The Funeral of the Unidentified
Originally published in the Forverts, April 6, 1911.
A thousand tears spilled at the funeral of the seven unidentified bodies.
As long as no one was able to identify the charred-to-cinders departed, the city honored them. Graves were prepared for them at Evergreen Cemetery. And yesterday at 2 p.m., the same time when 120,000 of their sisters and brothers were marching through the streets with broken hearts and sobbing faces, honoring them their final dignity, these unidentified victims were brought out of the morgue to their final resting place.
Up until the last minute, they were held back in case one or another of them might be identified. People kept going to the morgue — men, women and children — to look at the dead, but no one recognized them.
Each one of the deceased was laid in a black coffin wrapped in shrouds. The cover of each coffin had a silver plate on it with the words: “Unidentified departed of the fire in the Asch Building, March 25th, 1911.”
Preparations for the funeral began at about 10 o’clock yesterday morning. The morgue was dominated by such grief that hearts almost burst. All those employed there were trembling in terror. Outside, driving rain was pouring down, and inside, streams of tears poured from those there who had filled the morgue. Similarly, distraught were Commissioner Drummond, who had arranged the funeral, a Catholic priest, another priest, an Episcopalian, and Rabbi Judah L. Magnus. At 2 o’clock, the dead were brought out. Each coffin was lifted onto a hearse and the funeral procession began moving. Several carriages and automobiles followed and the procession snaked through Greenpoint Ferry and then Evergreen Cemetery, where the graves had already been prepared.
Masses of people were already assembled around the open graves, silently mourning and weeping. As Commissioner Drummond gave a short eulogy in the name of the city, he wept like a child. Then the clergy recited short prayers. Dr. Magnus recited the Kaddish for the Jewish deceased. And the graves were filled in with what was left of the young blossoming seeds.