Brooklyn's Ornate Victorian Green-Wood Cemetery:A Hidden City Gem

One of Green-Wood's beautiful marble angels
One of Green-Wood's beautiful marble angels | Source

Hidden Brooklyn Attractions

© Roberta Kyle 2010, all rights reserved

New York City is full of tourists and visitors every day of the year. Most of them never get out of mid-town Manhattan and fewer still cross the Brooklyn Bridge to what was the old city of Brooklyn.( Actually, walking across the bridge is itself a fabulous touristic adventure, but that is another hub for another day)

For those who venture into Brooklyn, there are some fantastic experiences to be had. One of these is a visit to Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, where since 1838 the city's rich and famous as well as a few notorious souls, have been laid to rest.

Before the 19th century. burials took place in churchyards or small church-owned cemeteries, but the Victorians, with their love of both nature and funeral pomp, created large, park-like cemeteries in natural settings, with landscaping, paths, shrubs, trees, chapels and places to sit. In the mid to late 19th century, Green-Wood was a major tourist attraction for both New Yorkers and foreign visitors. Accessible by pubic transportation, families found it a great escape from the concrete canyons of Manhattan and foreign visitors ranked it right up there with Niagara Falls as a tourist attraction. By the mid 20th century, visiting Greenwood had lost its luster,as had much of the former City of Brooklyn, but as the millennium turned and renovations took place, interest revived ,and today, Greenwood is an urban oasis once again.

The Ornate Victorian Entrance Gate of Green-Wood Cemetery
The Ornate Victorian Entrance Gate of Green-Wood Cemetery | Source
Boss Tweed's tombstone in Green-Wood Cemetery
Boss Tweed's tombstone in Green-Wood Cemetery | Source

About Green-Wood

You might say Green-Wood is the Père-Lachaise of New York. Within its 478 groomed and manicured acres lie such varied luminaries as Boss Tweed, the Steinway brothers( of piano fame), Henry Ward Beecher,Louis Comfort Tiffany ( the window guy), and mobsters Albert Anastasia and Joey Gallo. Plus there are some very interesting folks you might not know but will enjoy, like Winston Churchill's maternal grandfather, Leonard Jerome.

To date more than half a million souls have been laid to rest in Green-Wood.Wikipedia has a long list of the notables and worthies who have been buried in Green-Wood from the Nineteenth Century to the present day, complete with links to their bios and accomplishments. Have a look.

Even more interesting than the people buried there, are the marble monuments and mausoleums and the acres of plantings and winding paths on which they sit. There are four lakes, numerous mausoulia both freestanding and nestled into hillsides. There are funerary chapels and even underground crypts and catacombs, but the atmosphere is not at all creepy-- rather marble columns and statues amid the greenery and bird songs make it a serene and pleasant park-like place. It is a kind of funerary sculpture garden that is as enchanting today as it was in Victorian times, when.walking among the graves of Greenwood and picnics on the grass there were a popular leisure time activity in good weather.

It is still delightful today, although we have become a lot more nervous about the notion of death than our ancestors were, so picnics are rarer, but these days there are concerts and guided tours and many special fundraisers and other activities to partake in..

You can find out more about them and about all upcoming events on the Greenwood Cemetery website.Check out the video included at the bottom of this article for a quick video tour. It will give you an idea of the beauty and historical significance of the place and give you a real sense of why this is a great place to visit on a hot New York summer day.

Tomb of NYC Mayor Ambrose Kingsland

Elaborate mausoleum built into the hillside at Green-Wood
Elaborate mausoleum built into the hillside at Green-Wood | Source

Green-Wood's Decline and Re-Birth

After its heyday in the Victorian age, Greenwood, like the rest of Brooklyn, suffered a decline in the mid-20th century. Its monuments suffered vandalism and graffiti and its elegant iron gates were locked. Only a few devotees remembered it was there. In 1999 the Greenwood Historic Fund came into being and began to raise funds and find volunteers to preserve and restore the historic cemetery and landmark. Here's the mission statement from their website.

The Green-Wood Historic Fund’s mission is to maintain Green-Wood Cemetery’s monuments and buildings of historical, cultural and architectural significance; advance public knowledge and appreciation of this significance; and preserve the natural habitat and parklands of one of New York City’s first green spaces. With funding from memberships and donations, The Historic Fund not only preserves the past to enrich our future, but keeps a vibrant presence in our current time by presenting open-to-the-public events which include themed walking and trolley tours, book talks and special seasonal events.

If you live in or near New York, a day trip to Green-wood makes a great outing. If you are visiting the city, and want to slow down a bit and get a sense of city and national history, this is a beautiful spot .... and if you live in Brooklyn and have never visited Green-Wood -- what are you waiting for? A real treat awaits you.

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Comments 24 comments

trish1048 profile image

trish1048 6 years ago

Hi Robie!

I've always loved cemetaries. I find them to be fascinating. As a child, I visited my family's cemetary often. My mom and grandparents took me there. I loved walking around to see the headstones with angels and cherubs on them. Some stones were so old and deteriorated, with no longer a name to be seen. Others were plain concrete blocks that stood askew, or broken in half. I always got sad when I came across babies and children who didn't live beyond one or two. Many were born and died on the same day.

The past three years, my daughter and I had to go to New York every summer. Once we got lost and had gone over the Brooklyn bridge. However, we were going not as tourists, but for visits to my granddaughter's surgeon in Manhattan.

Thanks for pointing out this place of interest. I'll put it on my to do list :)


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Trish-- I like old cemeteries too-- You won't be disappointed by Green-Wood. Take one of the tours. They are very interesting. Good to see you. Thanks for stopping by :-)


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Wow! Who knew? I'm in really not into cemetaries, but this was so interesting. I love the Gothic architecture of the Gates of Greenwood.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Now I know why Green-Wood sounded familiar. Of course! Jennie Jerome Churchill's father! With so many other famous people buried there, I'm surprised G-W isn't high on the list of day trips for tourists and New Yorkers alike. But then I'm a cem buff, so *I* would go there before going to Central Park. ;D


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Alek-- yes the Victorian gothic gates are marvelous, aren't they? and some of the monuments and mausoleums are equally impressive.

Jama-- You are the champion cemetary buff IMO-- you have a real gift for researching the people in the graves and making them live again.... so glad you like this one


Woody Marx profile image

Woody Marx 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I'm trying to imagine the scene if all those remarkable people were to be in one room at the same time...perhaps they are in the next-dimension. A fun read!


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Perhaps they are, Woody-- what a cool idea anyway-- thanks for sharing:-)


De Greek profile image

De Greek 6 years ago from UK

My long suffering wife is a gentle and patient soul, who puts up with a number of oddities from me, but when I just told her that next time we are in New York we are going to visit a cemetery, even she raised her eyebrows for a second. And then as usual, she smiled. You and Jama will make a customer of me before my time :-)))


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Heh heh Da Greek-- Green-Wood won't disappoint and there are some cool restaurants in neighboring Park Slope :-) Thanks for stopping by. Good to see you


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

I'd love to just see the gates.


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

The gates are fabulous Victorian Gothic Revival creations-- the whole place is like an amazing sculpture garden


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

I've never seen Green-Wood, but I imagine it shares similarities of history, if not of grand scale, with Philadelphia's Laurel Hill. Thanks for a great introduction to a funereal gem!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

You know, as a native New Yorker, living right here in Brooklyn and probably walking distance from the grounds - well, I have yet to get there. However, I am so very intrigued by the architecture of the gates. I'm amazed at much of the architecture here in Brooklyn.

What I can do is invite a friend and we can walk over. She has only lived in Brooklyn for 2 years and is so in love with site-seeing close to home - this will delight both us us.

Thanks so much for putting this together. It is certainly worth a day. I'm going to watch the video right now, bookmark it and of course rate it way up!


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi ST-- yes Greenwood and Laurel Hill are both part of the Victorian nature cemetery movement with trees, groves and statuary. I love cemeteries, I have to admit-- especially historic ones.

BKCreative-- I had lived in Brooklyn for years before I went to Greenwood but it really is worth a visit but you can't just wander in anytime-- Do go on one of the guided tours. They are quite wonderful and well worth it.


Wanderlust profile image

Wanderlust 6 years ago from New York City

You are absolutely right, it is a truly beautiful cemetery. Unfortunately a couple of my friends are buried there, so it makes my trips to the cemetery slightly sad. But the beauty and serenity of the place make the visits more pleasurable....


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

I love it when people say I am absolutely right-- thank you Wanderlust:-) It is a beautiful spot and I cannot think of a nicer place to spend eternity. Of course, as a former Brooklynite, I may be a bit prejudiced:-)


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

It's definitely a beautiful cemetery. I've taken many photos in there. When I was a kid, my father and I used to go there every Sunday to feed the ducks in a pond deep inside the cemetery.


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

You must have wonderful childhood memories of the place... thanks for sharing them here, Robwrite.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco

I've visited Manhattan, but have never been to Brooklyn. Your hub is so intriguing ~ I will know where to go when I do visit. Thanks for a great hub:)


robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Brooklyn is full of wonderful treasures and definitely worth a visit-- Green-Wood is only one of them:-)


TheBizWhiz 17 months ago

Great article! Is this cemetery near the tomb of Ulysses S. Grant?


robie2 profile image

robie2 17 months ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thank Biz Whiz. Glad you enjoyed it. No, Green Wood Cemetery is in Brooklyn. Grant's Tomb is in upper Manhattan. .... at 122nd Street and Riverside Drive. Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry on it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grant%27s_Tomb. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 15 months ago from East Coast, United States

I love those old Victorian cemeteries. The statuary is so beautiful, the mature trees are awesome. Though I've never visited the one you mention here, we occasionally visit an old one here in Baltimore. The feeling is so peaceful. I love all those angels. Beautiful hub!


robie2 profile image

robie2 15 months ago from Central New Jersey Author

Me too.... I love cemeteries, especially old ones and old graves too.... so tranquil and redolent of past eras. Isn't Edgar Allen Poe buried in Baltimore in a wonderful old cemetery there? I think somebody told me about it once, but can't quite retreive it . Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting and for stopping by to visit this hub.

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