For an example of all that is wrong about modern America, look no further than the hulking Palisades Mall, in West Nyack, NY. One of the largest ‘mega malls’ in the US, the vast concrete complex opened in 1998, swiftly becoming known as one of the ‘ugliest malls’ in the country. Described by the New York Times as a, “series of interlocking coffins……lacking any discernible architectural theme”, the Mall would be grim enough itself, where it not for the fact that there’s a small, historic cemetery lying largely unnoticed in the parking lot.
Around 20 million shoppers descend on the Palisades Mall every year, most of whom probably have no idea they’re passing by Mount Moor Cemetery, an African-American graveyard listed on the National Register for Historic Places, that lies dwarfed in the shadow of the Target parking lot and a Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Mount Moor was deeded in July, 1849, as a ‘burying ground for colored people’, and the sloping hill is the final resting place for around 90 African Americans, including veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the two World Wars and the Korean War.
The rise of the ‘Mega Mall’ saw many family run stores, that been had been around for generations, lost for good. The landscape and social history of many small towns were simply paved over to make way for these concrete cathedrals to consumer capitalism. And Mount Moor, situated in the mostly empty, prime real estate of Rockland County, bounded by the New York State Thruway, and Routes 59 & 303, soon fell under the greedy eyes of property developers.
When Pyramid Companies, based in Syracuse, announced plans to build one of the largest malls in America, they found the small, historic cemetery right in the middle of their plans. Offers to have the graves disinterred and relocated to another cemetery, were swiftly met with short shrift. “This is sacred ground for us”, explained David Smith, veteran of the Vietnam War.
A reported offer of $100,000 to sell the cemetery was rejected by the Mount Moor Cemetery Association, who work doggedly to preserve and take care of the historic site. “Its not a matter of money”, explains Hezekiah Easter, association member. “Its a matter of principle”.
The property developers were forced to build their colossus around the tiny cemetery, which today can still be found on the sloping ground overlooking the carpark. It is cared for diligently by members of the Association and the descendants of those buried there.
One particular grave belongs to Lafayette Logan, who fought in the Civil War with the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first African-American regiment mustered by the North. Immortalized in the 1989 Academy award winning film, Glory, he perhaps deserves more a dignified final resting place than in the shadow of a giant Bed, Bath & Beyond.