Film Documents Little Neck’s Native American Community
If you visit the small cemetery behind Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, you will see amongst the ancient tombstones an enormous boulder that sits, cut in half, beneath a huge pine tree. Across it is the inscription, “Here lie the last of the Matinecock.” This mass grave, which contains the remains of those unearthed from a private Indian cemetery along Northern Boulevard in the 1930s, serves as the only reminder of the area’s proud and rich Native American history.
No signpost or plaque marks the area’s significance as being the location of the Matinecock’s last stand. The “people of the hill country”, as they were called, are all gone now. But a new documentary about the Matinecock in Queens not only sheds light on the Native American burial ground, but also reveals a surprising fact. The Matinecock are still alive and well in Little Neck.
In his documentary, The Lost Spirits, filmmaker Eric MaryEa, came to Little Neck to the home of his grandfather James Baron, a Matinecock descendant. MaryEa, a St. John’s University graduate, is half Matinecock and half Italian.
He became interested in documenting Matinecock history when his grandfather told him that the spirits of his ancestors still haunt the businesses near the intersection of Northern Boulevard and Little Neck Parkway.
Baron lives in an old home located on Little Neck Parkway, behind what used to be the Scobee Diner. The home has been in his family for generations. The surrounding land, still owned by his family, makes it one of the longest continuously Native American owned pieces of real estate in the city. MaryEa’s great cousin and great aunt also share the land.
The Lost Spirits debuted at the Big Apple Film Festival and was screened 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 Boulevard Much of the land cleared for extra lanes was a Matinecock burial ground. Archaeologists moved the bodies to a mass grave down the street at Zion Episcopal Church. 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 launched an unsuccessful search for the items at museums.
“I got the runaround and in the end, every museum and archive that possesses these artifacts refused to return them, so that they could be buried with their owners,” he said.
MaryEa said that he hopes his film will create awareness that there continues to be a Native American presence in Little Neck.
“The great thing about a documentary is that it lets people know about a certain event and what happened and the steps to preventing this kind of thing from happening in the future,” said MaryEa. “There were other tribes throughout the country who contacted me saying that they never knew about this incident concerning the cemetery.”
To see a preview of The Lost Spirits, visit www.ilovedocs.com/the-lost-spirits/ or YouTube.com.