Let me begin today by pointing out the name of this post, “City of the Dead,” and telling you it’s about Farmingdale, Long Island. It’s not that Farmingdale has a higher than usual mortality rate; it just has a higher than usual percentage of deceased people.
Allow me to explain.
We recently had a death in the family, dear Uncle Joe, and he was buried in the family plot in the Wellwood Cemetery in Farmingdale, which appears to be a subsidiary of the Beth Moses Cemetery next door (they share an office). However, it does not seem to beaffiliated with other neighbors such as the New Montefiore Cemetery, Mount Arawat Cemetery or Breslau Cemetery. Neither is it an offshoot of the conveniently-located Trinity Cemetery, North Babylon Cemetery or Amityville Cemetery which, if it hasn’t already, should at some point be the site of yet another sequel to The Amityville Horror.
I’m not kidding about the cemeteries. The Farmingdale area must have more cemeteries per square mile than anywhere else in the country.* I mean, look at the Google satellite image above. There are 11 cemeteries packed into an area that’s only a bit larger than Six Flags Great Adventure. Not as much fun, probably, but the lines are shorter.
My wife Barbara and I left Connecticut at 7am for a 9:30 graveside service and arrived about 40 minutes early due to a surprising lack of the traffic for which Long Island is famous. So we drove around looking for a diner or a Dunkin’ Donuts or something, and we just kept passing one cemetery after another. The only things that broke up the wall-to-wall cemeteries were businesses selling monuments and flowers to go into the cemeteries.
I’ve heard of Miracle Miles full of car dealers, but this was a Mile de la Muerte.
This cemetery saturation has to make Farmingdale one of the creepiest places in America, especially when you consider that the breathing population of the town is under 9,000. Who would live in a place that probably has more dead residents than live ones?
What must a Farmingdale Chamber of Commerce meeting be like? A bunch of morticians in black suits trying to come up with ways to promote tourism? It’s not like they can have a parade…it would look like scenes from the “Thriller” video. And what kind of event could local businesses put together…a sidewalk sale of headstones? “Yes, ma’am, we’re overstocked on obelisks, and I can let you have this one at half price. Would you like to put it on our layaway plan? How long do you think you’ll have to pay it off?”
Speaking of which, how many monument stores does a town need? Farmingdale has about 13 (see map at left). Do people comparison shop in their hours of grief? Read the Yelp ratings? (“★They spelled my mother’s name wrong.”) Most of the places in Farmingdale are well-rated. I guess you’d have to be with so much competition.
So, anyway, Barbara and I kept driving that morning, in our quest for coffee. We even passed the Long Island National Cemetery, where brave servicemen and women, who went to war rather than remain in Nassau County, are buried. There were row upon row of identical headstones, lined up like soldiers ready to march into battle. Which is probably the point.
Meanwhile, Barb was incredulous about the lack of caffeine. “How could there not be a diner or something with all these cemeteries?” she wanted to know. When I professed to not recognize the connection between those two types of enterprises, she elaborated: “You go to a service, you bury someone, you visit a grave, then you go to a diner.”
I did not know of this post-interment tradition. But then I remembered a morning some 50 years ago when I went to the cemetery with my father to visit his mother’s grave. He said a prayer in Hebrew and then, although this was decades before I even knew Barbara, we went to a diner for breakfast and sat at the counter eating our bacon and eggs. After awhile, my father leaned over and whispered, “Are people looking at me?”
And indeed they were. They were likely thinking that his menu selection was not compatible with the yarmulke he had forgotten to remove when we left the cemetery. What can I say? We did not get many gold Stars of David for our Jewishness.
Anyway, Uncle Joe was buried during a torrential rain storm, and the rabbi was torturously verbose given the conditions, and Barb and I were still quite damp two hours later when we returned to Connecticut.
Fortunately, there’s a diner right off Exit 6 of the New England Thruway.
See you soon, but not in Farmingdale, I hope.