Director's Statement: Peter Riegert
I discovered Prospect Cemetery in the pages of Cornelia Read's novel Invisible Boy, based on an actual 1989 murder case. Cornelia heard the story over twenty years ago when a friend introduced her to Cate Ludlam, president of the Prospect Cemetery Association.
For the last twenty-three years, Cate has worked as a volunteer to rescue this abandoned burial site from the ravages of vandalism, neglect, and nature's relentless encroachment. A grant was secured last year to have decades' worth of debris, fallen trees, and invasive weeds and vines hand-cleared from Prospect's four-and-a-half acres.
Cornelia introduced me to Cate and Prospect board member Andrew Farren several months ago to advise them on creating a video record of the reclamation project. When they took me to see Prospect, however, I found myself deeply moved by the mystery and history of this beguiling ruin and we soon decided that a documentary seemed more appropriate.
I started talking about the project with friends and colleagues who shared their own impassioned stories about long-forgotten people and places, and why posterity and preservation matter.
Our intent is not just to tell the history of the cemetery, but to use this place as a prism to refract the many themes that are part of Prospect. We want to interview historians, artists, writers, poets, archaeologists, and others for insight into this most mysterious part of every life: the end.
Located in Jamaica, New York, Prospect Cemetery is the oldest burial ground in the borough of Queens, and among the oldest in New York City.
When you stand at the center of this uneven, wooded ground, you’re in direct contact with the New York of 350 years ago. It’s a small remnant of what was here before the city existed, before skyscrapers and police sirens, subways and concrete.
In 1655, fourteen English families traded two guns, a coat, and a handful of ammunition with the local Lenape Indians for acreage alongside Beaver Pond and founded the village of Jamaica. Peter Stuyvesant officially recognized their settlement the following year, and we know that the villagers were using Prospect’s land as a burial ground by 1668.
Memorialized here are Americans from every walk of life: parents and children, servants, laborers, and bosses... veterans of every American war from the Revolution through World War II, statesmen who shaped the colonies into a nation, and artists, actors, and writers who helped create our culture.
Here are a few:
· Jane Lyons (1783-1858), who was born a slave, began 65 years of work for Joseph Herriman’s family at the age of ten. She died a free woman and is buried with the Herrimans in their family plot.
· Egbert Benson (1746-1833) represented New York in the Continental Congress and helped ratify the United States Constitution. Founder of the New York Historical Society.
· Candace Thurber Wheeler (1827-1923) co-founded the firm Tiffany & Wheeler with Louis Comfort Tiffany. An important figure in the American Arts & Crafts movement.
Every weekday 225,000 commuters on the elevated Long Island Railroad tracks running alongside Prospect’s northern edge glimpse their own history as they approach Jamaica Station. Few know what depth and richness lie within.
Our Kickstarter campaign goal is $10,000. This money will pay for three days of shooting—one in the cemetery itself and two of interviews—including cinematography, sound, and editing.
It will cover the cost of four days’ research at this year’s Association of Gravestone Studies conference at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
We’ll complete a seven-minute promotional film to raise the budget for our full documentary.
How Kickstarter Works
Pledge any amount you’d like and choose one of the listed incentives as your reward. If the total pledges meet our $10,000 goal by the end of our Kickstarter campaign, the credit cards of those who pledged will be charged and we’ll receive the funds.
If we don't meet our goal, your pledge money won’t be withdrawn from your account and no incentives are provided.
If we exceed $10,000 in pledge money, we’ll use the extra funds to deepen the scope of our promo film.
Can I increase my pledge once it’s been made? Yes. If you want increase your pledge amount, sign in to Kickstarter and access our campaign page.
The green “Back This Project” button on our page will have been replaced with a blue “Manage Your Donation” button. Click this to enter a new amount.
Can we exceed the goal? Absolutely. We’ll receive all money pledged before our campaign deadline.
How do we contact you? Contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to answer any further questions—and consider any suggestions—you might have.
- (60 days)