its celebrity residents in their database. So, you’re on your own in this search… But, isn’t that part of the fun?
Upstairs on the 3rd floor in Aisle C (the wooden section), one will find the surprisingly modest grave of John Gotti:
The other resident with John Gotti is his son who was run over and killed by a neighbor. The neighbor disappeared several months later and his body has never been found.
Here is a view of the aisle where John Gotti can be found… He is on the bottom left:
If you are interested, there are several open slots available right next to John Gotti and they sell for only $750 to $1,500 depending on the height you select. Seems like a bargain to me…
By the way, if you’re a fan of John Gotti (or just interested) and made it out to St. John Cemetery, the former Bergin Hunt and Fish Club on 101st Avenue at 99th street in Ozone Park, Queens is close by. As you might have guessed, the club had nothing to do with fishing… This is where Gotti ran his crew in the 1970s, controlling a crime empire that raked in about $1 billion a year from prostitution, drugs, pornography, gambling, racketeering, loan sharking and stolen cars.
And if you’re returning home through Brooklyn from St. John Cemetery and the former Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, John Gotti’s home was located at 160-11, 85th Street in Howard Beach, Brooklyn.
Moving on… Just around the corner from John Gotti can be found the grave of Aniello “The Hat” Dellacroce (in Aisle B):
Here is a view of Aniello Dellacroce’s grave location from slightly farther away (that’s a lamp to the left):
Upstairs on the 5th floor, one will find two rooms occupied by the Gambino family. Carlo can be found on the right wall of the first room:
The grave of Carlo Gambino:
Across Metropolitan Avenue, one can find even more:
There are an unbelievable number of Italians buried at St. John Cemetery which can be disconcerting when one is trying to rapidly scan names:
There are so many Italians buried here that we eventually we developed a game to spot graves that were not occupied by an Italian:
The huge number of Italians aside, the grave of Joe Colombo (Joe Profaci’s successor) in Section 36 should not be too difficult to find:
A closer shot of Joe Colombo’s name on the bottom left of the tombstone:
Bear in mind that the above was just a small sampling of the well-known names in the organized crime world that can be found in St. John Cemetery. Also present, but not featured above are:
Roy Albert DeMeo
There are, of course, other reasons to visit St. John Cemetery as one may have relatives buried here (as I do) and it is interesting to observe the impact of historical events such as 9/11 which filled a number of graves in St. John:
However, one simply cannot overlook the staggering number of organized crime heavyweights buried at St John… The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn may try to conceal or ignore its more infamous residents, but it seems almost, well, criminal to not enjoy having so many of them clustered together.
These men are, like it or not, a significant part of American history. And judging from the number of hugely successful mafia and gangster books, films, television shows, etc. this is an element of American history that a number of people remain fascinated by.
I’ll let the sign at the exit of St. John Cemetery have the last word: