Tag Archives: Green-Wood Cemetery

Here Lies America

Here Lies America: A Collection of Notable GravesHere Lies America: A Collection of Notable Graves by Nancy Eills

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every collection of the graves of famous people is idiosyncratic, reflecting the passions and curiosity of the photographers. Because this collection comes from the 1970s, it feels even more wacky than usual.

Oh, there are the usual suspects: Jack Kerouac, Henry David Thoreau, Harry Houdini, Babe Ruth. There are also names I’d never heard before: Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (author of Mary Had a Little Lamb — who knew?), Lydia Estes Pinkham (who posed for the first photograph used in advertising), Anna M. Jarvis (founder of Mother’s Day in the US), and James Fisk Jr. described as a financial buckaneer.

In between were the people who really interested me: Lizzie Borden, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Cole Porter, Milton Hersey. I feel as if I visited a whole lot of graves that I hadn’t known anything about before.

The text leans heavily on biography and doesn’t have nearly enough graveyard description for my tastes. The photos are pedestrian black-and-white. Still, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected and read every single page carefully. I’m glad to add it to my collection.

You can get your own copy for very cheap on Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Wish You Were Here got its first review

from The Graveyard Rabbits Online Journal:


By LisaMary Wichowski

Wish You Were Here
Loren Rhoads
Western Legends Press, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1484197271


We taphophiles don’t like to settle for armchair traveling, preferring to go adventuring on our own, but even we can use a good beach read (though from under the shade of an umbrella, as many of us do take pride in our common pallor). Loren Rhoads ‘ new book Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel is the perfect book to take along with you.  It is a series of over 30 short essays about memorial spaces she has encountered ranging from her own childhood neighborhood in Michigan to Japan and the Czech Republic. As those of us who find ourselves seeking out cemeteries wherever we go, or even designing entire itineraries around visiting the dead, will find ourselves immediately at home in her words.


Above all, Rhoads is honest, and she does not hesitate to address the problems she encounters along the way.  Her essays on Hollywood Forever,  Forest Lawn  and Green-Wood are each a case in point. The two Southern California cemeteries represent  two extremes of how to run a contemporary cemetery business. Forest Lawn, resting place of Walt Disney, Errol Flynn and W.C. Fields was the first cemetery to take care of all of one’s post life needs, a sort of post mortem supermarket, with an emphasis on pre-need. This effort to rethink cemeteries also included a directive to deny sadness,  “’The Builder’ (sic)… forbade depictions of grief and sorrow.” Most of the markers are bronze, flush to the ground to facilitate lawn care. The exceptions to that rule are limited to those who can afford one of the “approved” monument styles.  Chaste copies of Michelangelo’s David (complete with fig leaf), and Carrera marble mediations on patriotism and “motherhood” provide suitable topics for contemplation, as thinking about death here seems to be off limits. Rhoads points out that picnicking, loitering and plantings are all forbidden, ostensibly as part of the cemetery’s mission to “serve the living,” yet the result is curiously lifeless.   Forest Lawn may be best known for Evelyn Waugh’s thinly veiled portrait in The Loved One,  but  that’s satire.   Rhoads’ portrait is simple truth, and, as such, infinitely more sad.


In contrast, Hollywood Forever, final home of Cecil B. DeMille, Jayne Mansfield as well as Joey and Dee Dee Ramone, is quite full of life. Rhoads’ essay begins with a visit soon after the bankrupt Hollywood Memorial Park changed owners to a businessman with an eye to profitability.  In that light many, including the author, were worried about the possible Disneyification of the once grand grounds.  Rhoads expresses pleasant surprise at the professional care and restoration she saw 2001, although things were far from perfect.  Rudolph Valentino’s stained glass was still under repair and there were questions of historical accuracy and appropriateness in some of Hollywood Forever’s video tributes.  Nonetheless, they were well on the right track. Revisiting in 2013, Rhoads finds that the improvements continue that “a cemetery that’s used is a cemetery that’s loved and appreciated….Visitors keep a cemetery safer than guards,” something all too often forgotten.


Many of us have encountered cemeteries where the concern for safety and security has become coldness and paranoia. Though there is a reason for the control and management of visitors, it seems that some members of Green-Wood  staff have taken things a bit too far. A 2002 visit was marred by a prickly security guard’s insisting on “absolutely” no photography while a less than helpful receptionist’s explained that photographs may not be published, even though Rhoads would have been happy to pay for a photo pass. I understand and support some sites blanket ban on images, such as for reasons of faith and tradition as many First Nation burials. Green-Wood though hosts lectures and tours for the sake of publicity, the no photography seemed to be a whim of the management.  Not long after this essay was posted, Rhoads received a letter from the President of Green-Wood making some corrections.  Concerned about her negative experience, he corrected internal misconceptions about the photography policy, which is to have photographers consult with and credit Green-Wood before publication.  Rhoads’ journalistic integrity in reporting these issues fairly is impressive.


It is Rhoads’ objectivity that  makes Wish You Were Here truly exceptional.  Although she loves cemeteries and wants to share her enthusiasm for them with a broad public, she refuses a role of mere “booster,” instead calling for improvements, so that cemeterying remains enlightening and enjoyable.  Rhoads knows that a bad experience at one place could color someone’s opinion of all cemeteries.  In light of dwindling support avoiding this is to everyone’s benefit.


Rhoads is particularly adept at finding deeper meanings in what she sees, and the questions she puts to about the places she visits can gently guide us in our own search for meaning in the places we encounter. If you’ve struggled to explain your love of burial grounds to others, this may be a great way to help them understand the appeal is.  Rhoads’ writing is both engaging and comforting.  She doesn’t neglect the dead, but instead celebrates lives lived: their strength, determination, love, honor, each in its own place and time.


Most of the essays date from 1991-2002 (with a few revisits) I would have liked to see more revisits and photos that would reveal changes in the sites, and in the author’s perceptions. I look forward to a Volume II, preferably with color photographs the better to share my travels with her.

The review was originally published here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

The view across the lake in Woodlawn

The view across the lake in Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit

I’ve been away from this blog for too long.  I took November off to do Nanowrimo, which was successful for me this year, although blasting through a 50,000-word novel in 30 days didn’t leave me much brain power for anything else.  My brain was too full of space ships and time travel to think coherently about cemeteries and the past.  It’s time to get back up on the horse, as they say.

The photo prompt for this week is Reflections.  Of course, I have a morbid spin to put on that subject…

Hollywood Forever is quintessentially Southern California.

Hollywood Forever is quintessentially Southern California.

I love the man-made bodies of water in the old garden cemeteries, even as I recognize that they’re difficult to maintain.  This pond in Detroit, pictured above, was an alarming shade of green.  Lakes draw wildlife from snapping turtles to Canadian geese that might not welcome visitors.  Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn filled in one of their lakes fairly early in their history so they could build a chapel atop it.

In a cemetery in Northern California this summer, I saw warnings posted that the maintenance crew would dump out any flower arrangements with standing water in order to prevent mosquitos from breeding and spreading West Nile Virus.  I’m not sure how Hollywood Forever keeps their ponds so lovely and free of dangerous critters.

Mary Baker Eddy001One of my favorite cemetery vistas is looking across the pond in Mount Auburn at Mary Baker Eddy’s monument.  There’s something so peaceful about the lovely Grecian Revival temple reflecting in the unruffled water.  For me, there’s a sense of the afterworld in the vista, tranquil and welcoming beyond the turmoil of this world.

New York Cemetery Explorations with Atlas Obscura

The entrance to the New York Marble Cemetery

Sunday, October 14
Catacombs and Other Curiosities: A Walk in Green-Wood Cemetery
Autumn Cemetery Exploration Series – Join Atlas Obscura resident cemetery expert Allison Meier for an exploration of some of Green-Wood Cemetery’s more offbeat corners, such as the rarely opened catacombs and monuments both beautiful and strange in a wander through the Brooklyn cemetery’s 478 acres.

Saturday, October 20
A Beautiful Death in the Bronx: Walk the Art and Stories of Woodlawn Cemetery
Autumn Cemetery Exploration Series – Cemetery expert Allison Meier leads a journey to historic Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx to discover its lavish mausoleums and ornate memorials, as well as some of the captivating stories of the more than 300,000 people who now call its 400 acres their eternal home.

Sunday, October 28
New York Marble Cemetery & East Village Burial Sites
Autumn Cemetery Exploration Series – Join Allison Meier for an afternoon of East Village burial ground exploration starting at the unusally off-limits New York Marble Cemetery.

Saturday, November 11
Preserving History: A Visit to Bayside Cemetery in Queens
Autumn Cemetery Exploration Series – Join Allison Meier for an exploration of the mid-19th century Bayside Cemetery in Ozone Park, one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in New York City.

Tickets & more information

A Good Guide to the Cemeteries of New York

Permanent New Yorkers: A Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of New YorkPermanent New Yorkers: A Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of New York by Judi Culbertson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the second of Culbertson and Randall’s “Permanent” series, exploring the permanent residents of Paris, California, Italy, and London. This one feels like it covers a vast amount of territory, from offering multiple tours of Green-Wood and Woodlawn to capsule suggestions of quick trips to the Hartsdale Canine Cemetery, Belmont Racetrack, and the Quaker Cemetery of Brooklyn.

Some of the choices are strange. There’s a scant paragraph about the New York Marble Cemetery, which holds the remnants of 40 cemeteries that were destroyed to make room for the City’s growth. It makes me wonder if the authors found the cemetery closed when they visited, as I did in June. Strawberry Fields in Central Park rates more description, even though the authors admit that John Lennon’s ashes aren’t buried there. The Hart’s Island Potter’s Field is included for the sake of completeness, I suppose, even though I’d be surprised if most tourists could or would want to try to visit it.

Which may be the split between the authors’ intention for this book and the way I want to use it. It’s not a guidebook, in that it doesn’t include cemetery addresses, opening hours, or suggestions for how to visit the cemeteries listed inside. It doesn’t include enough photographs of the graves or graveyards and spends page after page on biographies of people like Judy Garland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Malcolm X. Maybe it’s meant to be an armchair travel book.

My quest for the perfect New York City cemetery guide continues — but this was an excellent reference to read in the hotel room between cemetery explorations.

You can find used copies at Amazon here: Permanent New Yorkers: A Biographical Guide to the Cemeteries of New York.

Click on the Book Review category in the blog’s right column to see all my cemetery book reviews.

Cemeteries of New York on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #11: General Grant National Monument

Cemetery of the Week #17: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #33: The Old Dutch Burying Ground

Cemetery of the Week #41: Trinity Churchyard

Cemetery of the Week #53: Green-Wood Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #65: the African Burial Ground

Cemetery of the Week #75: St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard