Partially obscured by hedges in the west corner of Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus in The Bronx lies something quite unusual: a burial site with 138 tombstones. Numerous students walk past the cemetery everyday without giving it much thought.
The Fordham Cemetery dates all the way back to the 1800s, during the university’s nascent years when it was known as St. John’s College. The cemetery seems rather macabre in contrast with the rest of Rose Hill, which is known for its prominent Gothic architecture, sprawling lawns, and lush tree-lined pathways.
A number of popular rumors have sprung up throughout the years surrounding the cemetery’s origins. One of the most popular myths is that the cemetery itself is fake and that the university built it to avoid complying with zoning regulations, or to cheat eminent domain. Many students and prospective students are given the impression that it is merely decorative and for show, given the neat and uniform rows of small granite markers. This is, however, far from the truth.
In fact, only one of the tombstones in Fordham Cemetery lacks a body. Originally, the cemetery lay where the New York Botanical Gardens is now, but when the city seized the land in 1889, the burial site was forced to relocate. The following year, the bodies were exhumed and moved to the new location on St. John’s College campus (now Fordham University) near the University Church. However, after three days of searching, the body of 26-year-old Br. Joseph Greenden N.S.J. was nowhere to be found. His marker in the relocated cemetery remains the only one without a body beneath it.
A plaque added to the cemetery in 2000 reads, “In their hope of resurrection here lie the remains of 124 sons of St. Ignatius Loyola: 68 Jesuit priests; 44 Jesuit brothers; 12 Jesuit scholastics; 77 of them had assignments to Fordham. Others buried in the same cemetery for whom the Jesuits labored are: 3 Diocesan seminarians, 9 students, and 2 college workmen. May they rest in the peace of Christ.”
The final person interred in the cemetery was Rev. William Pardow in 1907, a few years after St. John’s College was renamed as Fordham University, after its neighborhood in the Bronx. The burial site is no longer active, and is not open to the public, but it is accessible to faculty, staff, and students of the university.