Their 'spirits are still here'
Filmmaker is haunted by Matinecock history
BY Leigh Remizowski
Tuesday, December 1st 2009, 10:10 AM
(Depiction by SW-click on image for larger view)
NYDailynews.com- THIS SAD tale of a Native American tribe has all the drama an aspiring filmmaker could hope for - the upheaval of an ancient burial ground, eerie hauntings and a battle over land rights.
And, most tragically of all, it's true.
After hearing tales of restless spirits of Matinecock Indians haunting Little Neck, Eric MaryEa decided to investigate the history of the tribe.
Tracking down the dwindling group wasn't hard - they are part of his family tree.
MaryEa, a 24-year-old St. John's University graduate, is half Matinecock and half Italian.
He became interested in documenting Matinecock history when his grandfather told him that their ancestors' spirits still haunt the businesses near the intersection of Northern Blvd. and Little Neck Parkway.
"Every native who still lives in the area believes spirits are still here," MaryEa said.
The ghosts have been sighted all over Little Neck, he said. Some employees at a bank are afraid to go into the basement because of banging on the vault. And dishes at a now-closed China shop used to fall off their shelves, MaryEa said.
James Barron, MaryEa's grandfather, said he often feels spirits walking through his home.
MaryEa's documentary, "The Lost Spirits," debuted at the Big Apple Film Festival this fall and was screened this month at the Queens International Film Festival. It chronicles the Matinecocks and their struggles after being pushed off their land in 1931, when the city began widening Northern Blvd.
The land is now home to restaurants, banks and convenience stores. But it used to be green and wooded, said Barron, 74.
"We used to come outside and target shoot right in my yard," he said. "Then, the city started taking it away, piece by piece by piece."
Much of the land cleared for Northern Blvd.'s extra lanes was a Matinecock burial ground. Archaeologists moved the bodies to a mass grave down the street at Zion Episcopal Church.
"They buried them, took their stuff and left them in a pit," MaryEa said.
Matinecocks customarily lay their dead to rest with possessions such as clothing, medicine or tools. Very few of the artifacts made it to the new grave.
"Because the bodies were moved to a mass grave and the grave goods were not reinterred, the spirits are now angry," MaryEa said.
While producing the documentary, MaryEa went on an unsuccessful search for the items at museums where archaeologists said the artifacts were sent.
"No one knows where they are," he said.
What is left is one gravestone - split by a tree growing through it. The inscription reads, "Here lie the last of the Matinecock."
MaryEa hopes his documentary shows the message on the gravestone isn't true.
"I'm standing here, so they weren't the last," he said.
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"The Matinecocks were a noble people who had lived in harmony with nature for over a thousand years on Long Island's north shore. They were willing to share the land with the settlers from Europe, but the settlers wanted it all. The simple ways of the Matinecock were no match for the power of the new settlers, and within a hundred years of the settlers' arrival the Matinecocks were gone."
More about the Matinecock people here>>