The venerated poet, T.S. Eliot, famously began his most noted work, “The Wasteland,” by writing, “April is the cruelest month.”
But April has been anything but cruel for the Belmont Chapel Capital Campaign, which, like the flowers bursting from the ground on the green arches of Island Cemetery, is rising anew. The fundraising campaign, nearly seven years in the making, has a new website and a Facebook page.
And a new roof.
Work on the chapel has continued throughout the winter, although at a slower pace. Phase I, the restoration of the roof and exterior masonry, is nearly completed, at a cost of $610,000.
“This is thanks to several generous donors who have pledged funding for restoration of six of the stained-glass windows,” restoration board member Pamela Kelley, president, told Newport This Week.
Phase II has already begun and will include re-plastering the interior walls, ornamental woodwork in the chancel, repairing missing sections of floor tile, repairing window and door frames, installing tempered storm glass for windows, repairing stained glass windows, analyzing decorative paint and plaster, HVAC, and alarm and emergency lighting.
The finish work of repainting the interior walls, restoration of the wooden pews, and installation of decorative lighting will be done in Phase III. The board said it is awaiting quotes for most of the work, but anticipates the total restoration will come in as budgeted.
“We have applied for grants from several foundations, and final decisions and award amounts will be announced sometime in May and June,” the board wrote to NTW.
This comes seven years after the project was announced in the summer of 2015, when the chapel was covered with a briar thick enough to conceal it, with holes in the walls and roof.
Island Cemetery has been a resting place for America’s elite for two centuries. It contains the remains of those who made headlines along Fifth Avenue and Bellevue Avenue like the Tiffanys and Perrys since Queen Victoria was a child. An active cemetery, the large resting enclave maintains an austere, serene atmosphere surrounded by the city’s Common Burial Ground and the North Burial Ground. Founded in 1836, it contains graves from the 1700s.
In 1848, the grounds became part of the newly-formed Island Cemetery Company. It numbers some 12,000 graves, with ongoing interments as space allows, with an adjunct cemetery nearby for current overflow.
The most notable resting place is a succession of brilliantly artistic gravestones, monuments and mausoleums carved for the famous by sculptors of international renown.
August Belmont was the founder of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown series of American thoroughbred horse racing. The Belmont Capital Campaign has come up with an unusual way to honor him. To celebrate the Belmont Stakes on June 11, it is kicking off an annual Belmont Stakes Fundraiser at the Belmont Circle, near the chapel. The event will include streaming of the race and refreshments.
“Let’s go the races,” said Kelley. “It’s time to have some fun, introduce new people to the chapel, and raise money.
“It has been rewarding. Everyone involved, without exception, from the electrician, to the mason, to the stained-glass restorer, has been so pleased to be involved in the restoration.”
Since when it is acceptable to party in a cemetery? First it’s a dog park and now the chapel is an entertainment venue?