Often confused with the Van Buskirk Family burial grounds in another section of Constable Hook, the Constable Hook cemetery was believed to contain only a few hundred graves. However, the website Graveinfo.com has a burial list for this cemetery of more than 1,500 men, women, and children. Popular names of Bayonne families such as Cadmus, La Tourette, Van Buskirk, Vreeland, Van Horne, Anderson, Brown, Jones, and Peterson are listed. But this list covers on ly the time period from 1878 to 1903. There are most likely hundreds more interred in this cemetery.
“The cemetery is surrounded by property owned by IMTT and its large storage tanks.” – Bill Hastings
When the cemetery was laid out, it was divided into 210 plots, of which 196 were 12 feet by 18 feet. Each plot would contain up to eight grave shafts, but how many burials per shaft are undocumented? Deeds have been located for 145 of these plots, but no records have been found for the remaining small parcels of land.
Dating back to 1855 the land-transfer deeds would list the sellers and buyers names, plot number, and cost. It would also stipulate that the land was for sepulture use only, as is common with most land purchase in a cemetery.
At some point, it was decided to sell burial rites only instead of land title in the cemetery. A child’s grave was sold for $5 in 1886. A row and grave number would be listed on the receipt. These burials were most likely conducted on the many plots of land owned by Sarah Van Horn, surviving daughter of James J Van Buskirk, the cemetery’s founder. In 1874 Sarah was deeded 34 plots in the cemetery. She probably also inherited 32 additional plots from her sister, Eleanor Van Buskirk, who died in July 1878.
Many myths and inaccuracies in history books have accumulated since James Van Buskirk founded the cemetery in 1854.
How many are buried?
The cemetery is surrounded by property owned by IMTT and its large storage tanks. Ask anyone how many people are interred there, and the reply is generally “a couple hundred,” but there has never been an accurate number until recently.
An ongoing project to determine how many were buried there and who they were has revealed more than 1,500 individuals, many Bayonne residents. This project covers the time period between 1878 and 1907. Recently discovered land deeds reveal who owned some of the original plots. Discovering the current owners is a more difficult undertaking.
After the industrialization of the Hook and the opening of cemeteries in surrounding towns, interest in family plots at the Bayonne Constable Hook Cemetery diminished. The former owner of the cemetery, Sarah Van Horn, who was one of three daughters of James Van Buskirk, sold portions of the many plots she owned as individual graves for right-of- burial only. No ownership transfer deeds have been found for these plots, which Sarah owned at her death in 1889, many of which she inherited when her sister, Ellen Van Buskirk, willed them to her in 1878.
Single-grave sales may have occurred as early as 1883 when it appears that Sarah teamed up with Nathanial B. Lockwood, a local undertaker in Bayonne, to rejuvenate interest in and business at the cemetery. This may have been the first attempt to restore the cemetery. A newspaper story from that year says, “[Lockwood] … who had a gang of men at work, and did a great deal toward making the cemetery more attractive. A large number of old trees have been cut down, the walks graded, and flower beds made and filled with flowers.”
Veterans stand sentry
The local veterans group visits the cemetery once a year, the Wednesday prior to Memorial Day at 9:30 a.m. A few members of the public, some of whom have ancestors buried at the cemetery, accompany them. American flags are placed at each location that is marked by a grave marker, although they are not the original graves, due to the deterioration of the cemetery and a so-called “restoration” in the mid 1980s.
Four walking paths were made during the ‘80s, but none resembles any of the original eight paths that were named Myrtle, Cypress, Linden, Evergreen, Laurel, Willow, Acacia, and Cedar. In fact, only about half of the cemetery’s original 1.3-acres are located in the “restored” section, enclosed by a white picket fence marking what someone wanted us to believe is the whole cemetery. The entire rear portion of the cemetery, in ruins, contains a large pit of runoff water from the slopes of earth that surround it.
It is not known who the legal owner of the cemetery is. The last mention of ownership was in a newspaper letter to the editor of 1956, in which author Michael De Beck wrote, “This cemetery was finally turned over and managed by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which was only a stone’s throw from the cemetery. When St. Paul’s left the Hook, the building was used as a church by the parish of St. Joseph’s R. C. Church.”
Many towns and cities take great pride in the upkeep of their old cemeteries, and some even claim historical status for them. The City of Bayonne seems to have done nothing for this cemetery. Until someone steps in to provide true restoration and upkeep to a place that should be a part of Bayonne’s history, Father Time and Mother Nature will be the caretakers of this cemetery.