Winter’s Edge at Green-Wood

Winter’s Edge at Green-Wood

Green-Wood is New York City’s most iconic cemetery: founded in 1838, it was among the first of the cemeteries in Brooklyn to eschew the gloom and doom of the churchyard for bucolic natural landscapes, manicured lawns, and winding walkways. It soon earned an international reputation for the beauty and size of its grounds, becoming a highly sought-after burial place among New York City’s elite. Its soil houses the worldly remains of some of the most notable names in the city’s cultural and political history, including Boss Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Horace Greeley.

Green-Wood still performs over 1,000 burials each year, but new plots are increasingly scarce, with the vast majority of monuments dating back to the nineteenth century. The cemetery’s focus is now preserving and restoring the existing collection of monuments and statuary. In 2012, the cemetery took the long-neglected Weir-McGovern Greenhouse under its wing, with plans to transform the structure into a visitors center. Later that year, a much-maligned public sculpture ridiculed for its chauvinistic depiction of “civic virtue” found a safe haven near the main entrance. But even as its collection grows and its mission evolves, Green-Wood Cemetery remains a place of permanence in an ever-changing borough.

Money was no object for many of those lucky enough to be laid to rest at Green-Wood in the Gilded Age. The sinuous form on this mausoleum door was recently restored to its original luster.

Tributes to children gone too soon are commonplace.

Jensine Gomard died young at 24, only a year after her grandfather, Peter Lawson. They share a gravesite, and their monument depicts them dancing together.

Corrosive rainwater forms the impression of a tear-stained cheek on this larger-than-life Art Nouveau figure. Bronze monuments stand out for their brilliant green patina.

Acid rain erodes the details on many of the older statues.

A lovingly-preserved chapel constructed in 1911 offers visitors a place to rest, reflect, and pray. The building still hosts funerals, memorial services, and weddings.

Thomas Clark Durant was a master fundraiser for the Transcontinental Railroad, but he is better known for the way his company, Crédit Mobilier, secured funding for the railroad: through a scheme of fraud and government bribes.

Through a cumbersome granite door, Durant’s mausoleum boasts intricate statuary and sophisticated architectural details.

In the nineteenth century, entire family trees were often interred in a tomb that bore the name of a single man.

The catacombs appealed to the budget-conscious bereaved, offering the prestige of a burial at Green-Wood without the cost of a monument or private plot.

Short doorways give way to individual rooms, which were shared by large families.

Skylights illuminate the length of the catacombs in warmer months and mild winters. If a foot of snow covers the glass, the far end of the crypt falls into darkness.

Only by peering through the iron bars on the cemetery’s edge can the casual visitor get a sense of Green-Wood after dark.

At night, a terrific screeching can often be heard near the cemetery: Green-Wood’s roost of parrots.

The parrot colony settled here in the 1970s, after escaping from a shipping container at Kennedy Airport — or so the story goes. Their nest sits atop the highest spire of Green-Wood’s main gate.

Will Ellis is a freelance photographer based in Sunset Park. He runs the website AbandonedNYC.

Also in this issue

The Last Mayor of Fifth Avenue

Albert Cabbad and the Brooklyn he made. By John Surico

Heat Seekers

An interactive look at the New York households who had trouble staying warm this winter. Visualization by Nilkanth Patel