“A Beautiful Way To Go”

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,

Eight panoramic photographs by Jeff Liao greet the visitor. They capture Green-Wood in all its seasonal brilliance.

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:

Photographer Colin Winterbottom is a great fan of Green-Wood. His sepia photographs of its monuments and mausoleums are moving and spiritual.

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.

These viewers were specially-manufactured for this show. They allow exhibition visitors the rare treat of seeing Green-Wood's historic landscape, and some of its most famous, but long-dead, permanent residents, in 3D.

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.

The display cases were created so as to appear to be hanging lanterns, positioned on the cemetery's map above the final resting place of the individual whose accomplishments are shown in that particular display case.
This note informs the visitor that he or she is about to enter Green-Wood--to discover its map, its history, its permanent residents.
A sample of the show: the case at left has a report of mobster Joey Gallo's murder and Domino Sugar containers from the Havemeyers. A large print of the Fireman's Monument (1847) hangs on the wall and to its right is a marble bust of Lieutenant Henry Hidden (who died in a gallant cavalry charge during the Civil War), signed and dated 1863 by Karl Mueller (who also sculpted Hidden's bronze monument at Green-Wood). On the wall is a playbill for "Our American Cousin" (whose star, Laura Keene, is interred at Green-Wood); she was on stage at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Friday evening, April 14, 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The case at right displays Lorillard Tobacco tins and an Underwood typewriter.
These two monitors show photographs of Green-Wood--the one at left features images of recent Green-Wood events--concerts, tours, commemorations, unveilings of new sculpture--while the monitor at right features a video of the sculpture "Civic Virtue" being brought to Green-Wood, as well as before and after photographs of monument restorations.
There is wonderful art in the exhibition: prints, paintings, and sculpture. This is a portrait of Louisa Crawford by her sculptor-husband Thomas. Both are interred at Green-Wood. Thomas Crawford is best known for his statue of "Freedom" that tops the United States Capitol.

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.

These items, from The Green-Wood Historic Fund's Collections, were designed by Walter Dorwin Teague. They are great examples of his brilliant work--a Sparton radio and two Kodak cameras in Art Deco style.

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!

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