Posts Tagged ‘Green-Wood Cemetery’

A lovely day to relax in Green-Wood Cemetery

May 15, 2017

It might sound a little macabre to our modern sensibilities.

But in a city with almost no public parks until the late 19th century, what better place was there to take in the fresh air and views of New York Harbor and enjoy the natural landscape than a burial ground?

Which is why half a million Brooklynites and tourists a year flocked to Green-Wood Cemetery, founded in 1838.

Green-Wood was one of the new “rural” cemeteries that allowed people to stroll the grounds, ride 17 miles of carriage drives, and picnic inside a necropolis of 150,000 souls by 1870, according to Lights and Shadows of New York Life.

“[T]he sunlight falls brightly, the birds sing their sweetest over the new-made graves, the wind sighs its dirge through the tall trees, and the ‘sad sea waves’ blend with it all in their solemn undertone from afar,” wrote author James D. McCabe, in wonderfully flowery Victorian-era prose.

Green-Wood “has come to be, next to the Central Park and Prospect Parks, one of the favorite resorts of the people of New York and Brooklyn.”

[Top photo: Green-Wood Cemetery; bottom photo: NYPL]

The mournful sculptures at a Bronx cemetery

December 21, 2012

Pastoral, gentle Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx doesn’t have the recognition of Green-Wood Cemetery or The Evergreens, both in Brooklyn.


But it’s a similar kind of final resting place: an 1863 “rural” cemetery created after burials were banned in Manhattan for health reasons, and designed almost as parks, for leisure as well as mourning—composed of rolling hills with the remains of 300,000 New Yorkers underneath.


Like Green-Wood and The Evergreens, it’s open to visitors, who are allowed to navigate the landscape and gaze at the angels and other figures that decorate many of the mausoleums and graves.


Captain G.H. Winter was a firefighter, the hat tells us. Could he be the same G.H. Winter awarded a medal for bravery in 1944? This grave looks older than that.


This Botticelli-tressed figure at the Curtis family tomb isn’t merely in mourning—she’s despondent and heartbroken.


Many of New York’s leaders and hometown celebs are buried at Woodlawn: actors, politicians, sports stars, musicians. A complete list is here.

The sad cemetery angels of Brooklyn

June 27, 2011

The gentle hills and slopes of Brooklyn’s Evergreens Cemetery are filled with figures of angels: intermediaries between earth and heaven and messengers from God who guard the graves of the dead.

Different angel poses have different meanings. The one above appears to be dropping flower petals, which supposedly symbolizes the spreading of blessings.

Why this angel has its finger to its mouth, I’m not sure. The flowers could indicate a tribute—or that a life in bloom ended too soon.

Not all angels have wings, but perhaps this grief-stricken figure is meant to depict the deep Christian faith of the departed.

Green-Wood Cemetery at the other end of Brooklyn has plenty of haunting angel figures too.

How sparrows got their start in Brooklyn

February 21, 2010

The New York Post has an interesting piece today about the origin of lowly New York City pigeons: They were brought here as food in the 17th century by French settlers.

Soon they escaped their confines and eventually adapted to urban areas, where only they occasional falcon or pigeon shoot worker prey on them.

The ubiquitous house sparrow, the most common bird in New York, was never meant to be dinner. But like the pigeon, it isn’t a native American bird.

About 100 were brought over by Brooklyn scientists in 1854, released in Green-Wood Cemetery and along the Narrows to get rid of inchworms that were destroying trees. They ate some—but they also thrived on fruit, seeds, and oats spilled in the streets from horse feed.

Within a few decades they were everywhere, regarded as an “unmitigated nuisance” by a 1889 New York Times article, which urged that they all be poisoned. Clearly that didn’t happen. But as horses disappeared from the streets, their numbers fell.

Today there are only about 100 million in the city, happily chattering away and fighting starlings (above photo), among other birds, for tossed bagels, pizza crusts, and hot dog buns.

Brooklyn’s sad cemetery angels

March 14, 2009

From Green-Wood Cemetery. Someone really grieved the loss of this O’Donohue person, who was probably a soldier:


“Our Boy.” Another beautiful angel carving, but there’s pretty much nothing sadder than a gravestone for a two-year-old child:


Green-Wood Cemetery’s phallic tombstone

February 25, 2009

Rising out of a lovely hillside in Brooklyn’s most famous necropolis is this large, cylinder-like monument. The carved garland that circles the top is an especially realistic touch.

phallictombstone The gravestone marks the burial site of one A.G. Jennings. No other information  about who he was or when he died exists.

Huge ego? Performance issues? A job manufacturing bullets? A.G. Jennings took his reasons for such a phallic monument to the grave.

A fiery night at the theater in Brooklyn

February 17, 2009

On December 8, 1876, about 1,000 people came to the Brooklyn Theatre to see popular actors Harry Murdoch and Kate Claxton in The Two Orphans. The theater was located on Johnson and Washington (now Cadman Plaza) Streets in downtown Brooklyn. 


It would’ve been just another night at the theater–except that a gas light ignited some scenery behind the stage, sparking a fire that became the deadliest in Brooklyn history. The actors tried to calm the crowds, but just before the last act, flames began raging.

Not surprisingly, the building lacked fire exits. With only one narrow staircase leading outside from the balcony, hundreds were trapped, then trampled. 

About 300 people perished. Murdoch and other actors died, but Kate Claxton got out; nine years later, she gave this account to The New York Times:

“I looked up and through the flimsy ceiling of the old boathouse I could see sparks falling and little tongues of fire licking the edges of the drops and borders that hung in the flies. I went steadily on with my part. . . . 

“By this time sparks were falling all over the stage, and the fact that there was a fire behind the stage could no longer be concealed from the audience. Still we continued to play. [Soon] a panic had broken out in the auditorium, and we saw that it was useless to attempt to proceed.”


The Brooklyn morgue, where fire victims’ bodies were taken

So many bodies were burned beyond recognition, the City of Brooklyn decided to bury them together in a common grave in Green-Wood Cemetery. A monument with inscriptions on all four sides marks the grave.


Crazy Joe Gallo’s last moments in Little Italy

February 7, 2009

Joseph Gallo, nicknamed “crazy” by fellow mobsters, was a Red Hook–born gangster specializing in typical 1950s and 1960s mafia activities such as extortion and racketeering.

joegallopictureHe was also flamboyant, charming, and well-read, and in the early 1970s he became kind of a celebrity, hanging out with writers, actors, and other New York scenesters. 

But he made a fatal mistake on the night of his 43rd birthday, on April 7, 1972. After visiting the Copacabana nightclub, he stopped into Umberto’s Clam House on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. It was around 5 a.m. Supposedly a rival mobster saw him enter Umberto’s; within minutes, gunmen entered the restaurant and start firing. 

Gallo was hit five times, staggered out to the street, and died. He’s buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.


There’s the crime scene at Umberto’s early the next morning. Apparently Gallo thought he was safe there because of an unwritten agreement among gangsters that Little Italy was off-limits to bloodshed. 


Umberto’s Clam House has since relocated a few blocks away, on the corner of Broome and Mulberry Streets in ever-shrinking Little Italy.

What happened when Gallo loyalists tried to avenge his murder? Here’s the story of a hit gone very, very wrong.

Bob Dylan’s 1976 song “Joey” tells Gallo’s story. Watch Part I and Part II here.

The Brooklyn tomb of Charlotte Canda

November 24, 2008

Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery is full of beautiful, intricately carved monuments. But one so impressive, it attracted thousands of visitors in the 19th century was that of Charlotte Canda.

The daughter of an officer in Napoleon’s army who was the headmaster of a school on Lafayette Place in Manhattan, Charlotte met an especially sad, dramatic end: On the night of her 17th birthday, in February 1845, she fell out of a moving carriage on Broadway and Waverly Place, hit her head on the pavement, and died. 

Her grief-stricken family commissioned a massive marble monument in Green-Wood Cemetery with all kinds of Victorian-era touches: Charlotte as an angel standing under a canopy, with church-like spires, carved flowers, and two more angels flanking her tomb, among other flourishes.


Because it was so ornate, her monument was a popular place for strangers to visit. So popular, in fact, a photo of it was made into a trading card as part of what appears to be a series of Green-Wood Cemetery cards. Sounds pretty ghoulish, but late 19th century New Yorkers used to picnic at the cemetery, so it fits with the sensibility of the era.

Here’s what her tomb says about Charlotte. To add to the Victorian drama of it all, her fiance, a French nobleman, killed himself after Charlotte died. He’s buried in a plot next to hers.


Green-Wood Cemetery has better photos of her monument and more detailed information.