BY SUSAN DE VRIES
Over the centuries, it became a trash-strewn dumping ground and squatters took up residence, but every so often tales emerged about the plot of land at the corner of Narrows Avenue and Mackay Place in Bay Ridge.
Known as the Barkaloo (or Barkuloo) cemetery, the burial plot seems to have faded in and out of local memory until preservation efforts in the early 20th century ensured its survival and burnished the tale of its origins.
Often credited as the smallest cemetery in Brooklyn, the fenced-off grassy lot is believed to have started as the Barkaloo family burial plot in the early 18th century, when the area was known as New Utrecht.
The Barkaloo name has endless variants, which all appear when digging into the history of the family — Barkuloo, Barkelou, Borkuloo — and all are possibly derivations of Borcolu, a town in the Netherlands.
The original size of the cemetery is unclear, as is the number of bodies ultimately buried there. An inventory taken in 1916 by a historian found three stones remaining in the tall grass of the overgrown cemetery, but he claimed to have examined nine other original stones from “private sources.” Articles in the Brooklyn Eagle in the 1920s dramatically described people carting away stones over the years to use as doorstops.
The inventory found the earliest existing stone dated to 1788 and the most recent to 1841. In addition to Barkaloo, the stones recorded the names of Cortelyou, Bogert and Suydam — all old Brooklyn family names.
Amongst the surviving stones was one for Simon Courtelyou, and the Barkaloo family connection led to the belief that Harms Barkulo was buried there as well. Both men had links to the Battle of Brooklyn. Harms served in the New York militia; Simon’s role, whether rebel or loyalist, is a bit murkier. His home nearby (since demolished) housed American and, later, British troops during the battle.
Despite occasional calls for action, the historic cemetery languished until 1923 when the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) took charge — just in time, according to an article that year in the Brooklyn Eagle, with “the few remaining stones marking the graves of long dead residents crumbling into decay.”
A Boy Scout troop cleaned up the garbage and the DAR tackled research and planning new monuments stressing the Revolutionary War connection. A dedication ceremony was held in November, 1923 at the reclaimed cemetery. Boxwoods brought from George Washington’s Mount Vernon were symbolically planted, the monuments were unveiled by Barkaloo descendants, and bugles sounded ‘Taps.’
After further spiffing up in 1930s, the cemetery became the site of Memorial Day ceremonies and there were occasional calls for it to be officially declared a city park, but it stayed in private hands. The block is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, and the cemetery is adjacent to the parking lot for Xaverian High School.
The neatly maintained plot now appears to have more commemorative plaques and markers than it does gravestones. Since the cleanups of the early 20th century, a plaque has been placed every few decades — one by the Veteran of Foreign Wars of the U.S. in 1935, a sign placed on the fence in 1962 and a large granite marker in 1984 by the Bay Ridge Historical Society.
This story was previously published in Brownstoner.