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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

The Secrets of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery

Brooklyn’s 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 were 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 (john michelle basqia), 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 Green-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.

The cemetery is also home to catacombs that I had the pleasure to tour after hours! The section is built into a hill, so it isn't truly "underground," but the effect is the same.

I've been to Green-Wood many, many times. I was looking through photos I have for this post and found the below as part of a series I took there on film in 2017. I have a handful more, but these felt interesting to share. The entire roll is filled with light leaks and strange spots, I am not claiming it's paranormal but this roll was atypical from the other 35mm photos I've taken with this camera...

Green-Wood remains one of my absolute favorite places in the world. For me, it has such a great and positive energy. I always feel happy when I visit, and have such a blast learning about it's history. I love that this cemetery has always functioned as a part as well, even in the Victorian Era folks would visit to picnic and spend time in nature. Walking around it's paths you quickly forget you're in New York City. It's a wonderful thing.

All photos taken by me! Abby Brenker.

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