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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

The History of Green-Wood Cemetery

One of my favorite places in the entire world is Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The history of Green-Wood Cemetery is vast and incredibly interesting. Green-Wood cemetery spans 478 acres of land. It opened in 1838, as one of the first rural cemeteries in the United States. Rural cemeteries became popular during the nineteenth century in the United States and Europe. Because of overcrowding, rural cemeteries were built several miles outside of city centers, commutable for visitors but far enough away to protect from health concerns.

Green-Wood’s infamous gothic revival gates were designed by Richard Upjohn. And are home to lime green Argentinian Monk Parrots, in the 1950s these birds were devastating agriculture in Argentina, and thousands flown out of the country and exported to the United States.

The cemetery’s hilly geography lends itself to striking visuals, truly making you feel like you are miles away from NYC. Though you can catch glimpses of the World Trade Center, Statue of Liberty and stunning Manhattan skyline from various vantage points within the grounds.

The highest point in Brooklyn is actually within Green-Wood, approximately 216 feet above sea level, known as Battle Hill. Many believe Green-Wood’s design to have been inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.

The cemetery grew quickly in popularity. By the 1860s there were 7,000 annual burials, with lots selling for $100 each. It was so popular that the city instated a ferry service for visitors. Around this time it was attracting yearly visitors, only second in size to Niagara Falls.

The land contains over 575,000 internments. Including the burial sites of conductor Leoncard Bernstien, Brooklyn’s own famous graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, American politician Boss Tweed, and American Statistician Henry Chadwich - just to name a few.

Green-Wood’s Chapel was built between 1911 and 1913, it now houses artist exhibits.

The cemetery is attributed as being Brooklyn’s first public park; it was established about thirty years prior to the opening of nearby Prospect Park.

Green-Wood is still an active cemetery. It is both part of the National Register of Historic Places and was declared a National Historic Monument in 2006. Green-Wood cemetery is open to visitors 365 days a year and is an attraction for Bird Watchers, as well as locals who use the cemetery as a park.

Strikingly different in design than the surrounding Geen-Wood cemetery, is Green-Wood’s Tranquility Garden. Nestled right near the infamous cemetery’s main gates. The garden was designed to feature elements of nature, water, metal, stone and wood. There are three glass buildings, and a beautiful koi pond and reflecting pools in the center. This space offers outdoor altars for honoring those who have passed, and indoor shrines to loved ones. This garden sits next to the cemetery’s crematory, and houses the ashes of cremated patrons. The Tranquility Garden is still active and has space for above ground or below ground urns. Many locals visit the garden to find some peace and quiet.

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