Cemetery of the Week #53: Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood in Springtime, photographed by Aaron Brashear.

Green-Wood Cemetery
500 25th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11232

Telephone: 718-768-7300
Email: info@greenwoodcemetery.org
Founded: 1838
Size: 478 acres
Number of interments: more than 560,000
Open: The main entrance at Fifth Avenue and 25th street is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, with extended hours in the summer.

This weekend: Saturday, March 31 from 1 to 3 p.m.
Photographer John Thomas Grant will present a talk and lead a tour called Eternal Beauty: Green-Wood Through the Lens (with a special presentation on Victorian mourning). The talk is free, but there is a fee for the tour. Tickets are $15 for members of the Green-Wood Historic Fund, $20 for non-members, and are available here.

Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery followed the garden cemetery movement pioneered in the United States by Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. That is, these cemeteries didn’t belong to churches, but used the beauty of their grounds to attract clientele. After two years of landscaping, Green-Wood Cemetery hosted its first burial in 1840.

The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries claims, “Green-Wood’s beauty ultimately inspired the contest to design Central Park.” In the 19th century, sightseers took trains to Green-Wood merely to walk its paths. In 1860, the graveyard pulled in half a million visitors a year: a tourist attraction rivaling Niagara Falls.

Alongside Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue rises its huge Gothic Revival archway. Richard Upjohn, designer of Green-Wood’s entryway, did his part to welcome visitors to the cemetery. Pierced like lace, the breathtaking brownstone gate ascends in high arches.

Warren and Wetmore, the firm that designed Grand Central Station, designed the chapel. The chapel, built in 1911, stands on land that used to be Arbor Water, one of the famous ponds of Green-Wood.

The ground facing the former pond rose in terraces lined with mausoleums. The architecture spans Egyptian pyramids to columned Greek temples to the Romanesque receiving tomb.

Green-Wood reportedly has 20 miles of drives. Its 478 acres contain more than 560,000 souls. Until the 20th century, it was the largest landscaped cemetery in the world.

Two seated angels in magnificent relief flank the ornate cutwork door of the Stewart mausoleum. The angel on the right holds a slender trumpet as tall as his shoulder. In Green-Wood: New York’s Buried Treasure, Jeffrey I. Richman said the angels had been controversial in their day, since they didn’t depict death as gloomy. The relief had been designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor of the figure called Grief at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

In the 19th century, a large variety of souvenirs pictured the cemetery. These were originally collected on sightseeing tours or as souvenirs from imaginary vacations. Famous and Curious Cemeteries reports that there were over a thousand stereo-opticon cards of Green-Wood by 1862.

Stereoviews were stiff cardboard cards with a pair of duplicate photographs mounted on them. You slipped the cards into a stereopticon viewer, peered inside, and the image magically became three-dimensional. Millions of cards were produced, documenting every imaginable thing from scenes of daily life to pornography to natural disasters like the San Francisco earthquake and fire. The number of cemetery cards alone is staggering.

In my stereoviews, Charlotte Canda’s memorial is a gothic fantasy enclosed by a lacy iron fence. A small chapel with twin spires houses a statue of the virgin, one hand over her bosom. Six granite steps lead down to the lawn. A pair of worshipful angels kneels at the edges of the plot. It is the pinnacle of Victorian memorial art.

Charlotte Canda was the only child of a French émigré who’d fought in Napoleon’s army before opening a girls’ school in New York. The prodigy Charlotte designed the ornate memorial for an aunt. After a party to celebrate her seventeenth birthday, horses pulling her carriage bolted through a raging storm. Flung to the street, Charlotte died in her parents’ arms.

During the 1850s, Canda’s grave had the most visited monument in the country. Richman reports, “On any given Sunday, a crowd gathered around it.” A 1985 issue of American Cemetery magazine said that Canda’s monument was “still one of the most popular of the cemetery’s numerous attractions.” More than the graves of Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph), Elias Howe (inventor of the sewing machine), or Lola Montez (Gold Rush-era dancer of questionable talent who seduced Franz Liszt), I went to Green-Wood to see Canda’s monument.

In 2006, the U.S. Department of the Interior named Green-Wood Cemetery a National Historic Landmark. It is only the fourth cemetery in the nation to receive this designation.

Rich Moylan, President of the Green-Wood Cemetery, takes pride in the cemetery’s restoration program, which he says has “restored hundreds, if not thousands, of memorials over the past 10 years.” In 2009, they were raising funds to recreate an angel that disappeared over 60 years ago from pianist-composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s monument. Green-Wood has also worked with the New York Restoration Project to plant nearly 500 new trees. Throughout the cemetery, over 7,500 trees have been tagged and catalogued.

In the future, Green-Wood would like to open a Visitor Center away from the cemetery’s main office, so that tourists can be kept separate from mourners. Green-Wood provides 1500 burials and 2200 cremations per year, while welcoming 300,000 visitors. The Visitor Center will include museum space to display “original artworks by the nearly 300 artists of note resting here. The collection now exceeds 100 paintings by over 70 of those artists.”

Useful links:

Green-Wood Cemetery’s website

Historical Brooklyn

Yelp reviews of Green-Wood Cemetery

Google map of Green-Wood Cemetery

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Green-Wood Cemetery:

Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery: New York’s Buried Treasure 

Permanent New Yorkers: A Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of New York

The Graveyard Shift: A Family Historian’s Guide to New York City Cemeteries

The American Resting Place: 400 Years of History Through Our Cemeteries and Burial Grounds

The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History

Famous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries

The Cemetery Book: Graveyards, Catacombs and Other Travel Haunts Around the World

Victorian Cemetery Art