One of Brooklyn’s most spectacular, naturally beautiful, and historically important spots and a big attraction for thousands of visitors annually is Green-wood Cemetery. (We won’t say it: people are dying to go there. Oops, we said it.) More famous people sleep at Green-wood than ever slept, lived, and/or died at the Hotel Chelsea; Green-wood is also forty-five years older than that Manhattan landmark.
As the mid-nineteenth century came into view, New York and Brooklyn were growing and becoming more urban. Green spaces were shrinking, and church yard cemeteries had graves reaching to the edges of their lots. The disposal of the departed began to become problematic. A new cemetery, Green-wood, was proposed by Brooklyn socialite Henry Pierrepont and laid out (no pun intended) after the then-current English style of cemetery having an informal park-like setting.
Soon after Green-wood opened in 1838, it became a destination spot for Brooklynites and for many Manhattanites, later becoming a final destination for some of those visitors. Green-wood now holds the rich and famous from days long gone and days just gone by. A short list of celebs buried there includes:
Leonard Bernstein, Composer, West Side Story, many others
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Artist
Henry Ward Beecher, Abolitionist
Kate Claxton, Actress
Horace Greeley, Newspaperman, Politician
Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives, Engravers
Frederick Ebb, Lyricist
Frank Morgan, Actor, who portrayed the Wizard of Oz
Samuel B. Morse, inventor of Morse code
Stanley Bosworth, Founder, St, Ann’s School, Brooklyn Heights
George Catlin, Painter
Henry Chadwick, Baseball Hall of Famer and inventor of the box score
DeWitt Clinton, Governor of and Senator from New York
Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union
Charles Ebbets, Owner, Brooklyn Dodgers
Mary Ellis Peltz, Theatre Critic
Eli Siegel, Philosopher
Emma Stebbins, Sculptor of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park
Henry and William Steinway, father/son, Piano Makers
Albert Anastasia, noted mobster
William “Boss” Tweed, Politician
and many other artists, athletes, industrialists, murderers and the murdered, military men and women, politicians, socialites, and more.
The grounds are the site of some of the fiercest fighting that took place during the Battle of Brooklyn, the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. The highest point in Brooklyn, Battle Hill, is in the cemetery, and is graced with a monument to the battle in the form of a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, and one to the New Yorkers who died in the Civil War. Elsewhere on the grounds is a monument remembering twelve-year-old Clarence McKenzie, the first soldier from Brooklyn killed in the Civil War. Ironically, it was not in battle, but in camp that the youngster, in his tent, was hit by a stray bullet from other Union soldiers drilling nearby. His monument, entitled “Our Drummer Boy,” stands on what’s known as the Hill of Graves, surrounded by other soldiers who were killed or fought in the Civil War.
There are hundreds of mausoleums, obelisks, statues, and thousands and thousands of standard gravestones and markers of well-known and ordinary citizens across the cemetery’s 478 acres. Near the main entrance on Fifth Avenue is the monument to those lost in the Brooklyn Theatre Fire, atop a mound under which lie more than one hundred bodies of men, women, and children buried in a mass grave, the unidentifiable remains of victims of that historic, horrific conflagration. Far from being an historical relic, however, the cemetery is alive and vibrant, and continues to accept new residents. There’s room for many more.
Green-wood also continues its long history as a recreational destination, offering a slate of annual, monthly, and one-off events in every season. Many have to do with discussions and/or examinations of death. November includes a Day of the Dead Family Program; Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre; Border Crossings: This and Other Worlds (about death, not politics).
There are Twilight Tours, birding tours (including a search for the famous Green-wood parrots), Trolley Tours (perfect for the less mobile of us), and others with eclectic subjects, focusing on topics such as mushrooms, stained glass, and seances. One long-time annual event is the ISO Symphonic Band and Orchestra concert every Memorial Day. In addition, there are Revolutionary War reenactments, Green-wood at Night tours, and so many more all year round.
Green-wood Cemetery is a true treasure, and any Brooklynite who hasn’t been there should make a resolution to go in 2019. No matter what time of year, its beauty and its interest can’t be beat. Get to Green-wood Cemetery, while you can still walk out when you’re done.