A Bronx man has spent the last decade doing good deeds for people who can never repay him — voluntarily maintaining a neglected Queens cemetery that has fallen into disrepair, so all of those buried there can truly rest in peace. NY1's Angi Gonzalez filed the following report:
Thirty thousand people are buried at the Bayside Cemetery in Ozone Park, Queens. Anthony Pisciotta is familiar with many of their life stories.
"There’s a gentleman who was killed on the Titanic. There’s a gentleman and two women who were killed on the General Slocum. There’s an ancestor of the current owners of the New York Times."
During the week, Pisciotta maintains bridges for the Port Authority. But on Sundays, he is often spends hours at the cemetery. He's been volunteering at the down-on-its heels burial ground for about a decade. It's an unusual labor of love. For starters, this is a Jewish cemetery; Pisciotta is Catholic.
"I used to drive a delivery truck down Pitkin Avenue to East New York from Ozone Park,” he says. “I used to pass by it and in1991-92 It was really bad. It caught my eye enough that I started to kind of investigate it a little bit."
In the intervening years, he became a kind of unofficial caretaker. And there is no shortage of things to do: like clearing brush, righting toppled headstones, securing and cleaning vandalized mausoleums, and marking veterans' graves with flags. Sometimes, his daughter Amanda, 15, joins him.
“I know that a lot of the people who are buried here, their families are not aware that this place is in this condition and its sad to me that so many people are buried here and their graves are in such disrepair,” he says.
There was a time when other volunteers used to come to the cemetery to help with clean up but Pisciotta says it’s just far too dangerous to do that now.
Congregation Shaare Zedek, a struggling synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, owns the cemetery, but has long been unable to care for it.
When NY1 visited several times this winter, we found people like Leslie Hart, whose grandparents are buried at the cemetery, angry the gates were locked, with no way in.
The congregation recently agreed to sell its building on W. 93rd St. for $34 million, partly to raise money for the cemetery. Shaare Zedek's president, Michael Firestone, tells NY1 that $8 million will be set aside for repairs and maintenance once the deal closes.
"We have been working with our advisers to formulate a master plan for the Cemetery that includes ... necessary repairs to monuments, installation of new fencing and a security system, and landscaping of the property," he said in a prepared statement.
He added that it was "unacceptable" mourners could not regularly visit. He pledged the synagogue would devise an access plan soon.
Some relatives of those buried here are skeptical. "I don’t believe anything that they say, really, I don’t," Hart says.
Pisciotta says he'll continue to volunteering his time here until a long-term resolution is in place.
“It’s something that everybody should have a peaceful burial, a peaceful place to be buried, a respectful place to be buried," he says.