Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the most unique areas of New York City. Located in Brooklyn, Green-Wood Cemetery serves as a burial ground, public park, performance space, historical battle ground, education center, haven for bird watchers, tourist destination, and more. Famous “residents,” include Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquait, Bill the Butcher, Boss Tweed, DeWitt Clinton, and more. Visitors can stroll the grounds, enjoy a guided trolly tour, and even visit a beautiful chapel on the site. Let’s learn more about historic Green-Wood Cemetery.
BATTLE OF BROOKLYN
The area now known as Green-Wood Cemetery was once the site of the first and largest battle of the American Revolution. The Battle of Brooklyn, also known as the Battle of Long Island, took place on August 27, 1776, just a few weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
American forces, facing the superior British army, fought valiantly. The Continental Army was comprised mostly of young farmers and tradesmen, whereas Britain had the largest army that had existed since ancient Rome. The British came to New York Harbour with 400 ships and 32,000 troops. George Washington’s forces could not win that battle and ultimately suffered defeat, with many lives lost and soldiers captured. George Washington’s strategic retreat allowed his troops time to regroup and retrain, and they would eventually win the Revolutionary War.
The lush landscape of Green-Wood witnessed this intense struggle, as troops maneuvered through the hills and valleys that now provide a serene backdrop for the cemetery. Today, monuments and markers within Green-Wood stand as solemn reminders of the sacrifices made during the battle, preserving the memory of those who fought for American independence. The cemetery’s intertwining of history and tranquility offers visitors a unique opportunity to reflect on the transformative events that took place on these hallowed grounds centuries ago.
ORIGINS OF GREEN-WOOD CEMETERY
Green-Wood Cemetery was established in 1838 in Brooklyn, New York, with a profound vision that went beyond being just a burial ground. Conceived during a time when urbanization was rapidly transforming the landscape, Green-Wood was envisioned as a serene and picturesque resting place that blended the tranquility of nature with the reverence for the departed. It was designed to provide a contrast to chaotic city life and offer a place for contemplation, recreation, and artistic appreciation. The cemetery’s founders sought to create a space that not only honored the deceased but also celebrated the beauty of the natural world. With its rolling hills, verdant landscapes, and stunning architecture, Green-Wood Cemetery stands as a testament to the nineteenth-century movement that recognized the importance of integrating art, nature, and commemoration, making it a cherished cultural landmark that continues to captivate visitors to this day.
Famous “Residents” of Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood Cemetery is the final resting place of a diverse array of notable individuals who have left their mark on various fields. From literary figures like Henry Ward Beecher and Horace Greeley to musical talents such as Leonard Bernstein and Louis Moreau Gottschalk, the cemetery houses a rich cultural tapestry. It’s also the eternal home of political figures like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Civil War generals like Henry Slocum and Samuel Striker, and business tycoons including William “Boss” Tweed. Moreover, Green-Wood’s grounds honor social reformers, artists, and countless everyday individuals, ensuring that its history resonates with the collective spirit of generations past. As a repository of stories, accomplishments, and legacies, the cemetery reflects the diverse fabric of American society and stands as a place of both remembrance and inspiration.
TAKE A TOUR OF GREEN-WOOD CEMETERY
Green-Wood Cemetery offers captivating tours that weave together history, art, and nature, providing visitors with a fascinating glimpse into the past and a deeper appreciation for the present. Guided by knowledgeable experts, these tours lead participants through the cemetery’s scenic landscapes, offering insights into the lives and legacies of the remarkable individuals buried there. From themed tours focusing on prominent figures and historic events to architectural explorations showcasing stunning mausoleums and monuments, Green-Wood’s tours cater to a wide range of interests. The cemetery’s lush, tranquil environment serves as a backdrop for stories that span centuries, making each tour a journey into the cultural and historical tapestry of New York City. As visitors wander through the rolling hills and beautifully landscaped grounds, they’re transported through time, gaining a richer understanding of the people and events that have shaped both the cemetery and the city itself. Some of the tours take place via trolley! The trolley allows the group to cover all 478 acres that make up present day Green-Wood Cemetery.
As unlikely as it may seem, Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the city’s leading performing arts centers. Every year, Green-Wood Cemetery offers one lucky artist an artist-in-residence spot. This artist creates a site-specific work of art for Green-Wood Cemetery. In addition to private studio space, the artist receives $7,500 to put towards the project.
Green-Wood also offers site-specific performances ranging from classical music concerts and theatrical re-enactments, to spooky haunted houses, visual art exhibitions, and more. All of these works of art use the cemetery as their muse and often explore themes of life and death, as well as burial ceremonies throughout the ages. The performances and exhibitions are offered year round, with Halloween being the most popular time for visitors.
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