Green-Wood Cemetery~The City of the Dead

Green-Wood Cemetery was first established in 1838 and it was the 3rd rural or Garden variety cemetery in the United States. A brief history of pre-Victorian cemeteries will show that your average Church yard burial ground was every bit as frightening as they appear in those old, scary Frankenstein movies.

Lumpy-bumpy tombstones from over-piled graves, creaking iron gates, and weather permitting, haunting mist all around. Then there were the rats and bug infestations. Noxious and sometimes deadly odors emanated from within due to exposed body parts and skeletons being forced to the surface. It was also unfortunate that these graveyards were often in residential areas, and outbreaks of cholera and other diseases from polluted water were common.

Garden cemeteries were a blessing for the public as the cities expanded and more land opened up. Bodies were interred there by the thousands and beautiful new headstones were erected.

*If you’re dark-humored and preferably not squeamish, then you will love the hilarious and fascinating E-Book, ‘The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Grave-Robbing’ by Adam Selzer and the Smart Aleck staff.

In it you’ll find everything you need to know about the illustrious occupation of 19th century grave-robbing–What does it take to be a ‘Resurrection man’ and sneak off into the dead of night to steal corpses for Medical research? This book has the pros and cons, the tools and tricks of the trade, and the history of cemeteries, coffins, and mummy un-wrapping parties. (And you thought your parties were wild!) And because they are smart-alecks, it comes complete with quizzes, assignments, and experiments that you hopefully DON’T try at home. For information on the talented Adam Selzer and his books, visit one of his websites.

Green-Wood cemetery is filled with lavish monuments and carvings. Down to this day it boasts luscious, flowering trees and bushes, freshly manicured lawns, benches, and even a gorgeous fountain area to rest your tired feet after taking one of the 2 Self-guided walking tours.

These forty-five page booklets are a wonderful collection for any Brooklyn enthusiast’s library. Even if you don’t make the tours you can still see many pictures of the graves and read brief biographies and histories of all the famous (and infamous) people buried in Green-Wood. Visit the website for complete information on everything Green-Wood has to offer to the public.

The Green-Wood Cemetery Walk #1 & 2

I had the opportunity to visit back in October–I highly recommended that you:

1. Wear loose clothing that you don’t mind getting dust or grass-stains on. Dress in layers. Even if it’s chilly, you will get very hot on your trek. Green–Wood is very hilly and you’ll find yourself climbing up and down, and getting up close to the tombs. I kept peering into the mausoleums even though I knew exactly what I was going to find each time–an empty, musty-smelling room with the actual tombs embedded into engraved stone walls. Seriously, what did I expect?

In some cases, you might need to lean on headstones to help you scale the hills. I couldn’t help it! Beware of going to the cemetery after a rainy day. There is a very real danger of slipping and falling and almost killing yourself if you hit your head on marble or granite.

2. Wear sturdy boots or sneakers and comfortable socks.

3. Keep a copy of the free map they offer at the Cemetery entrance and use it from time to time. If you are a newbie to the tour like I was, chances are you WILL get lost. Don’t go without those books. It helps to know the history and livens the tour.

4. Plan to spend a good 2 to 4 hours of your day inside the cemetery. Bring snacks or a light lunch and carry bottled water! That is a must, especially in warmer weather. Otherwise, you’ll end the day looking as though you belong buried there as you stumble around dehydrated and over-heated. (Just don’t litter the place!)

My sister and I were so lost that it was near closing time and the guard had to come around and take us back to where we started. This was an hour after he’d also taken us halfway across the cemetery to find our family’s plot, which has 4 generations buried there.

5. Make sure to use the restrooms before you start, especially if you are a water guzzler. Because once you begin the tour there are no bathrooms along the way. And guys, don’t even think about it–that’s somebody’s family member down there.

6. If in a group, keep the noise at a minimum, not because you’ll wake the dead, but because there are still funeral services going on all day-except Sundays. The website and booklets say up to 5, and it would be highly disrespectful to interrupt.

My sister had the better camera and she took some wonderful images that I’d like to share below.

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The Victorian Egyptian

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The Fountain

Gargoyles

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Fist bumping carved angel

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2 thoughts on “Green-Wood Cemetery~The City of the Dead

  1. I have developed a trolley tour for Green-Wood Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark in Brooklyn.

    The tour focuses on LGBT people, their friends and their detractors whose final resting place is Green-Wood. Emma Stebbins, sculptress of the Angel of the Waters that tops Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain; Violet Oakley, celebrated muralist of the Pennsylvania State House; composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein; Broadway lyricist (“Cabaret” & “Chicago”) Fred Ebb; Oscar- & Grammy winner (“Last Dance”) Paul Jabara and gay activist Dr. Richard Isay (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/02/business/media/storycorps-to-collect-gays-oral-history.html) are among those highlighted.

    Should you, or friends of yours, have time and interest, the tour sets off on Saturday, the 14th of June, 1 PM to 3 PM. Follow the attached link for further details.
    http://www.green-wood.com/event/gay-green-wood-trolley-tour

    Best regards,
    Phil at Walk About New York (www.walkaboutny.com), Entertaining Walking Tours

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