Green-Wood Cemetery is, at its core, a place of burial and mourning. But, it is much more than that. Since its founding in 1838, Green-Wood has functioned at many levels: quasi public park, sculpture garden, arboretum, bird habitat, and more.
Historically, there has been a tension at Green-Wood over these layers of usage. In the 19th century, Green-Wood had its own police force. Officers, assigned sectors, were charged with keeping mourners and those who were there to enjoy the grounds–even picnic–harmoniously coexisting.
While Green-Wood is ever-mindful that it is a cemetery, it is also open to other respectful uses of its extraordinary landmarked grounds and facilities. One such event occurred just a few weeks ago, on the evening after Halloween: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
The event was produced by Winkel & Balktick. As Winkel described the evening, “Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of life. If there is anything that people bring home from it, it’s ‘love your loved ones. Be there for them. And enjoy your life while you have it because life is short.’”
On the first Saturday evening in November, 200 people gathered near the cemetery, awaiting directions as to where they would be going. Soon a Mariachi band arrived and led them down the streets and through Green-Wood’s gates. A candlelight procession into Green-Wood, followed by performances on the grounds and dancing in the Historic Chapel, made it a very special night.
Here are a few images from videographer Priest Fontaine’s pieces on the evening:
The Mariachi band, leading visitors to Green-Wood.
Death at Green-Wood’s gates, greeting visitors.
A candlelit face.
Entering the Chapel.
Third Rail Projects performers in the Chapel.
Videographer Priest Fontaine captured the spirit of the evening. Here is his stunning video of the energy and beauty of Dia De Los Muertos at Green-Wood. And here’s his interview of the producers. Enjoy!
Sometimes showing up is a big part of the battle. But, even if you do show up, you have to make every effort to head in the right direction.
I recently heard from Albin Lohr-Jones, who had come across a nice little marble sculpture at Green-Wood. When Albin found it, it looked to his eye like something was very wrong. Here’s what he saw, and photographed:
Before. The view from in front of the monument–though clearly from behind the figure.
Photograph by Albin Lohr-Jones.
Well, something does look amiss here–beyond the missing head. The inscription is on the front of the granite base of the monument. And, one would reasonably expect that the sculpture mounted on that base would have the same orientation as the base; that it would not be greeting visitors butt first.
So I contacted Frank Morelli, the head of Green-Wood’s Restoration Team. Frank quickly sprung into action and got things properly oriented.
After–with all heading in the right direction.
Once again, as intended, base and sculpture are oriented in the same direction.
This past Saturday, about 55 people gathered at Green-Wood’s Historic Chapel for the launch of the New York Chapter of the Association for Gravestones Studies.
The Association for Gravestone Studies is described on its website as follows:
The Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) was founded in 1977 for the purpose of furthering the study and preservation of gravestones. AGS is an international organization with an interest in gravemarkers of all periods and styles. Through its publications, conferences, workshops and exhibits, AGS promotes the study of gravestones from historical and artistic perspectives, expands public awareness of the significance of historic gravemarkers, and encourages individuals and groups to record and preserve gravestones.
In recent years, 11 AGS chapters have been created across America. So, why not one in New York City?
It was a busy all-day meeting. Mark Noenstied, AGS president, delivered the opening remarks. Eva Bowerman, chair of the New York Chapter, talked about the new chapter’s goals. A series of talks were given: Paige Doerner, Rochester’s public historian, spoke about rural cemeteries. Ta Mara Conde, the head conservator of Historic Gravestone Services in New Salem, Massachusetts, gave an overview of “Rocks and Stones.” It was then time to take a break for a group photograph:
Charter members of the NYC Chapter of AGS: historians, conservators, archivists, and cemetery fans. Photograph courtesy of Glenn McGuire.
Elizabeth Broman, reference librarian at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (whose founders are interred at Green-Wood), spoke on “Egyptian Revival Funerary Art and Architecture in New York City.”
Elizabeth Broman speaking about New York City’s Egyptian Revival Funerary Art & Architecture.
Jenny Swadosh, AGS archives committee chair and trustee, spoke about the extensive AGS archives at the University of Massachusetts. Green-Wood’s own director of marketing and development, Lisa Alpert, talked about the cemetery’s 175th anniversary and what we have done to celebrate it in 2013: banners on the front gates and the Historic Chapel, the exhibition “A Beautiful Way to Go” at the Museum of the City of New York, and a daily calendar on our website of Green-Wood related anniversaries. Linsly Boyer, assistant art conservator with the Art Conservation Group in New York City, discussed “Contemporary Conservation Techniques for Slate Gravestones.” Susan Mathisen, president of SAM Fundraising Solutions, addressed “Finding Funding for Gravestone Preservation.”
It then was time for lunch–free pizza for all–followed by a trolley tour of Green-Wood, led by Historian Jeff Richman. Featured were stops on Battle Hill–to see the spectacular views of New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline, to visit Leonard Bernstein’s grave, and to go inside the Durant Mausoleum, where sculpture by John Moffitt abounds. The subsequent drive across the cemetery included the Civil War Soldiers’ Lot and a visit to the Catacombs.
It was a busy day–and a fascinating one. If you would like more information about joining the New York Chapter of AGS, you will find its Facebook page here.
Hurricane Sandy hit Green-Wood a year ago today.
300 trees were lost. And those trees took a toll as they crashed to the ground, landing on, and shattering, monuments and fences.
But Green-Wood, as always, has bounced back–thanks to its extraordinary workers. In just the last few weeks, two important restoration projects–one of a marble angel, the other of a metal fence–have been completed by skilled Green-Wood staff.
Near the Beard Bear, a large branch, snapped by Sandy’s roaring winds, fell off of a Norway Maple, taking off the head and arm of the Lloyd Angel.
The Lloyd Angel, right after it was hit and shattered by a tree branch broken off by the winds of Hurricane Sandy.
A closeup of the damage: head gone, left arm missing.
Fortunately, we were able to find the broken-off pieces of the Lloyd Angel on the ground, beneath the maple branches. Green-Wood’s Restoration Team, led by Frank Morelli, took over from there, and just recently completed the repairs. The angel is once again angelic!
Gus Padilla of the Restoration Team, working on the Lloyd Angel.
The angel, resurrected.
And, in the Hampton Family Lot, near the intersection of Linden and Atlantic Avenues, a century-old fence, one of the few metal fences that survives on Green-Wood’s grounds, was hit by a very large Norway Maple tree uprooted by the storm’s winds. Here’s what the fence looked like after the storm:
The Norway Maple, uprooted and on top of the fence. This tree had a Red-Tail Hawk nest near its top; that nest was occupied for many years, but the nest shifted several years ago and, as a result, had been abandoned by the time the tree went over. The fence is visible at left; much of it was destroyed by the tree.
The fence, crushed. Note the post at left; the rails that it had supported lie on the ground beneath the tree.
More of the fence, knocked down by the tree.
Discussions were held about this fence. Should it be saved? I, as Green-Wood’s historian, felt that it was important that we preserve it–Green-Wood has very few fences that have survived on its grounds. And this fence had an unusual look to it, with its heavy rails; we had nothing else like it out there. And, fortunately, others agreed. Could it be saved? Would it be best to consolidate it–take the pieces that were left and move them around so that it would be shorter, but still there? Or might there be some other way?
Ultimately, Dominick Lanzi and Vincent “Alex” Joseph, Green-Wood’s wonderful metal workers, came to the rescue. Two of the fence finials and many of the rails had been destroyed. Posts had been badly damaged when the rails were knocked loose. But there is no store or supplier where these parts are stocked. So, as reported by Superintendent of the Grounds Art Presson, Dom and Alex used their skill and creativity to fashion new finials “by assembling a steel ball and a plate with a through rod and spacers. The coned shape and the ridge and tapering detail in the lower part were framed with mesh that they tack welded to the steel. Next they applied and shaped epoxy. When dry they were able to sand down the excess to complete the form pictured.”
One of the replacement finials, before painting. Photograph by Art Presson.
Green-Wood’s metal workers, Dominick Lanzi and Vincent Joseph, working on the fence. Note the new rail next to Dominick’s leg.
Alex and Dom lowering a section of repaired fence into place, onto new supports.
Dom and Alex also were able to create replacements for the rails that were destroyed by the falling tree:
The unpainted replacement rails.
The repaired fence, restored, reset, and repainted.
Great work by both of these in-house restoration teams–work that few, if any, historic cemeteries have the skilled staff capable of doing. We are all very proud of them!
Green-Wood recently hosted its third annual “Open Houses” event. It is a great opportunity for volunteers to dress up in costume (from the Theater Development Fund) and get into character, greeting visitors to “their” mausoleums. And it is a wonderful chance for visitors to see Green-Wood as they have never seen it before–an inside look at some of Green-Wood’s most spectacular architectural features.
The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, “The Great Divine,” played by Ben Feldman, out saving souls.
Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey (Alice Walsh and Marty Collins) greeting visitors to their abode.
Mr. Schermerhorn (Colin McDonald), looking pretty good after all these years.
There were big crowds on Saturday and Sunday–all for a good cause–supporting The Green-Wood Historic Fund.
Louis Comfort Tiffany (Luke Spencer) seeing the light of day for the first time in quite a while.
A dramatic pose by Marge Raymond at the grave of the producer of America’s first musical, William Wheatley. She sang “You Naughty, Naughty Men,” the hit from that 1866 production.
Mrs. and Dr. Mott (Stephanie and Mark Carey) await visitors at the threshold of their mausoleum.
Marie Depalma and Tracy Garrison-Feinberg sang 19th-century songs.
Dr. Thomas Durant (Tom Russell), the man who drove the Golden Spike to complete the Transcontinental Railroad, with key in hand, at his door.
Ruth Edebohls had a busy weekend in her mourning dress–Saturday the Widow Howe, Sunday the Widow Roosevelt.
Thanks to our great volunteers and to all of you who bought tickets to this event. You made it a great weekend!
We recently held a coming out party in our Historic Chapel to introduce the public to developments in our events, collections, and archives. The evening was co-sponsored by the Archives Round Table of Metropolitan New York.
The proceedings began with a wine and cheese reception outside the Chapel, on a lovely fall evening.
Then it was into the Chapel, which was packed. We set up a one day exhibition, displaying a few of the thousands of items we have added to our Historic Fund Collections as well as intriguing items from Green-Wood’s archives.
Chelsea Dowell, manager of Green-Wood’s programs and membership, spoke about the packed calendar of events at Green-Wood. She also talked about the historic Weir Greenhouse, which Green-Wood is in the process of converting to a visitors center.
Anthony Cucchiara, professor emeritus at Brooklyn College who now teaches at Pratt, offered a slide presentation on the remarkable strides Green-Wood has made, under his supervision, and with the help of thousands of hours of work by volunteers and interns, in rehousing and cataloging its archives.
Tony Cucchiara speaking about Green-Wood’s archives, which contain millions of unique items telling the story of its more than half a million permanent residents. Note the blueprints of the Historic Chapel, dating circa 1910, at right. Photographs of the Chapel as it was being built were also on display.
Green-Wood’s historian, Jeff Richman, did a show and tell of items in Green-Wood’s collections, talking about both the items on display and other items he had brought from storage to share with the crowd.
This display case held three Lorillard Tobacco tins, a radio designed by Walter Dorwin Teague (one of the leading designers of the 20th century), a Henry Ward Beecher glass bottle, and a Matthews Soda Fountain stoneware syrup jug. Lorillard, Teague, Beecher and Mathews are all Green-Wood permanent residents.
This exhibition, up for just one day, featured a 3D viewer of images from the Civil War and several display cases, including the one at left, holding a Civil War uniform jacket, missing its sleeve (cut off by Union surgeons to expose the wounded arm of the soldier).
This wall (one of 8 pre-fab walls that can be brought into the Chapel for exhibitions) displayed a poster of Jean Michel Basquiat (who is interred at Green-Wood) in a boxing pose with his mentor, Andy Warhol, and a poster advertising the Beatles first concert in America, promoted by Sid Bernstein, who died recently and is interred at Green-Wood, as well as cartes de visite photographs of Civil War veterans who lie at Green-Wood.
And Mark Daly, manager of research services with our Green-aelogy program, which offers a genealogical research service, explained the scope of that program, that it had had responded to requests coming in from throughout the world in the few months it has been in operation, and the various services offered.
Great thanks to Robert Denbo for taking these photographs and allowing us to use them.
It had never been done before. In the 34th America’s Cup challenge series, for yachting supremacy, a competition that has been going on periodically for more than a century and a half, no yacht had ever come back after trailing 8-1 in races, to run off 8 consecutive triumphs and to win the cup 9-8. It was an historic comeback, one now being described as perhaps the greatest one in sports history.
Just a few days ago, things looked very bleak for the American team on Oracle. The challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand, was just one win away from taking The America’s Cup. But the American team rallied like few, if any, teams have ever done. Here’s The New York Times account of Oracle‘s unexpected triumph.
Oracle triumphant. Reuters photograph by Stephen Lam.
How did it happen? Perhaps there is really only one explanation: The Ghost of George Steers!
Who, you ask? George Steers. He designed the yacht America, for whom the America’s Cup is named. Steers, who of course is interred at Green-Wood Cemetery, was born in 1820. There was never any question what he was going to be–his father was a shipbuilder and George would be one too. George built his first ship while he was still a teenager. Still a young man, from his boatyard on the East River, he launched the ocean steamer Adriatic for the famed Collins Line, the schooner Gimcrack (upon which the New York Yacht Club was founded) and the steam frigate Niagara (which laid the first tranatlantic cable). But Steers’s specialty was yachts. In 1851, he built the yacht America and sailed off to challenge for the Queen’s Cup off England.
The yacht America, for which The America’s Cup, symbolic of yachting supremacy, is named.
There, in the race, after early difficulties, America trounced the competition, winning not by mere feet or yards or meters, but by seven and one-half miles. When Queen Victoria, watching the race, asked who was second, the reply, given the margin of victory, came, “Madam, there is no second.” She greeted the American crew, congratulated them on their triumph, and had a duplicate of the Queen’s Cup presented to them. It became The America’s Cup.
George Steers, the man who designed the yacht America and captained it to victory.
Tragically, within five years of his triumph, George Steers, still only in his 30s, was thrown from his carriage by a runaway horse and killed. The date of his death: September 25, 1856. Here is The New York Times report.
When Oracle was down 8-1, a week or so ago, everyone expected the end, with New Zealand’s triumph, to come very soon. But, day after day, Oracle won and extended the competition beyond any reasonably expected date. Reservations for flights home were cancelled as the competition continued. Spectator bleachers were dismantled; no one had expected the final race, the date of Oracle‘s spectacular triumph, to be as late as September 25. And, here’s the miracle: Oracle triumphed on the very same day of the year on which George Steers had died 157 years earlier. A mere coincidence? Unlikely. His ghost must be rejoicing!
Back in April of last year, I led a tour of Green-Wood for a class of Cooper Union students. At the end of the tour, their instructor, Michael Dorsch, asked me to show them our display of 19th-century vault keys in our offices. I did so and the students were fascinated. In fact, I soon heard from the one of them, Troy Kreiner, who was interested in doing some sort of project with the keys. We agreed on the following: Troy would capture images of the keys, creating a visual catalogue of them–the small keys that opened the iron gates, the larger brass keys for the granite doors, and the engraved tags that bore the family name.
So Troy began experiments to capture images of the keys. First he tried a camera, then a scanner. The results from the scanner were quite impressive: the keys seemed to float in space.
And out of this Key Project grew Troy’s senior exhibition at Cooper Union: “Do-Good Green-Wood.” It opened on September 17 and closes tomorrow. It is quite impressive–a demonstration of skill and creativity.
As Troy explained in the key to the exhibition, he decided to celebrate Green-Wood’s 175th anniversary with a theme of three do-gooders at Green-Wood, “an effort to further the philosophical notion of altruism:”
Mary Foote Henderson (1842-1931), who donated land around Washington, D.C. to be turned into a park and library, and was an early advocate for healthier eating; Henry Bergh (1813-1888) founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; and Louisine Havemeyer (1855-1929), a significant member of the suffragiest movement in NYC, as well as a major art collection and donor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Green-Wood lent Troy blueprints of mausoleums, keys to about 40 mausoleums, a plaster bust of Peter Cooper (the founder and benefactor of Cooper Union), and material from our collections (including photographs of the grounds, portraits, and woodcut prints).
The plaster bust of philanthropist Peter Cooper hung high in the gallery, but at eye level for those entering the building. Note some of the sets of keys on the wall behind Cooper.
Troy printed some of his key scans and his photographs of the mausoleums:
One of three very large prints from Troy’s key project. He also made these very large and heavy (about 150 pounds each) concrete frames. Note how these keys seem to be standing up in 3D.
He added plants and even two birds in a cage to give visitors a bit of a feel of being outside on Green-Wood’s grounds. He borrowed gravestones from the scrap heap of the Brooklyn Monument Company, on 25th Street near the cemetery’s entrance. He painted the exhibition title, freehand and with great skill, on the wall–an effort that, in and of itself, took days.
The freehand painted title sign and the gravestones from the monument maker’s scrap heap.
He also made very large prints of each of the mausoleums of the featured individuals:
These photographs, printed from negatives, show, left to right, the Havemeyer, Henderson, and Bergh mausoleums.
And there were photographs of the subjects: here’s a display devoted to Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, the first humane organization in the Americas:
This display honored Henry Bergh, who founded the ASPCA to protect animals. Bergh also founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
It was a win/win situation. Green-Wood now has a great visual catalogue of its 700 plus sets of vault keys. And Troy got great experience and the opportunity to create a unique exhibition.
Last Thursday evening, The Green-Wood Historic Fund held is 6th annual benefit. And it was far and away our best yet!
More than 250 people attended. The evening began with a cocktail party at Tranquility Gardens–around the koi pond there. A jazz ensemble serenaded the attendees. Mike Sheehan shot these photographs that tell the story so well–thanks to him!
It was a peaceful evening as attendees gathered around the Tranquility Gardens pond to enjoy drinks, appetizers, and jazz.
Enjoying the evening, left to right, Green-Wood’s President Richard J. Moylan, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Board Chairman C. Payson Coleman, and writer/producer Terrence Winter.
Then it was a sit-down dinner, under a large tent. And it was a good thing that everyone got into the tent just before Mother Nature’s salute to Green-Wood began. Apparently in celebration of the Historic Fund’s benefit, and to carry out the tradition of interesting weather at this event (including a tornado a few years ago), pelting rain, thunder, and lightning made a perfect background for a cemetery fund-raiser. And, thankfully, the tent stayed up and the guests stayed dry.
The crowd of 250 inside the tent.
This year, for the first time, the Historic Fund had co-honorees. Both Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, and Terrence Winter, executive producer of “The Sopranos” and creator, writer and producer the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” were honored with the De Witt Clinton Award for Excellence.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz accepting his De Witt Clinton Award for Excellence. Marty, as always, spoke of his love of Brooklyn.
The honorees, together.
Terrence Winter, Brooklyn native as well as award-winning writer and producer, accepting his De Witt Clinton Award for Excellence. Many of his ancestors are interred at Green-Wood–oddly enough, one side of his family is Winter, the other side Frost.
Jane Cuccurullo, Green-Wood’s Corporate Secretary whose research of the Winter/Frost genealogy was much appreciated by Terrence Winter.
There was another first at this year’s benefit: an auction of cemetery-related items. So, “Sunrise, Sunset” offered an evening tour, (temporary) sleep at Green-Wood, a sunrise tour, and an outdoor breakfast, and was fought over by bidders. “Garden of Your Dreams” provided a consultation with Art Presson, Green-Wood’s horticulturist, on your garden plans. “Who Do You Think You Are” offered a Green-aology workup of your family’s history. Brian Worsdale, who conducts the ISO Symphonic Band at our annual Memorial Day Concert, launched a new career as an auctioneer–and did a tremendous job drawing bid after bid.
Brian Worsdale, making his debut as an auctioneer, was sensational.
Green-Wood’s new book, in celebration of its 175th anniversary this year, Green-Wood at 175: Looking Back, Looking Forward, which features fascinating essays by leading experts, also made its formal debut at the benefit. Many attendees left happy, with a greater appreciation for Green-Wood and its Historic Fund–and with a new book.
Green-Wood is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year in several special ways. There is a great exhibition, “A Beautiful Way to Go,” at the Museum of the City of New York. We are also posting an entry on our website of Green-Wood-related dates–one for every day this year. And, now, hot off the presses is “Green-Wood at 175: Looking back/Looking forward.” Get your copy now–at a special introductory price!
The cover features just a few of the 200 illustrations in the book.
This book features a foreword by Richard J. Moylan, Green-Wood’s president. Kent Barwick, president emeritus of the Municipal Art Society of New York, wrote the preface. Illustrated essays (the book includes 200 images: some historic, some contemporary) on a broad range of Green-Wood related topics by those at the top of their fields follow. Two Pulitzer Prize-winning historians contributed essays: Debby Applegate tells the story of land acquisition, “Real Estate for the Dead” and Daniel Howe devotes his piece to those Green-Wood permanent residents who impacted history: “They Changed America.” Barnet Schecter, an independent historian and author, writes about Green-Wood as a Revolutionary War battlefield.
American patriots at the Battle of Brooklyn, much of which was fought on ground that is now Green-Wood Cemetery.
Anthony Cucchiara, who has taught archival studies at Brooklyn College (where he is professor emeritus) and Pratt, shares important discoveries in Green-Wood’s records. Two spectacular photo essays by fine art photographer Colin Winterbottom, one of monuments and one of mausoleums, are featured. Joan Carpenter Troccoli, retired senior scholar at the Petrie Institute of Western American Art of the Denver Art Museum, tells the tale of two artists, George Catlin and Thomas McKenney, both interred at Green-Wood, who captured the image of the American Indian. Linda S. Ferber, vice president and senior art historian at the New-York Historical Society, explains why so many Hudson River School painters chose Green-Wood as their final resting place. Both Thayer Tolles, curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum, and Karen Lemmey, the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s curator of sculpture, contribute essays on Green-Wood as sculpture garden. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, formerly Central Park Administrator, a founder of the Central Park Conservancy, and current president of the Foundation for Landscape Studies, writes “New York City’s First Romantic Landscape.”
Map of “The Tour” at Green-Wood, from 1847.
Scot Medbury, president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, shares his expertise in “Cemeteries as Places of Living Plants.” In “An Urban Oasis,” Green-Wood’s Superintendent of Grounds and Operations Art Presson discusses its trees, gardens, and plants. Andrew Dolkart, director of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University, contributes “Architecture at Green-Wood.”
Architect Richard Upjohn designed the Receiving Tomb in 1853. Arbor Water was filled in early in the 20th century for the construction of the Historic Chapel; the Receiving Tomb is still there.
Baseball historian Thomas W. Gilbert writes about Green-Wood as “Baseball’s Elysian Fields.” Art historian Caterina Y. Pierre, an associate professor at Kingsborough Community College, composes an essay on the “Altar to Liberty” on Battle Hill, erected in memory of American patriots. Jeffrey I. Richman, Green-Wood’s historian and the editor of the book, offers two essays: “Green-Wood Then and Now,” images of Green-Wood from early in its existence paired with images from today, and “Green-Wood Collects,” featuring paintings and objects gathered over the last few years. Leading preservationist Anthony C. Wood authors “Preservation is Alive and Well at Green-Wood Cemetery.”
We are very proud that all of these experts have shared their knowledge in this book. The book is a limited edition and is available here. Get your copy while they are still hot!