The Vandals – Willow Grove Cemetery

The Willow Grove Cemetery in New Brunswick is a large gated plot of land containing three independently operated cemeteries. The oldest of the three, Presbyterian Cemetery, was moved from its original location to Willow Grove in 1837. It is the most bizarre area, with a series of vandalized and broken headstones scattered about. In the corner of this lowered section of the cemetery is a region containing a series of unmarked graves, in contrast to the remnants and fragments of the rest of the area. Some of these grave markers demonstrate the earliest use of marble ever utilized for tombstones. Colonel James Neilson, a member of the locally prestigious Neilson family who built the famous Wood Lawn Mansion on the Douglass Campus in 1830, is buried in this section.

A boneyard in disarray…would you go here at night?

The second section is the Willow Grove Cemetery itself, which was established in 1851. This region used to contain temporary underground holding vaults for deaths that occurred in the winter months. The Japanese section of Willow Grove was built as a burial plot for eight of the first Japanese exchange students ever to study and work in America. According to a Rutgers Rarities source, pnemonia claimed the lives of these students. An unknown World War I soldier stationed at Fort Dix was buried in 1930 with full military honors in the Willow Grove section as well. Many notable names, including Catharine Bayard Rutgers (widow of Theodore Grant Neilson), Cornelia Rutgers, former wife of Hardenbergh, both possible descendants of Henry Rutgers, and previous Willow Grove Cemetery landowner, Ira Vorhees, are buried in this section as well.

The Cheesman, or Central, Cemetery was established in 1868. Much less is known about this section of the cemetery, except that its most notable resident is Jeptha Cheesman, former mason, leader, and landowner.

Buried over the three cemeteries, there are seven former New Brunswick mayors, one US Senator, one House of Representatives member, many civil war heroes, and other notable locals. Directories and maps of the cemetery can be found at the Willow Grove Cemetery Official Website, where much of this information was found.

This cemetery was explored by Rutgers Rarities, and several interesting things were noted. There are a series of groundhogs present in the cemetery that seem to have made their home among the tombs, with underground tunnels running around and between the graves. A tree was found in the center of the cemetery that was apparently struck by lightning. There were a great number of vandalized tombstones. An article in Rutgers’ Daily Targum was written about vandalism in the cemetery. It looked as if a flood had washed the loose stones and grave markers into the Presbytarian Cemetery section, since there were only eight or nine unmarked tombstones still erect in this lower region. There were many odd tombstones simply marked “Mother” or “Father”, with no further information. The cemetery is located across the street from C-Town, behind the Henry Guest House, and next to the brand new Rutgers housing building constructed this year. As students leave the parking deck, they will come face-to-face with the graveyard.

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