Green-Wood Cemetery is well-known by New Yorkers as a final resting place for some of our most esteemed residents: Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Surprisingly, there is much more to experience at Green-Wood than just visiting the graves of history’s dearly departed. Here are 7 magnificent finds in Green-Wood Cemetery:
7. Concerts for the Dead
Photograph by David Allee
Climb down, carefully, into the catacombs of Green-Wood and you may be treated to stunning concerts by world renowned artists in this sacred space. On one of the last evenings of summer, the catacombs were filled with piano music performed by Christina and Michelle Naughton, twin sisters who are also a powerfully talented dynamic duo on the stage. Their music is so intricate that they are known to be the only people in the world who can play music that is so complicated that it previously could only be played by a machine! Unison Media, run by Andrew Ousley, orchestrated a series of classical concerts called The Angel’s Share in Green-Wood’s catacombs, which played to completely sold out audiences. The shows were complemented by a whiskey tasting, stunning sunsets over the grassy hills, and a communal walk through the cemetery. A rousing success, you can be assured that there will be a future encore of this series. Unison Media resumed its classical concert series known as The Crypt Sessions at the Church of the Intercession in Hamilton Heights on October 18th.
6. A Historic Halloween
Photograph by Robyn Van Swank
There is no other holiday that brings to mind a cemetery more than the high holiday of Halloween. This year, Green-Wood is will host a variety of tours and events throughout the fall months. On October 20th, the cemetery hosted what can only be described as part movie, part concert, and part immersive theater. At Nightfall, visitors were guided by the light of thousands of flickering candles as they wandered along the cemetery’s paths to see musicians, images, performance artists, and storytellers. The creative team behind this one-of-a-kind event includes Unison Media, Rooftop Films, Morbid Anatomy, and Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. You can see all of the cemetery’s upcoming events, including historic trolley tours and a full-moon walk, on their website.
5. Where Secrets are Cremated
Creative Time Presents Sophie Calle’s “Here Lies the Secrets of the Green-Wood Cemetery,” Photograph by Christa Avampato
A 25-year public storytelling project in the making is being staged right now at Green-Wood. Here Lie Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery was developed by Sophie Calle. In 2017, Calle designed a marble obelisk with a slit in it where anyone can deposit their secrets written on a piece of paper. Over the next 24 years, Calle will return to Green-Wood when the “grave” is full of secrets and she will burn them in an open ceremony. For more photos, follow the hashtag #HereLieSecrets.
4. History’s Volunteers
Green-Wood Cemetery is nearly 200 years old. During its humble beginnings as what was a rural cemetery at the time, the cemetery’s staff collected and kept all kinds of records and artifacts about its earliest occupants. The surprising aspect of the archive is that volunteers who are passionate about history have played and continue to play an enormous role in combing through and maintaining the archives, including a program that helps people do genealogical research. After all, it’s an old adage here in New York that 1:7 Americans can trace their roots back to Brooklyn so there are countless connections to history that are just waiting to be made in the cemetery’s archive.
3. The Revolutionary War Battle that Should Have Been in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton
The deadliest fighting during the famed 1776 Battle of Brooklyn, the largest Revolutionary War battle, took place not in Yorktown or Monmouth, but on the 220-foot-tall bluff now within the bounds of Green-Wood that is the highest point in Brooklyn. It’s known as Battle Hill. To be honest, the Battle of Brooklyn has never really gotten its due among Revolutionary War historians, not even by New York’s native son Lin-Manuel Miranda. But one man sought to correct that, which leads us to our next Green-Wood secret…
2. A Straight Shot to Lady Liberty from a Roman Goddess
Charles Higgins was one of New York City’s most successful business people. His company, Higgins India Ink, is still available today even through Mr. Higgins made his final journey to Green-Wood nearly a century ago. His blueprints for his tomb, and Battle Hill, which he also purchased, had been collecting dust in the cemetery’s archives until they were unearthed by an archival volunteer. Because of Mr. Higgins’s successful career, the original design of a statue of Minerva that would grace the front of the tomb on Battle Hill was set to face the Woolworth Building. At the time, the Woolworth Building was a symbol of America’s commercial success. However, Mr. Higgins, at some point had a change of heart. Rather than have her face the capitalism that often defines New York City and America, he decided that it would be better for Minerva to face the Statue of Liberty and have her hand raised in a symbol of salute and solidarity.
1. A Burial Innovation
Can a cemetery house innovative design? At Green-Wood it can! When it was founded 1838, there was a general societal fear of being buried alive. To combat this, Green-Wood established what is believed to be the first site in the United States to have above ground burial. Stranger still, there were a number of patents flying around our city and all of the country at the time for innovative coffin design. For example, some had ladders and a primitive easy button. If you found yourself buried in one and still very much alive, you could hit the button that would trigger a ladder to pop out, and you could climb your way back to the land of the living!
In addition to these secrets, Green-Wood is simply an exceedingly beautiful place for a weekend stroll. With the arrival of Fall, take in its beautiful landscape with a hefty dose of New York City history around every turn.
Next, check out 12 of NYC’s Largest Cemeteries by Number of Interments