Welcome to Green-Wood Discovery!

Welcome to the Green-wood Discovery blog. My name is Jeff Richman and I am the historian at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Green-Wood is truly a remarkable place: 478 acres of trees, sculpture, ponds, gardens, and grass-covered hills in the heart of urban Brooklyn. It is my privilege to be the historian at Green-Wood Cemetery, which was founded in 1838 and is one of only a handful of cemeteries in America that have been honored with the designation as National Historic Landmarks.

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in history–New York City and Civil War, in particular. I practiced law for 33 years, but while I did so I pursued my passions, collecting historical material, particularly stereoviews of New York City. Almost 30 years ago, on a slow buying day at an antique photography show, I purchased my first photograph of a place called Green-Wood Cemetery. At the time I had not heard of the place–and even after I heard the name, I didn’t even know if it still existed. I just liked the photograph. I purchased a few more photos of Green-Wood, then saw an ad for a tour of Green-Wood Cemetery, to be led by a professional photographer, a rare opportunity to photograph the historic landscape. I do love taking photographs, so that sounded great, but I had something else in mind: I really wanted to spot the places I knew from those photographs of circa 1870, to see if I could recognize them.

Well, that tour was a big hit with me–it changed my life. After just a few steps into the Cemetery, I was hooked. What an amazing place! So I went back the next day and got a pass to the Cemetery, with permission to take photographs. In 1990, having left trial work for appeals, I decided I wanted to still talk to groups (but no more juries), and that I wanted to lead tours of Green-Wood. And I’ve been doing tours there ever since. All of this led to research for a book about Green-Wood, published by the Cemetery in 1998 as Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery: New York’s Buried Treasure. And, in 2000, I became Green-Wood’s historian, working evenings and weekends. Green-Wood Cemetery Historian became my full-time job in May, 2007.

We have just over 561,000 people interred at Green-Wood. The discoveries are endless. The rewards of working with volunteers, historians, and descendants, are great. Organizing volunteers to staff our Historic Fund cart, to share information, maps, self-guided walking tours, books, and much more–to help our visitors enjoy the place–has been great. And leading our Civil War Project, which started 7 years ago, and has resulted in volunteers identifying more than 4,000 Civil War veterans, writing biographies for each, collecting photographs of them, and marking 2,000 of their unmarked graves, has been a thrill. I still can’t believe, that 7 years later, volunteers keep coming back for more!

So, this blog is an opportunity to share some of Green-Wood’s most exciting discoveries and developments with you. I have long believed that history is fascinating because you cannot make this stuff up. This blog is an opportunity for me to share that sense with you. And, how many people can say that the place where they work has become better every year that they have worked there? That is true of Green-Wood Cemetery. So, whether it’s a story of a new discovery, a new planting, or a recent restoration of a monument, you will find news of it here.

And, I hope you will get involved. It is amazing the things that I have learned from people across the world, sharing their knowledge about Green-Wood and it permanent residents. I look forward to hearing from you.

21 thoughts on “Welcome to Green-Wood Discovery!”

  1. With this blog and with your book Brooklyn’s Green-wood Cemetery you get a wonderful picture of the history of New York. I have been trying to find a picture of the grave of Dr. J. Marion Sims ( The father of gynecology). I know he was buried at Green-wood but he is not mentioned in your book. I have been doing research on Dr. Valentine Mott who is mentioned in your book. I have also become fascinated with the lawyers Howe and Hummel. You have opened up many avenues for me to explore, Thank You

  2. Thank you, Michael. That is very kind of you.

    Yes, Dr. Sims is at Green-Wood. My book was intended to tell every story at Green-Wood, or even many of the stories; we would need volumes and volumes to just scratch the surface of the famous and infamous.
    There are indeed many fascinating stories to be told–and we are finding new ones every day. Keep up the hunt!

  3. Mr. Richman,

    We just discovered your article concerning Casoni & Isola. My husband’s great grandfather was Pietro Cacciatori Isola, the partner of the firm with Mr. Casoni. Your article provides details which we were unaware of. I would love to correspond with you regarding any additional information you may have found and would be glad to share what we know about the firm and Pietro Isola. Pietro was a very gifted sculptor and worked in metal and wood also. We are excited to find new information on him.


    Michelle Isola

  4. Mr. Richman,

    I’ve just found your your blog and recently watched the Channel 13 video which you were a part of in 2008. I was very interested to hear your thoughts about how Green Wood is a place of life and history, rather than just a place for permanent residents.

    When I was a child in the 60’s and 70’s, my family would visit Green Wood once or twice a year to place flowers or evergreen blankets on the graves of relatives. My Dad would tie the blankets to the top of our families 1959 Chevy station wagon, while my Mom and Grandma would pack a picnic lunch in a basket. We would then pile into the car for the drive into Brooklyn. After spending some time visiting the different family graves, we would always find a beautiful spot to enjoy the food Mom and Grandma had prepared. These visits stopped when my family moved away from NY in the mid ’70’s.

    After 20 years, I was on business in NY and took the opportunity to visit Green Wood again. I spent a wonderful fall afternoon walking all over the grounds, looking for my relatives and seeing many familiar views. As the time got later, I started to make my way to the gate, only to find it locked when I got there! Spending the night in Green Wood did not disturb me, as I can think of no more peaceful or safe place in any borough of NY, but missing my flight out of Laguardia the next morning did. After walking the fence for a short while, a security guard saw me and opened the gate. I got the distinct impression that he had done this before.

    Since then I always visit Green Wood whenever I am in NYC and I’ve restarted the tradition that I enjoyed when I was a kid with my own family. Next time I’m in Brooklyn, I hope to be able to join you for a tour. Keep up the great work!

    • Hi Bill,

      That’s great!
      I love the image of the 1959 Chevy with the evergreen blankets on top chugging down the road.
      And your story of getting locked in Green-Wood–I got locked in on my first visit, in 1987–and had to climb through the barbed wire that used to be across the gate–had tickets for an evening Met game and had to get out to pick up my son.
      Yes, Green-Wood has meant a great deal to so many families. And that tradition continues–on the tour I did a few weeks ago, I was struck by how many people told the same story: they live nearby and consider Green-Wood their own park.
      I look forward to meeting you.
      Thanks for your kind words.

  5. Jeffrey: In 2002 we corresponded about the hillside mausoleum of John La Farge’s family and I am wondering if you can e-mail me so I can ask you a question about that. Thanks!

    • Wow! The timing of this is so strange. Yesterday I was preparing for a Tiffany-related tour I am doing today, in which we are going to visit John LaFarge’s hillside mausoleum. I was looking at your book on LaFarge, and was talking about how you had identified LaFarge’s hillside mausoleum as the work as his son, who was an architect. Now this message from you this morning . . . The spirits are active! Will e-mail you. Thanks.

  6. Jeff:

    You are a wonderful speaker and I loved the Tiffany related trolley ride. I am recommending this (the trolley ride) to all of my friends and have already posted pictures that I took on my Facebook account.

    Thank you for being such an affable host.

  7. Hello Jeff… As a retired newspaperman, I envy your endless supply of great stories….I hope to visit the grave of my great great grandfather this weekend… John M Powell was a Union-sympathizing Mississippian who was broken by the war and killed himself with morphine in his room at the Pierrepont Hause in Brooklyn in 1875 (obit in NY Times)….Anyway, I’m wondering if Green-Wood’s records would have any details on his burial arrangements — such as who paid?… Thanks and best wishes, Lew Powell

  8. Can I just thank you for this site. I live in Scotland and my aunt and uncle emigrated to America. They lived in Brooklyn. My uncle William Love died in 1966 and my aunt Margaret Mackay Love died in 1975 ans are both buried here. We would not have known about this except for this site God bless you for this
    Charles Mac Kay

  9. Hello, Mr. Richman.

    Thank you for maintaining the history of Green-Wood.

    We have two halves of our Harrison family. The New York half knows about its earliest Irish-born members being buried at Green-Wood. (The first of 14 siblings to die–by 1828–had his body moved to Green-Wood in about the 1850s.) The other half of the Harrison family had gotten to NY earlier, in the 1680s to Oyster Bay, and from there in the 1730s into Virginia. Besides the genealogy “Settlers by the Long Grey Trail,” we are writing books on the family, one about any farm or plantation the family lived on in Ireland, the U.K., New Zealand, Canada, or the U.S, particularly Smithville, Chenango County, New York. The more urban book, Harrison Trades and Professions, is about careers of family members, from A for archaeologist to W for weaver, particularly in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I dream of visiting Green-Wood. Many in our family have attended a burial service there. Plot numbers might be 3690 through 3697 (section 32?), about 150 graves, and an obelisk that presses on the memories of the children. I have been told that neighboring graves belong to Steinway and Brooks. Those are the impressions of the Harrison diaspora.
    Polly LYNN

    • Hi Polly,

      It is my pleasure!

      Great to see all the work you are doing on discovering the stories of your ancestors.

      Yes, do come visit Green-Wood. It will be an experience you will long remember.

      -Jeff Richman


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