When Council Member Holden asked me in 2022 if I had any suggestions for street co-namings, the first potential honorees to come to mind were heroic veterans and NYPD officers who died in the line of duty. Captain Thomas Abbey was our first co-naming honoree – an Army Air Force training pilot from Middle Village who died in WWII. Last year, we nominated three NYPD officers: Ptl. Joseph Jockel who died in Maspeth and Lt. Charles Kemmer and Ptl. Henry Meyer of the 104th Precinct who were both killed in 1927. All three ceremonies took place last fall. This effort ended up taking me down a long and winding path both interesting and sad.

The Brothers Meyer
While researching Henry Meyer’s backstory, I discovered that he had a brother named Philip who was also a cop, assigned to the 83rd Precinct. The brothers were called “Big Hen” and “Big Phil” by their colleagues, and they teamed up to effectively gang bust during their patrols along the Ridgewood-Bushwick border. Sadly, two years after Henry was killed in the line of duty, Philip died from heatstroke during a scorching June heatwave while patrolling Knickerbocker Avenue. I found the demise of the two brothers so close together to be extremely sad. Newspaper articles from the time mentioned that Philip lived with his wife and daughter on 61st Street in Glendale and that he was buried at All Faiths Cemetery, where his brother is also buried. But his name is not listed on the headstone alongside Henry’s. I asked at the cemetery office for the location of Philip’s grave.

The (cemetery) plot thickens
“He’s buried in the same row as Henry, but closer to the road,” I was informed. Now, I had visited Henry’s grave several times and never noticed another Meyer headstone on the way. I trekked out to the row and checked the numbers on the headstones against the one I was given. I found headstones numbered one before and one after Philip’s. At the location where Philip was supposed to be there was a black marble slab with no name on it and a bunch of faded religious and floral decorations. I said to myself, “It’s impossible that this fallen officer doesn’t have a headstone.” But I was wrong.

At the co-naming ceremony for Henry Meyer, I chatted with attendees about Philip’s unmarked grave. Deputy Chief Ray Porteus, Executive Officer of Patrol Borough Queens North, took interest in the story and said he would try to find out more information about Philip. As I waited to hear back from him, I decided to find out how many other officers are buried locally without grave markers.

Investigation sparked
I used the Officer Down Memorial Page (odmp.org) for a listing of the fallen officers and cross-referenced it with FindAGrave.com to identify their burial locations. FindAGrave usually lists the cemetery, but not necessarily the grave location inside the cemetery. Some local cemeteries have online databases that provide locations, others don’t. FindAGrave, which relies on data collected by volunteer members, allows for uploading of grave photos. If I could find them in FindAGrave and they had a photo uploaded, the research was easy. If not, it meant someone had to go to the cemeteries and locate the graves. Enter Anthony Pisciotta.

Rediscovered and restored
Anthony has been volunteering on his own at local cemeteries for years, repairing and cleaning headstones and ensuring that heroes lost are not forgotten. He has cleaned headstones in preparation of graveside ceremonies we’ve had dating back to 2021. I compiled a list of graves of fallen officers at All Faiths. He asked at the office for the locations, then went out to find them. The first one he looked for was Ptl. Henry Behnstedt. He located where the grave was supposed to be but didn’t see a headstone with his name on it. He did see a stone that had been overturned. He up righted it, and found it belonged to someone else. But underneath that stone and buried in six inches of dirt was a marker with the name Behnstedt. Anthony took the stone home, cleaned it, and returned it. He posted his account on a police Facebook page, which resulted in an NYPD graveside ceremony being performed on the 95th Anniversary of his passing last November.

The search continues
Anthony continued searching. Out of ten known burials of fallen officers at All Faiths, it turns out that four are without headstones. When he told me that, I started to wonder just how widespread this was. All Faiths only has ten officer burials, but other cemeteries have dozens. It would probably take us a year alone to search Calvary Cemetery, the largest cemetery in the United States, which had by far the most NYPD line-of-duty burials prior to WWII. We decided to save that one for later. We discovered that Mount Olivet has seven burials with one missing headstone. Cemetery of the Evergreens has
five fallen officers and three without headstones. Mount Lebanon has two burials, one has no headstone. St. John has forty-nine burials and six are unmarked.

Define “Line of Duty”
Chief Porteus called me back and told me that even though Philip Meyer was in uniform and on patrol at the time of his death, dying from a natural cause was not considered a line of duty death back in 1929. Today, it would be. I thought that was pretty messed up and the possibility crossed my mind that this could be a contributing factor to the lack of a grave marker. However, there are six other people in the grave with Philip. Why none of the others had a headstone placed, I don’t know. But Chief Porteus suggested contacting the NYC Police Foundation to see if they could assist with purchase of a headstone for Philip as well as the others who don’t have one. So that is what we plan to do in 2024. I’ll update you on our progress.

2024 local street co-namings
Ptl. Philip Meyer will be one of seven members of the NYPD to be honored with street co-namings this year in our area. Lt. Henry Schmiemann lived in Middle Village. P.O. Robert Walsh lived in Maspeth. Ptl. Joseph Rauchet of the Highway Division died on the Kosciuszko Bridge. The final three served in the 104th Precinct and after their ceremonies conclude every member of the 104th Precinct who died in the line of duty will have had a street sign dedicated in their memory: They are Ptl. John Madden, Ptl. Joseph Norden and Ptl. Charles Reynolds.