To find a landmark that encompasses historical education as well as a touch of spooky mystery, one need look no further than Center Church-on-the-Green, where a 300-year-old graveyard lies beneath the busy streets of New Haven. Upon its founding in 1813, the main structure of the Center Church was constructed on a portion of land containing the burial grounds of New Haven’s townspeople. In order to protect the graves that dwell there, the foundations of the church were built in the form of a crypt capable of sheltering the graveyard. Since its establishment, the Center Church has preserved this colonial cemetery for over 190 years, marking it as a unique historical site throughout New England. Today, the preservation and restoration of the crypt is maintained by the New Haven Crypt Association Inc., which works continuously to protect the site from elemental damage and to slow the deterioration of the graves.
Contained within the crypt are 137 standing and identifiable headstones, some of which date as far back as 1687, marking the final resting places of New Haven’s first citizens. Some of the identified remains housed in the crypt include Theophilus Eaton, one of New Haven’s founding fathers, and Margaret Arnold, the first wife of the infamous Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold. While many of the headstones are dulled by centuries of aging, some of them remain inexplicably clear and sharp, as though they were carved just yesterday. In addition to the headstones, the crypt also contains the unidentified remains of over 1,000 of the earliest settlers of the New Haven Colony. Outside the walls of the crypt, another 5,000 to 10,000 anonymous graves are buried in the land under the area of the Upper Green, shielded from the view of New Haven’s contemporary residents.
This vast underground memorial provides an insightful-and somewhat eerie-window into days long past. If you are looking for a Halloween haunt that delves deeper than the typical strobe-lights-and-scary-costume set, don’t hesitate to visit the Crypt at the Center Church-on-the-Green. Visiting hours are Thursdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. throughout October. For more information, visit www.newhavencenterchurch.org/crypt.html