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

Updated on October 8, 2015
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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