If you love monumental cemeteries as I do, this is definitely one for the bucket list. It ticks off the boxes for so many different types of cemetery explorers: those who love grand structures, statues, the graves of famous people, beautiful landscape design, etc. It’s no wonder that it was the second most visited New York ‘tourist’ site in the 19th-century, after Niagara Falls (and with similar numbers). This is a beautiful cemetery that just begs you to explore its various roads, paths, and walkways. There are a lot of rolling hills here that can make it difficult to explore for those with mobility issues, but the changing landscape is exactly what I love in these types of cemeteries.
I did this cemetery as a two-parter – visiting it for a few hours on my first half-day in the city (I had to run back to the hotel to get ready to see the Book of Mormon that night), and again for a few more hours on my last full day in New York. I had planned on seeing so many cemeteries while I was in the city since there is such a large variety of historical ones worth visiting, but due to the endless rain that started on my second day there, I ended up only really exploring two: Green-Wood and Woodlawn. On my last day I had seriously thought about visiting both Green-Wood and at least First Calvary cemetery, but I ended up spending so much time in Green-Wood I knew that I wouldn’t have time for First Calvary (that, and the fact that even though the rain had mostly ended, it was still extremely overcast and sometimes drizzly, which limited visibility, which negated the entire point of visiting FC, since it is iconic for its location that overlooks Manhattan).
My first visit happened on the only blue-sky sunny day I had while in New York over 6 days there, and within minutes I was regretting not bringing water or insect repellent. It seemed like every mosquito in the cemetery decided I would be their tasty meal for the day, and I felt parched the entire time there, which was no doubt exacerbated by climbing up and down hills for the better part of the afternoon. Even though I had a map (and app) of the cemetery, I mostly followed my nose, as I usually do in every cemetery I visit. I always feel like following a map (with notable graves) is like following a map to the stars’ homes, which usually has me chasing down the gravesites of famous people which is not always satisfying (as mentioned in previous posts, they don’t usually have interesting monuments) and often wastes time that I do not have. I prefer to wander, and I like the serendipity of coming across monuments that may or may not be on the map, although it does mean at times that I miss some important sites. However, as the sun got hotter and the day went on, I came to the realization that I would need to come back for a second visit* since I had not seen any of the iconic statues that I knew to be there (angel of death, copy of the Monteverde angel, copy of the grieving angel, etc.). Over 3 hours I had explored most of the centre and left-hand side of the cemetery; what I didn’t know was that when I finally decided to leave to get ready for the show, was that I was just a section away from the most iconic part of the cemetery.
*It’s clear that this cemetery, like any large one, requires multiple visits to really do it justice.
For my second visit, I knew I didn’t have much time (at the time I was still thinking I could sneak in a visit to First Calvary later in the day), so I reviewed the statues I wanted to see online the night before, and I used the map to figure out where they were. Here’s the thing though – not every iconic statue is labelled on the map (or even in Pokemon Go, which can be a useful way of finding interesting monuments in a cemetery). That said, I can with confidence say that if you are looking for iconic statues and mausoleums, go straight to the eastern side of the cemetery (the complete opposite side to the main entrance at 4th and 25th avenues). “Straight” is a misnomer, as you’ll be navigating a lot of winding and backtracking paths to get there, unless you take the correct metro line to the stop across from that particular entrance. This whole section took me a long time to explore, because as I stumbled upon one or more interesting monuments or statues in one area, I could see a dozen more behind them vying for my attention. As a result, it was mid-afternoon by the time I finished there, and although I knew that meant the end of my cemetery exploring for New York (at least, until the next time I visit the States), I was happy that ended on such a high note.
The statue(s) above is known as the Angel of Grief, and is a sculpture in the Protestant Cemetery of Rome, sculpted by William Story in 1894 for the grave of his wife Evelyn. According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most copied statues in the world, and I found three here at Green-Wood. Even though there are so many variations of this statue, I think what makes it work, no matter what the version, is not only the pose, but the angel’s wings. The detail and styling of the wings is often what separates good angel sculptures from mediocre ones, at least in my opinion. I’ll have to find more of these copies to see if there are any that don’t quite measure up.
I was re-reading a blog post from The Only Living Girl in New York, and she talked about seeing pregnant female statues here in one of her many cemetery visits. Sure enough, I came across them as well (see the first two images in the block above). The ‘bump’ is quite subtle, but after seeing hundreds (if not thousands) of grieving female statues, it was clear that these were a little different. The two above are clearly copies of one another, so perhaps these types of statues were needed more than one would think (or not, childbirth in the 19th century still had high mortality rates for both mother and child).
Another statue I wanted to find of the Angel of Death, a bronze statue with a grieving angel lying full prone on the ground (an angel with wings, or wings that are cloaked). It was sculpted by Solon Borglum, brother to Gutzon, the man who sculpted the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore. The sculpture is for Charles and Mary Schieren, a married couple who died within 24 hours of the other. This sculpture has a much darker/somber feel to it than most cemetery sculptures, no doubt in part to the shadowed face. There is a face under there (I braved the wet grass to check), but my camera couldn’t deal with the shadow. Besides, it’s the entire sculpture that’s the most interesting, not the face. Another amazing statue was that of the grieving woman in flowing robes (the main image of this post). This is the grave of Rose Merello Guarino, the daughter of a wealthy family who was shot by one of the family servants over some dispute. There’s an urban legend that is still going around that she was the bride of a mob boss who got shot on her wedding day, but as far as I can tell, the former story is the correct one. Either way, it’s an outstanding statue, and I shot an entire roll of film on it.
Finally, here are some more white bronze statues I found within the cemetery. I’m sure there are many more examples, but I would need to several more visits to find them.
This post is already long enough, but there are so many more photos and things to write about this cemetery, and that’s just after two cursory visits. This is definitely a cemetery that requires repeated visits, and hopefully a tour or two if one is lucky enough to be there during the season/day when they are on offer. I’ll be back.
Monuments: Outstanding in every respect. Some of the greatest sculptors have works here.
Grounds: Extensive. This is a huge cemetery – comfortable walking shoes are a must, and a hat/umbrella/water for hot days are important, especially given the hilly nature of the site. There aren’t really any benches to sit on and have a rest, so be prepared for that too.
Visitors: Only a handful on my two visits here, although both times I came on a weekday. Groundskeepers were hard at work though.
Notes: Bring lots of film or memory storage for the photos you will definitely take here. Return visits in different weather conditions are a must as well.
Cemetery: Green-Wood Cemetery
Notable Internments: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, William “Boss” Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, among many others.
Location: Brooklyn, NY. The main entrance is at 5th Avenue and 25th Street, but there are 4 entrances that you can access, depending on where you are coming from. They all offer free maps, and there’s an app you can use as well.
Hours: 07:00-19:00 daily from April 1 to Sept 30, from 08:00-17:00 the rest of the year.