Streams

February 10, 2012 12:05:34 PM
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Joan Geismar

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Manhattan

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The tombstone of a 29 year old man who died in of yellow fever in 1799 discovered in Washington Square Park

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James Jackson's tombstone, discovered during archaeological testing in Washington Square Park, not only provides information about the origins and death of this young Irishman (he was born in County Kildare, Ireland, and died on September 22, 1799), but also about the city's history and constant reinvention. Research revealed that most of Washington Square Park was, in the late-18th and early-19th-century, a Potter's Field, by definition a burial ground for the indigent and unknown. Jackson, who was neither indigent nor unknown, was buried in the Potter's Field because the panic engendered by yet another summertime incursion of yellow fever prompted a mandate shortly before his death that all yellow fever victims were to be buried in the Potter's Field. So Jackson's tombstone not only documents his death, but also the history of the site, which in this case was the transformation of a dreaded burial ground into a beloved park.

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