“Tell me more,” I said.
Decades before, when he bought his house on 86th Street, the previous owner showed him a tombstone in his yard behind a shed.
“Mary Eldert, Wife of Eldert Eldert,” the stone read. “Died April 12, 1891, Aged 91 years and 14 days.”
Now, an Eldert tombstone interested me as we were involved in the Wyckoff-Snedicker Cemetery on 96th Street and there is a very large Eldert Family monument there.
The story that had been passed along to Ronnie and his wife Noreen was that Mary wasn’t allowed to be buried in the cemetery because she had cheated on her husband. Eldert Eldert, a direct descendant of the very earliest settlers in Woodhaven, fought in the Battle of 1812 and died in his early 50s, leaving Mary a fairly young widow.
She never remarried, and if local legend is true, she was punished in death for a sin that had to have taken place a half-century earlier.
And according to residents of 86th Street, it was Mary Eldert’s ghostly spirit that was often seen walking on the Niles property in the middle of the night.
After visiting the tombstone, we gratefully accepted Ronnie’s offer to move it to its rightful place in the cemetery on 96th Street. And while we never entertained any thoughts of digging up Mary and moving her, we did scoop up a jar of dirt from her gravesite as a stand-in for Mary.
Once the tombstone was back in the cemetery, we posted a few pictures online and a curious thing happened. A resident by the name of Stacey Kerr sent me an article she had found while researching Mary Eldert. It turns out Mary Eldert’s story truly did not end with her death.
You see, about a decade after Mary shuffled off this mortal coil, her daughter Elizabeth Lott joined her in death. leaving behind what the newspapers termed “a curious will.”
By that time, the cemetery on 96th Street was run down and was itself dying. So instead of joining her family on 96th Street in Woodhaven, where there are many Lotts and Elderts, she chose to be buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens.
And so she wouldn’t be lonely, her will stipulated that many of her relatives were to be exhumed from the different cemeteries they lay in and reburied under a giant Lott monument there. The newspaper clipping listed one of those bodies as Mary Eldert, along with her husband Eldert Eldert.
And together they lay to this day in Kew Gardens. How did the tombstone end up on 86th Street? We’ll never truly know, but my guess is that once Mary was moved under the Lott stone, her marker was no longer needed and some guy took it home and stuck it behind his shed, planning to do something with it someday. Guys do that sort of thing.
And as years went by, the reason for her tombstone being on 86th Street was forgotten, and in its place the story of Mary Eldert cheating on her husband was invented and passed on from owner to owner. No wonder her spirit wasn’t at peace!
But the story doesn’t end there.
A little more digging turned up the fact that Mary Eldert founded the Woodhaven Sewing Circle, a group of women who created and sold items they made. All of the proceeds went to the Woodhaven Chapel Association, whose mission was to raise money to build a church.
The Woodhaven Chapel Association, founded in 1861, elected Mary Eldert as their president, and within a year enough money had been raised (nearly $1,000) to build The Woodhaven Chapel.
Over time, the group would grow and in 1890, the year before Mary Eldert died, the wee chapel was torn down and replaced by a bigger church, now named The First Presbyterian Church of Woodhaven.
Nearly 50 years later, that building had to be torn down and replaced as part of the project to widen Woodhaven Boulevard. But the building that was erected in the 1940s still sits at the corner of 101st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard, and is now The United Presbyterian Church of Ozone Park.
And so this little ghost story has a very happy ending. Since her tombstone was discovered and the truth behind her story revealed, there has not been a single sighting of Mary Eldert’s ghost.