While it might be hard to imagine spending a pleasant afternoon at a cemetery, New York City’s famous Green-Wood Cemetery is actually one of the first landscaped, park-like cemeteries that’s not attached to a church. Founded in 1838 when the leaders of Brooklyn and New York realized they were burying more than 10,000 people a year, today it covers 478 rolling acres in South Brooklyn and is as much a tourist attraction as it is a place some New Yorkers still aspire to end up in. After all, an 1866 New York Times wrote, “It is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the [Central] Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood.”
When it was founded in 1838, the cemetery covered 175 acres. It was set on a landscape of glacial moraines that are responsible for its hilly topography, including Battle Hill (the highest point in Brooklyn), an important site of action during the Battle of Long Island during the Revolutionary War. David Bates Douglass was Green-Wood’s original landscape architect and much of his plan is still in place. The cemetery was expanded multiple times. The first addition was in 1847 for an additional 65 acres at the southwest corner, and in 1852 another 85 acres was annexed from Flatbush, which at the time was a separate village. The last 23 acres were added in 1858.
Green-Wood’s popularity grew when former New York governor DeWitt Clinton was disinterred from a cemetery in Albany and moved to Green-Wood, where a monument to him was erected in 1853. By the 1860s, it was New York State’s second most popular attraction for visitors, after Niagara Falls. The famous Gothic-style gates of the cemetery entrance were designated a New York City landmark in 1966, and the Weir Greenhouse was designated in 1982. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and received National Historic Landmark status in 2006.
What to See
As you stroll among the rolling hills, 7,000 trees, and 600,000 or so graves, there’s much to see. It’s hard to miss the impressive Gothic Revival entrance gates designed by Richard Upjohn (he also designed Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan). Just inside the gates is the chapel, built between 1911 and 1913 by Warren and Wetmore. Some tours of Green-Wood Cemetery will take you inside the catacombs, a group mausoleum with 30 vaults that is lit up inside by skylights.
There are plenty of impressive monuments in various styles you’ll see just by wandering around. Some particularly remarkable ones include the Soldiers’ Lot, which was created during the Civil War for free veterans burials. After the war ended, a 35-foot-tall Civil War Soldiers Monument was erected. A particularly ornate Victorian mausoleum belongs to Charlotte Canda, who was a young debutante who died in a horse carriage accident. William Niblo (who owned a Broadway theater in the 1800s) is laid to rest in a striking Gothic mausoleum, and the Steinway & Sons (of the piano company of the same name) family is interred inside a Classical mausoleum.
Other famous New Yorkers buried here include Louis Comfort Tiffany (yes, that Tiffany), composer Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Morse (inventor of Morse code), artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Charles Ebbets, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team.
Visiting Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood is located in Green-Wood Heights and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It stretches between 21st and 37th Streets from 5th to 9th Avenues. The main entrance is at Fifth Avenue and 25th Street, and there are three other entrances. Hours vary by season and by entrance so check the website. The nearest subway stop is the R train at the 25th Street station. Free parking is available if you decide to drive. Admission is free.
Jogging and recreational activities are not allowed and pets are not permitted (even though it feels just like a park!). Visitors can walk Green-Wood’s 478 acres using a free map, or book a guided tour or other event, which highlight some of the cemetery’s themes like New York culture, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, landscape design, and art and architecture. Private tours can also be booked.
What to Do Nearby
While Green-Wood is a bit removed from most of New York City’s major attractions, it’s still close to a few fun activities and good food and drink options. The massive Industry City is a few blocks away and is home to dozens of stores, restaurants, and factories that are open to the public. Just down the street is Melody Lanes, a classic old-school bowling alley. The Southern end of Prospect Park is also nearby, with the LeFrak Center at Lakeside Prospect Park a short walk away (it’s an ice rink in winter and a roller rink and splash pad in summer). Brooklyn Chinatown, which is full of Asian restaurants and markets, runs along 8th Avenue between 40th and 65th Streets, while many Mexican and Latin American eateries can be found on 4th and 5th Avenues. There are some solid bars nearby in case you need a drink; try Freddy’s Bar, Sea Witch, and Greenwood Park, which is a large indoor/outdoor beer hall complete with games, snacks, and a fireplace.