I spent this past weekend in Brooklyn, and on Saturday morning presented my research ‘Romanticism and Ruralism‘ for the Inaugural Meeting for the NY Chapter of the Association of Gravestone Studies. The meeting was held in the small but beautiful 20th century chapel on the premise, and just before the meeting started, I had a few minutes to wander around the cemetery and explore the beautiful landscape. With this post, I will share a brief overview of Green-Wood Cemetery as it relates to the Rural Cemetery Movement, and encourage anyone with a little time to spare in Brooklyn to check out this beautiful and historic location. Green-Wood just celebrated it’s 175th Anniversary – so this is the perfect time to re-examine it’s historical background! (You’ll have to forgive the shaky iPhone pictures, I made the silly decision to not bring my good camera with me on that particular day).
The first thing anyone notices when entering Green-Wood from the street is the breathtaking entrance way. This entrance was built in 1861 – clearly overtly Gothic in it’s design.
The Green-Wood website does a spectacular job of condensing the history of the cemetery into just a few paragraphs, so I have shared this portion of their biography below:
“Founded in 1838 as one of America’s first rural cemeteries, the Green-Wood Cemetery soon developed an international reputation for its magnificent beauty and became the fashionable place to be buried. By 1860, Green-Wood was attracting 500,000 visitors a year, rivaling Niagara Falls as the country’s greatest tourist attraction. Crowds flocked to Green-Wood to enjoy family outings, carriage rides and sculpture viewing in the finest of first generation American landscapes. Green-Wood’s popularity helped inspire the creation of public parks, including New York City’s Central and Prospect Parks.
Green-Wood is 478 spectacular acres of hills, valleys, glacial ponds and paths, throughout which exists one of the largest outdoor collections of 19th- and 20th-century statuary and mausoleums. Four seasons of beauty from century-and-a-half-old trees offer a peaceful oasis to visitors, as well as its 560,000 permanent residents, including Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Horace Greeley, Civil War generals, baseball legends, politicians, artists, entertainers and inventors.
A magnet for history buffs and bird watchers, Green-Wood is a Revolutionary War historic site (the Battle of Long Island was fought in 1776 across what is now its grounds), a designated site on the Civil War Discovery Trail and a registered member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System.
On September 27, 2006, Green-Wood was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, which recognized its national significance in art, architecture, landscaping and history.
After almost two centuries, Green-Wood is as beautiful as it was at its founding. But such historic beauty is fragile. Time and weather have taken their toll on marble sculpture, granite monuments, brownstone mausoleums, cast-iron signs and landscaped parkland.
Established in 1999, 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 park lands 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.” (source)
As stated above, Green-Wood houses some rather famous residents! Below is a list of just a few more that jumped out to me:
- Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), abolitionist
- James Gordon Bennett, Sr. (1795–1872), founder/publisher of the New York Herald
- DeWitt Clinton (1769–1828), unsuccessful U.S. presidential candidate 1812; U.S. Senator from New York; seventh and ninth Governor of New York
- Robert Selden Garnett (1819–1861), brigadier general of the Confederate States Army and the first general killed in the American Civil War
- Horace Greeley (1811–1872), unsuccessful U.S. presidential candidate 1872; founder of the New York Tribune
- Elias Howe (1819–1867), invented the sewing machine (see Walter Hunt).
- Laura Keene (1826–1873), actress who was on stage when Lincoln was shot.
- Samuel F.B. Morse (1791–1872), invented Morse code, language of the telegraph
- Henry Rutgers (1745-1830), Revolutionary War hero, philanthropist, namesake of Rutgers University
- William Magear “Boss” Tweed (1823–1878), notorious New York political boss, member of the U.S. House of Representatives and New York State Senate.
The Chapel in which the AGS meeting was held was also lovely – it is a demonstration of early 20th century (built in 1911), and restored in 2001. And of course – I can’t step out a cemetery without posing with a few gravestones first.
The setting of Green-Wood was perfectly attune with my discussion of the Rural Cemetery Movement. Actually, Green-Wood was established the same year as Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester – the first municipal Victorian cemetery in America. They share many notable characteristics – but Green-Wood definitely beats out Mt. Hope in terms of sheer magnitude!
Interested in finding a grave at Green-Wood Cemetery? Use this grave-finder website.
Check out Green-Wood from above to really get a sense of the windy-ness of the carriage paths:
Here’s a quick Vine that I made before the meeting that morning, gives you a little taste of the front portion of the cemetery. Unfortunately I didn’t explore much more than that area.
If you ever find yourself in Brooklyn, without anything else to do, definitely make sure to make a stop at Green-Wood Cemetery. You could easily lose an entire day, wandering the paths and examining the fascinating monuments. It will be on my list of stops for my next NYC visit.
– Green-Wood Website
– Green-Wood on Wiki
– AGS Program/Presentation
– – Romanticism and Ruralism as AGS Talk
– AGS website
– AGS Facebook page
– NY Chapter of AGS Facebook page