This week I crossed off the first item on my Fall Bucket List: I visited Green-Wood Cemetery. Was it creepy? At times. Would I do it again? Definitely.
First of all, why spend the day in Green-Wood Cemetery? Isn’t that disrespectful?
Actually, no. Spending the day in Green-Wood is a NYC tradition which dates back to 1838 when the cemetery was first established. This was a few decades before Central Park and Prospect Park were even conceived. And while Manhattan was urbanizing and losing its green spaces, this “rural” cemetery, with its thousands of trees and its sloping hills, was seen by New Yorkers as a sort of park. Even today it still maintains that woodsy feel with all the trees and tall grasses (and the geese!).
But didn’t all the graves make it feel creepy?
If I am to be completely honest, yes, at times it did creep me out that I was often the only living person in sight, surrounded by the over 560,000 souls that are interred at Green-Wood. But it was easy to forget this because at every turn I was struck by the beauty of the graves. Back in the mid-1800s, the New York Times said that Green-Wood Cemetery was the most fashionable place to be buried, and boy, is that true. The most frequent thing I said that day was “Wow! That’s crazy,” and not in the usual dismissive way. The architecture of the cemetery, from the gates to the graves, is crazy-stunning. Take a look for yourself:
Whoa! I’m impressed.
I know! And that’s not even the best part. Green-Wood Cemetery boasts the highest natural point in Brooklyn at Battle Hill. At this 216-foot peak (where the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn was fought), you have a clear view of lower Manhattan, and if you look carefully you can also see the Statue of Liberty, In fact, the cemetery has its own statue of the Roman goddess of Minerva perpetually waving to Lady Liberty from atop the hill. Note that this is also the perfect spot to rest awhile and take in the view, as there are benches nearby.
Sounds like a fun outing! Any final tips?
Yes! Be aware that Green-Wood Cemetery is HUGE! I was there for only a couple of hours, but to get a full experience I would devote a whole morning or afternoon to explore this place. Also, be sure to grab a map from Lou, the volunteer greeter at the main entrance. He’s such a sweetheart and he’s brimming with great stories about Green-Wood.
Would you be brave enough to spend a day in a cemetery? Share your thoughts in comments.
9 thoughts on “Spending the Day at Green-Wood Cemetery: A Surprising NYC Fall Must-Do”
Off topic, but an overlooked cemetery that’s worth a visit is the UPTOWN cemetery of Trinity Church, which spans 153rd to 155th Streets between Broadway and Riverside. Trinity established it in 1842, when it was running out of room at the graveyard located next to the church itself. (That’s the church at the foot of Wall Street that’s famous as the burial site of Alexander Hamilton.) Although it doesn’t compare in size and beauty to Green-Wood, it’s great If you’re interested in cemetery iconography, because you can see 175+ years of grave markers within a walkable space. Celebrities in residence include Ed Koch, Jerry Orbach, and Clement Clarke Moore, who’s best known as the writer of “The Night Before Christmas.”
Picnicking is expressly prohibited by Green-Wood Cemetery. When you visit, you’re their guest, so complying with their rules is the right thing to do. (It’s also an active burial ground that sees 20 people buried there each day.) So why are you recommending that people picnic there?
Thank you for your comment. I’ve updated the article accordingly. But as I said in the article, visiting Green-Wood for recreational purposes has a long history in NY. In fact, it used to be the top tourist attraction in the state. I recommend every check it out for the history, architecture, and the green space.