Deep in Brooklyn’s interior lies Green-Wood Cemetery, one of the largest and most prominent burial grounds in the United States.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Green-Wood was a premier final destination, housing the remains of New York City’s elite in fields as varied as business, art, industry, and politics.
Among the most notable eternal residents are corrupt politician William “Boss” Tweed, toy store founder F.A.O. Schwarz, piano manufacturer Henry Steinway, and business magnates Charles Pfizer and William Colgate. More recent arrivals include famed artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and composer Leonard Bernstein.
The 400-acre grounds, built in 1838, are a stunning example of the rural cemetery movement, with Green-Wood often looking more like a beautiful city park than a graveyard.
We took a tour of the grounds with Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman, who let us in on all the stories hidden behind the monuments and gravestones.
This is the entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery, which lies at the edge of Park Slope. The gates were designed in a Gothic Revival style.
The cemetery occupies 478 acres of rolling hills, dales, ponds, chapels, and crypts. The cemetery was part of the rural cemetery movement, which believed in creating park-like cemeteries, as opposed to small plots attached to churches.
It lies on the last of the terminal moraines (debris formed from Ice Age glaciers) that form the hills in Brooklyn and Queens.
One of the most prominent figures in the cemetery is New York governor and senator DeWitt Clinton. According to Richman, Clinton's body was moved to Green-Wood after the cemetery was established because the owners thought that having such a prominent and well-loved figure would draw people to the cemetery. It worked.
In the 1800s, the cemetery was one of the top tourist attractions in the U.S. In recent years, it has begun to run out of space for new grave sites. As money from new grave purchases dwindles, the cemetery has made a renewed push to attract tourists.
Green-Wood was the choice burial site for high-class New Yorkers in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A New York Times article from 1866 said, 'It is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the (Central) Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood.'
While all kinds of people are buried in Green-Wood, the richest, unsurprisingly have lavish monuments. This is the burial site of notorious New York political boss William 'Boss' Tweed, whose Tammany Hall political machine ran New York in the 1800s.
Green-Wood is home to four glacial ponds. Sylvan Waters, the largest pond, is surrounded by large crypts of Green-Wood's most rich and famous residents.
On the edge of the pond is the burial site of Emile Pfizer, the son of Charles Pfizer, who founded pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Charles Pfizer is buried in a separate plot at Green-Wood.
Some of the tombs are literally fit for kings. This one belongs to Albert Ross Parsons, a composer who also happened to be obsessed with Egypt. He wrote the book 'New Light from The Great Pyramid' in 1893. There is both Christian and Egyptian iconography on the tomb.
This crypt and vast plot holds Henry O. Havemeyer, owner of the Domino Sugar Company, which dominated the sugar refinery industry in its heyday. He was known as the 'Sugar King' of New York, and has a street named after him in Brooklyn.
Green-Wood's chapel is a sight to behold. Opened in 1911, it was designed by the same firm that designed Grand Central Terminal.
This is Green-Wood's Hillside Mausoleum. The building's interior includes a five-story waterfall, two pyramid skylights, and a reflecting pool.
Green-Wood has numerous war monuments. The Soldier's Monument is a tribute to New Yorkers who died during the Civil War. The 35-foot monument is surrounded by bas-relief plaques, inscription plaques, statues, and a granite enclosure. It lies on Battle Hill, a key point in the Battle of Brooklyn, the largest battle of the Revolutionary War.
Four life-size bronze soldiers guard the monument. These statues are reproductions: The originals were made of zinc and then painted to look like bronze. Over time, they split along the seams and had to be replaced.
The original zinc statues are now in the cemetery's offices. This statue is used as a prototype for infantrymen monuments across the country.
In the late 1800s, Green-Wood offered free burial to veterans of the Civil War. Beginning in 2002, Richman and Green-Wood embarked on a massive project to honour the 3,300 Civil War veterans interred at the cemetery. A major part of the project was identifying the deceased buried in this field, many of whom didn't have stones.
Richman identified the soldiers by comparing old maps of the field, the registry of everyone interred at Green-Wood, and lists of soldiers in regiments in New York and Brooklyn. Dr. Conrad Joachim and Charles Joachim, shown here, were a father and son in the same regiment.
On the 144th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn, the cemetery unveiled a bronze sculpture of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. It was paid for by Charles Higgins, who made his fortune with Higgins India Ink. Behind the statue is his tomb.
The statue lies on the highest natural point in Brooklyn, giving great views of lower Manhattan. Minerva faces her sister statue, the Statue of Liberty, who she is said to be saluting.
This is the grave of artist William Holbrook Beard, who is most famous for his satirical paintings of animals. His most famous painting was of bulls and bears battling in front of Wall Street.
And this is the grave of Charles Adolph Schieren and his wife. Schieren was the mayor of Brooklyn in the late 1800s. There were 26 mayors of Brooklyn before it officially became a part of New York City. 23 are buried in Green-Wood. The sculpture is of the Angel of Death.
Do-Hum-Me was the princess of the Sac Indians of Kansas. At age 18, Do-Hum-Me and her husband Cow-Hick-Kee started performing at P.T. Barnum's American Museum. She became sick and died shortly after, in 1843. Barnum paid for this monument.
This is the grave of James Creighton, an early national baseball hero in the mid-1800s. Creighton is credited with pioneering the idea of a pitcher challenging a batter with difficult pitches. Before him, pitchers simply lobbed balls to batters. The monument was restored with funds provided by ESPN's Keith Olbermann.
Wyckoff Van Derhoef, a former secretary of the Williamsburg City Fire Company, is one of the few victims of the Titanic buried in Green-Wood.
One of the most visited graves in the cemetery belongs to famed graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The artist, who was a protege of Andy Warhol and is considered a legendary painter in his own right, died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose.
The other most-sought after grave is that of famed composer Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein wrote the music for 'West Side Story,' and was the musical director for the New York Philharmonic for decades.
Not every grave marks someone famous. The Merello Volta monument was built for a privileged New Jersey girl, who was killed by one of her family's servants in the 1930s.
Henry George was a famous American economist in the 1800s. He advocates for a single flat tax on landowners, as opposed to income taxes. When he died of a stroke in 1897, more than 100,000 came to pay their respects.
Peter F. Dailey was a burlesque comedian popular during the 1890s. His inscription reads, 'He Laughed And The World Laughed With Him.'
This gravestone was sunk into the ground until Green-Wood's restoration crew pulled it out several years ago. TIt belongs to Cortland Hempstead, the chief engineer of the doomed steamboat Lexington. Considered one of the most luxurious boats at the time, the boat sank in 1840 due to a onboard fire.
The cemetery recently arranged to build a memorial for the victims of a 1960 mid-air collision between two airliners. 134 people were killed it total, and the remains of unidentified victims were brought to Green-Wood.
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