Green-Wood Cemetery tour
Brooklyn's verdant, peaceful, history-drenched pastoral cemetery is well worth a visit.
Before Central Park and Prospect Park, there was Green-Wood Cemetery, aka Greenwood Cemetery. (Precursurs to Green-Wood, modeled on English pastoral cemeteries, were Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, Mass. and Laurel Hill in Phildelphia. But Green-Wood is nearly twice as large, in area, as the two combined.)
It's a glorious, 478-acre parcel of green in the center of Brooklyn, a huge 19th-century tourist attraction: a non-denominational cemetery that served as place to gather and now holds 600,000-plus souls. As Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman likes to say, "Come visit while you still can leave."
Here's a great video, from BRIC TV, about Green-Wood, explaining how Green-Wood combines park, botanic garden, and museum, while continuing to bury the dead and serve to honor our forebears.
The setting is spectacular, and we could spend the entire day walking around. But I'd recommend either an hour (or 1.5 hours) of highlights, added to another tour or, if you're up for walking more (and hills), we could go 2.5+ hours.
We also could use a vehicle (mini-bus or smaller) to cut down on walking. (That requires permission from the cemetery.)
Why tour with me?
Green-Wood--and I'm a proud member--offers its own walking and trolley tours, among other programs, and they are well worth it. But I can lead a visit to the cemetery on a more flexible schedule.
Of course, you can also go on your own--they give out free maps--and have a lovely time on a nice day. But a tour can deliver far more concentrated insight, especially since some of the more arresting tombs and statuary are not necessarily home to the most famous people. (Also, the most famous people are scattered far afield, so not simple to see on a single walking tour.)
Also, because Green-Wood is near the 25th Street stop on the R train, as well as the Sunset Park neighborhood to the south, we can connect to several other neighborhoods in a relatively short time.
I've visited Green-Wood periodically over many years, but not until the pandemic, when the cemetery managers thoughtfully opened all gates every day, was I able to explore on a regular basis.
Since then, I've gradually built up more knowledge and understanding, and am very enthusiastic to walk around with you. There are monuments to important pieces of Brooklyn (and national) history, such as the Battle of Brooklyn, the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.
Green-Wood also is the resting place for notable New Yorkers from DeWitt Clinton (key to the cemetery's success) to Peter Cooper to Leonard Bernstein. See some of the photos below.
The statuary and architectural styles send messages from previous generations about mourning and death. The inventive designs and heartfelt statements are accentuated by the clean air, relative quiet (though grass-cutting can get loud), and Green-Wood's topography, with the highest point in Brooklyn.
Distance from Midtown Manhattan: 30+ minutes by subway
Basic tour length: 1-2.5 hours, potentially combined with other neighborhoods (see fees)
Starting place: Typically near R train at 25th Street or just inside the cemetery gate (or we travel together)
Ending place: We probably leave together, either back through the main entrance or out through another exit
Highlights: History, nature/trees, views, statuary/architecture
Before tour: Another neighborhood. Then we take a subway or taxi to Green-Wood. Or start in nearby Sunset Park.
After tour: Another neighborhood. Or nearby Sunset Park.
Potential tour extensions with me: Brooklyn 101, Sunset Park, Bay Ridge, Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens. DUMBO/Brooklyn Heights
Why I like leading this tour: It's one of the best places in Brooklyn. Unlike parks, the cemetery has no picnicking, dogs, sports, music, or bicycles. The air is clean. The birds chirp. The atmosphere is peaceful and contemplative.