The “Big Burial Man” of 139-141 Ludlow Street

Posted on: June 13th, 2012 at 12:06 pm by

Herewith, another historical treat from resident historian Allison B. Siegel. It’s an in-depth look at one of our favorite buildings on the Lower East Side.

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If you’re walking past 139-141 Ludlow and you can see spirits like a ghost whisperer can, you better squeeze those eyes shut tight…it might be a print shop now which I’ll get into later, but most notably, this Lower East Side beauty was the Nieberg and Sons Funeral Home.

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Undated From GOOGLE EARTH

(People, graffiti? Really? Did we learn nothing from my last piece?  Nothing you spray on a structure as grand as this will enhance its beauty so once again, take it elsewhere.)

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FLICKR: Marek_K Nov. 2007

By the end of the 19th century, according to various sources including the New York Sun and an insurance map of NYC from 1868, two lots that had once held a residence next to a livery stable next to a slaughterhouse were up for grabs. And like the rest of the LES back then, I am sure the smell was divine!

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NY SUN 1857

From the estate of Elias Jacobs, Peter F. Meyer Auction House sold 141 to A. Kahn in 1899. The five story brick building went for $15,900.

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Insurance Maps of The City of New York Surveyed and Published by Perris & Browne 55 Liberty St. Volume Two. 1868

More research revealed that the building there now was completed in 1902 and until the late teens/early 1920s it was residential building with a dry goods storefront. Here are a few choice articles about the residents of 139-141 throughout the decades:

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NY EVENING POST 1884

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New York NY Evening Call 1915

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NY Evening Call 1922

Then along came Harry Nieberg and his funeral home. Throughout the whole of New York City, this man was known for his personality, his generosity and for his courage…

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NEW YORK EVENING POST 1937

He ran against the Sullivan clan in an attempt to rid Tammany Hall of corruption and while Nieberg was defeated, he became the stuff of legends.

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NY Evening Post 1937

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NYTIMES 1928 

Nieberg never discriminated. Check out this next article about the funeral of notorious gangster, Morris Grossman:

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New York Times, 1925

In 1940, the Nieberg family and their funeral parlor left the Lower East Side for Brooklyn where they still exist and operate under the name Nieberg Midwood Chapel. The building was later sold in 1978.

On May 22, 2012, I felt like taking a chance. So I called the number listed for said chapel and Stanley, Harry’s grandson answered the phone. He runs the home with his brother, Peter.

A lovely man, Stanley Nieberg, was a breath of fresh air and here’s my summation of what the sixth-generation funeral parlor director had to say:

My family is Jewish from Romania. My grandfather married into two generations of Rosenthals who ran a funeral home on Elizabeth Street before the Civil War. It was a storefront like all other funeral homes in New York at the time.

Sometime before I was born my grandfather moved Nieberg and Sons to 141 Ludlow. We had the funeral parlor and chapel on the ground floor while the floors above were where we kept the hearses. There was and still should be the car lift. If you are facing the building, the lift was on the left and the chapel was on the right. The basement level had offices and the morgue. We stayed there until 1978 when my family sold the building to a print shop. I’ve never heard of Kleen-Stik, but it could be the same people.

According to Department of Buildings records, several alterations took place from 1922 to 1958 including the construction of the elevators and the placement of an electric sign as seen in the photo below.

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The hearses were stored on the 2nd-5th floors, and the elevator brought them down to street level during funerals. A website called coachbuilt.com has this to say about the Nieberg operation:

Harry Nieberg & Sons Inc. was a large New York City funeral home operator originally located in Greenwich Village (at 141 Ludlow St.) that had flower car conversions built for their own use on Chevrolet El Caminos from the late 1950s into the ’60s.Now called Nieberg-Midwood, they’re still in business and are run by Harry’s son, Stanley J. Nieberg and have branches located in Brooklyn, NY., West Palm Beach, Florida, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

So they got the Greenwich Village part wrong, but let’s not hold it against them.

Welp! There you have it. Thanks for reading.

What’s that?

You want more?

Well, I suppose I could indulge you with some more findings.

How about some Certificates of Occupancy!? Those are always fun!

Research first revealed a shop called Welsh Gold Stampers, Inc. The Certificate of Occupancy from 1993 confirms printing.

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And here is the C of O from 1930, for comparison’s sake and ’cause it’s cool.

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Throughout the neighborhood today, the building is called the Kleen-Stik building and Kleen-Stik’s website shows 139-141 Ludlow as their world headquarters. I was unable to reach the current tenants, but I do have some fantastic pictures taken by yours truly a couple weeks back!

Ignoring my finger nail that jumped in the way as well as my reflection in a couple of the pics, please see for yourselves what was once a Lower East Side gathering place for the mourners and celebrators of death and life.

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Morgue window through street grate

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Wooden window sash

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Security Camera

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Window padlock

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Elevator latch

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Elevator latch and lock

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Hearse entry/exit

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Hearse elevator

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Wooden sash and iron hinge of window

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Blacked out front door, excuse my green finger nail

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Beneath the elevator shaft

Another haunting Lower East Side beauty. Even though I have no stories of my own for this particular building perhaps some of you have had experiences or stories about 139-141 Ludlow? Maybe you live next door or across the street?  Did you attend a funeral there?

If so, please feel free to share. Those stories would make a wonderful Part 2 to this tremendous structure and its history.  And just remember, no matter what, the Lower East Side is my ancestral home and its secrets I plan to reveal…you know the rest.

Bless up.

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