Woodland Cemetery

Woodland Cemetery  

June 22nd, 2011. As night gives way to the bluish-purple hue of early morning, a crumbling gatehouse steeple slowly becomes visible against the gradually lightening sky. What was once a proud structure, which in its prime warmly welcomed visitors through its iron gates and into the Woodland cemetery of West Newark, is now little more than a decrepit shadow of its past self. As much a product of its environment as it is a victim of the elements. In just the two weeks surrounding our visit to the cemetery there were five shootings. Four of these victims required hospitalization, and one passed away on the grounds prior to the arrival of paramedics.

This place was originally intended to allow those who passed to rest in peace, but it has now become a haven for violence, drugs, and prostitution. This goes without saying, but the times have certainly changed since this gatehouse and once-beautiful cemetery were first built in the late 1850's. An air of mystery and death now wraps about these grounds like a crimson fog. It is no wonder why either, as it has seen many unnatural horrors in the 150+ years that mark its existence. One notable story tale involves local firefighters, responding to an anonymous call regarding a house fire. They quickly arrived at the corner of Rose and Brenner, the intersection at which the gatehouse sits. There was no fire though, what greeted them instead was a far more grisly sight. At the foot of the gatehouse, face down upon the concrete, wrapped in cellophane and burned beyond recognition, was a human corpse. Dental records later provided that these sad remains belonged to 43-year-old Melvin Williams. He was reported missing two days earlier by his girlfriend.

Years prior, in 2001, a body was found at the Woodland Cemetery which many say initiated these recent dark times. In among the toppled headstones, dead animals, and litter was found the corpse of an African American man. The body had been partially burned before it was discovered, and to this day has yet to be identified. All of these crimes, with the exception of the body found in 2001, took place in front of, or under, the old cemetery gatehouse. This sinister history as come to turn what was little more than an old and neglected gatehouse into a looming harbinger of death. Its appearance has come to match its past, for it looks not of this world. -As if born of a nightmare.

There is much more history here than that of the old gatehouse, though it serves as a very suiting entrance way to the cemetery proper. The Woodland Cemetery is a mostly-overgrown property of 55 acres which entombs the bodies of over 80,000 dead. Many of those which lie here are war veterans, some 330 of them from the Civil War. They all now rest eternal among the weeds and garbage. In addition to dishonoring the dead through neglect, the cemetery operators themselves have personally desecrated approximately 11,000 graves by burying people of unrelated families atop existing graves. The spectrum of dead disgraced in this fashion includes those of babies, children, adults, and even some of the aforementioned Civil War veterans.

In 1999 a case was filed against the Woodland Cemetery Board of Trustees for the desecration of these graves. The state of New Jersey was also named as accountable since it had come to light that they were aware of these acts as far back as the 1970's. The lawsuit was eventually dropped due to the Woodland Cemetery Board of Trustees' money being held in a trust fund which could not be touched. The case against the state of New Jersey was dropped for “reasons unknown”.

So Woodland cemetery sits. Overgrown and unkempt. It's hallowed ground violated as it slowly becomes saturated with the blood of the community in which it resides.


Ominous skies.



Trash bags were common among the graves.