Yesterday, “A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery,” opened at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition is a celebration of Green-Wood’s extraordinary 175 years. It is a great opportunity to educate the public about the cemetery’s history (by the 1850s, Green-Wood was attracting half a million visitors a year and was the second most popular tourist attraction in America, after Niagara Falls; it also was New York’s first sculpture garden, it was a precursor of the suburbs for the living, and its success was used by those who argued for the construction of Central and Prospect Parks). And, it offers an occasion to tell the stories of its most prominent permanent residents (less than 100 are featured, out of 560,000 people who are interred at Green-Wood–the standards for who qualified were very high). It is also a chance to spread the word about Green-Wood’s magnificent, but little-known, collections and archives, and its ever expanding calendar of fascinating tours and events.
The entrance to the exhibition features huge color panoramic photographs by Jeff Liao,
Inside the exhibition gallery, a slide show of sepia photographs of Green-Wood monuments and mausoleums by Colin Winterbottom of Washington, D.C., is projected onto a gallery wall:
The exhibition offers many evocative artifacts from the Green-Wood Historic Fund Collections and the Museum of the City of New York. Hudson River School paintings have been lent by the New-York Historical Society. The painters of these works chose Green-Wood as their final resting place, undoubtedly concluding that the Nature that they painted as a golden glow, a benign force in the world, was reflected by Green-Wood’s picturesque and romantic landscape.
The exhibition also features 3D images, circa 1870, of Green-Wood.
Because of the brilliant design of Abbott Miller of Pentagram, visitors the the Museum will be able to step into Green-Wood–the floor of the exhibition space has been printed with maps of the landmark cemetery.
Though Green-Wood is 175 years old, it is still active–both for burials and for events. In fact, never in its history has it offered so much in terms of social events, historic tours and commemorations, concerts, dances, dramatic performances, and so much more. Its famous are not just men and women of the 19th century-though there are many of those featured in the exhibition, including Horace Greeley, Boss Tweed, Currier and Ives, F.A.O. Schwarz, Charles Ebbets, to name a few–but also those who made their mark in the 20th century. So, Maestro Leonard Bernstein, Fred Ebb (of the famed Broadway song-writing team of Kander and Ebb, who wrote the score for “Cabaret” and “Chicago,” as well as “New York, New York,” Jean-Michel Basquiat (the Andy Warhol protege who died so young; his paintings now sell for millions), and Walter Dorwin Teague, one of the 20th century’s most important industrial designers.
Coverage of the opening was remarkable. The New York Times ran a report a report by Jospeh Berger, “A Museum Plot For Green-Wood Cemetery.”
NY1 covered the exhibition with this report and video. News12 aired this video. WCBS Radio had an account on its website, with a brief interview by Marla Diamond of Green-Wood Historian Jeff Richman. WFUV also covered the opening. The Associated Press story, by Ula Ilnytzky , “NY’s Largest Cemetery Celebrates 175th Anniversary,” ran in dozens of newspapers across the country.
The show was curated by Donald Albrecht. Associate curator is Susan Johnson.
The Museum of the City of New York is at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street in Manhattan. You may find more about the exhibition on its website here. The exhibition runs through October 13. Don’t miss it!