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Actors in the Churchyard

In honor of the Academy Awards, set to air this Sunday evening, February 26, here is a brief look at some of the actors that inhabit Trinity’s burial grounds:

In Trinity’s uptown cemetery, rests one of stage and screen’s most beloved actors, Jerry Orbach (1935-2004). Perhaps best known for his role on Law and Order and its various spin-offs, Orbach also appeared in the original Broadway production of Chicago, provided the voice for Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, co-starred in the movie Dirty Dancing, and won a Tony award for his role in Promises, Promises.

Further downtown, in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Chapel, lay the remains of George Frederick Cooke—though perhaps not all of him rests there.

Cooke, an English actor, was born in Westminster, England on April 17, 1756, and he died in New York, Sept. 26, 1812. In life, Cooke was a prolific actor— traveling and starring on the stage with steady success. Cooke acted in a number of roles, but his greatest was that of Shakespeare’s Richard III on the stage of the Covent Garden Theater. At the time, the Covent Garden was one of only two theaters permitted to perform spoken drama, and was it a very high honor to be chosen to perform there.

Despite his successes, Cooke battled alcoholism during much of his life and career and ultimately died of liver failure in 1812, but not before leaving an impression on the acting world and young actors that would follow him. In 1821, Edmund Kean, the leading actor of his day, had visited America while acting and learned that his hero, Cooke, had been buried at St. Paul’s Chapel with a headstone that did not quite match what Kean thought he deserved.

Kean set out to right this wrong and commissioned and erected the monument which still stands today at George Frederick Cooke’s burial location. Rumor has it that in erecting the new monument for Cooke, that Kean removed Cooke’s skull and used it as the prop for Yorrick in Kean’s production of Hamlet at the Park Theater in New York.