Cemeteries might not be top of your itinerary when visiting New York City, but if you consider that Père Lacahise in Paris is one of that cities tourist-magnets then why not? Granted Green-Wood Cemetery doesn’t have Père’s star power but its sweeping hills and unparalleled views of the city make it worth a visit. Located in Green-Wood Heights, an overlooked Brooklyn neighborhood that’s up and coming in its measured way, the cemetery, which dates from 1838 is a National Historic Landmark.
In its heyday half a million visitors would make it a stop on their itinerary. Walking by its front gate in the evening and getting a glimpse of its Gothic entrance will definitely put you in mind of a spine-tingling B horror movie, but in the daytime the huge landscaped paths will put you in the mood of contemplation.
It’s home to many famous (and infamous) New Yorkers, such as tragic bad boy artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, notoriously corrupt mayor William “Boss” Tweed, and the great West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein. Finding individual graves will take a bit of patience and time — the entire surface area is 478 acres — but on a bright fall day you can meander surprisingly undisturbed among the old trees, rolling greenery and a of who’s who of New York historical society. The names of the streets you pass every day and see on the subway map are there etched in stone: Mott, Sutphin, Stuyvesant, along with those less noted who built the bakeries and banks, sidewalks and staircases that we pass through today.
Among the beautiful landscaped scenery are stories of men who served on civil war battlefields, captains lost at sea and couples who perished together. Some visitors have picnics on the wide expanse of lawn or near the several bodies of water. Old fashioned trolley car tours occur on Wednesdays and Sundays along with a series of walking tours. Adventurous souls can opt for the nocturnal versions. If you’re lucky you can see inside the grand mausoleums.
The mausoleums are scattered throughout the cemetery and each betrays the taste of its owners – tacky, grandiose, subdued, and many of them guarded by sculptures of stone angels and in one case a pair of faithful dogs. The small structures that dot the large lake looked strangely like vacation homes (complete with stone staircases), which in a way I guess they were. In any case it’s worth the trip to an attraction that once rivaled Niagara Falls as a tourist stop and has since been overshadowed.