Iron Coffin Mummy on PBS

Martha Peterson

Mr. Warnasch worked with the local community to tentatively identify the Queens woman as Martha Peterson and has uncovered several tantalizing clues regarding her life.

Martha Peterson

The body of an African American woman was discovered in 2011 in Elmhurst, Queens, as part of what was originally thought to be a potential crime scene. It was determined that the woman, who had been buried in a Fisk coffin, died of small pox. Based on historical records, she has been tentatively identified as Martha Peterson, who was born in 1824 and died around 1851. She was buried in the Dutch Lane churchyard, founded in 1828 by the first generation of fully emancipated African Americans in Queens. Records suggest that she may have been taught by escaped slave, minister, educator and abolitionist James W. C. Pennington.

More information to come.


Queens lady lesions
Martha Peterson’s Arm Lesions – Small Pox
Map of Newtown, Queens, circa 1873 showing the churchyard where Martha was buried and school house she likely attended
queens lady pointed toes
Hammertoes indicate she wore shoes that were either pointed or too small
Queens Lady Stockings | Photo credit: John Wozniak
Martha Peterson’s Stockings | Photo credit: John Wozniak
Scott Warnasche archeologist
Scene recovery 2011. Photo by Chris Rainwater
Photo by Linda Warnasch
Queens Lady Shroud | Photo credit: John Wozniak
Martha Peterson’s Shroud | Photo credit: John Wozniak
Queens Lady Chemise | Photo credit: John Wozniak
Martha Peterson’s Chemise | Photo credit: John Wozniak
Queens Lady Tortise Shell Hair Comb | Photo credit: John Wozniak
Martha Peterson’s Hair Comb | Photo credit: John Wozniak

In the News

Death, Burial and Egypt

image from Fisk developed his coffins at a unique period in early modern history when many traditions were being challenged, fading or replaced. By the early 1800s, American attitudes about death and burial had begun to move away from the puritanical views of the colonial period and the traditional concepts of the body, soul, […]

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New York Times: This Empty Lot Is Worth Millions. It’s Also an African-American Burial Ground.

Article by Kaya Laterman The flier advertising a near-one-acre plot of land for sale in Elmhurst, Queens, looks like a typical real estate listing. The oddly-shaped parcel that abuts the Long Island Rail Road tracks is available for $13.8 million. According to the flier, the lot is a great opportunity to capitalize on the growing demand for residential space […]

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Mysteries at the Museum Episode IRON MAIDEN Featuring Martha Peterson

On the Travel Channel: Don Wildman investigates a gangster’s sinister plot to cheat death, two enemy pilots brought together by honor, and a curious corpse found in a metal coffin. Learn more:

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