One reader last week asked about “quiet” places in New York City. To commune with nature, New Yorkers enjoy hundreds of parks, from those like Central Park with broad acreage sculped into the middle of Manhattan, others drawn into the landscape, huddled against the Hudson or Harlem Rivers, or hidden in tiny “pockets” created from vacant lots on odd street corners or between tenements.
For more peace and quite in the great outdoors, we can bask in the sun and fun of our amazing beaches, stretching from the south-western tip of Brooklyn, following the ocean to Far Rockaway in Queens, to waves lapping gently along the Southern edge of Staten Island. Dozens of inlets, waterways, channels and bays like Orchard Beach in The Bronx, or boating and fishing communities like City Island in The Bronx, Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn.
Peace and quite designed by great architects are plentiful in our historic libraries, museums, churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and community centers. Without exaggeration, these buildings number into the thousands and provide a safe haven for reading, learning and escaping the madding crowds.
In a special series of City Scapes … Places Kids Play … I would like to introduce you to some of the places my friends and millions of other New York City kids explored during their childhood.
Kids can find the strangest places to play. Me and my side-kick, a short happy boy named Pete, were considered too young to “hang” with the older boys. Our parents assigned our two older brothers to grudgingly “watch” over us, an arrangement the four of us were not happy about. So, in the summer of our seventh year we began ditching them.
Together we scouted the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park, hitched rides on the trolleys, and sat at the end of the docks and watched ship traffic gliding through the Narrows into New York harbor. We swam in the pools in Sunset Park, ran along the park’s tree-lined field stone walls, roller skated down Dead Man’s Hill, and swiped razor blades from the Woolworth on Fifth Avenue when neither of us shaved.
A favorite “haunt” if you will pardon the pun, was Green-Wood Cemetery. Not more than a three block walk from where we lived, we discovered the section of the cemetery nearest our block contained the remaining open fields, not yet in use by the cemetery’s inhabitants. Conveniently, the fence along 36th Street and Fourth Avenue had a space just the right size for two urchins to slip through.
Today, I would like you to come along with me and Pete to one of the most fascinating sites in New York City …
Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, is a national historic landmark. Its acreage spans three neighborhoods in the borough and has some of the most beautiful landscaping and monuments in the world. The cemetery was the idea of Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, a Brooklyn social leader. It was a popular tourist attraction in the 1850s and was the place most famous New Yorkers who died during the second half of the nineteenth century were buried. Photographs taken from official web page.
The gates were designed by Richard Uphohn in a Gothic Revival style. The main entrance to the cemetery was built in 1861 of Belleville brownstone. The sculptured groups depicting biblical scenes over the gateways are the work of John M. Moffitt. A Designated Landmarks of New York plaque was erected on it in 1958 by the New York Community Trust.
Green-Wood was founded one hundred and seventy-four years ago in 1838. By the mid 1800’s it drew over 500,000 visitors a year and became a popular tourist attraction, rivaling Niagara Falls. Its magnificent 478 acres of hills, valleys, glacial ponds and tree-lined pathways exhibits one of the largest outdoor collections of 19th and 20th century statuary and mausoleums. It is still an operating cemetery with approximately 600,000 graves.
A descendent colony of monk parakeets, also known as Quaker Parrots, were believed to have escaped their containers while in transit, now nests in the spires of the gate. They have become famous Brooklyn residents and wild flocks can be seen in several areas of the borough, including the famous campus of Brooklyn College. Visit the official web page for the parakeets here.
There are several famous monuments, including a statue of DeWitt Clinton and a Civil War Memorial. During the Civil War, Green-Wood Cemetery created the “Soldiers’ Lot” for free veterans’ burials.
Some of the more famous residents include Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Horace Greeley, Civil War generals, baseball legends, politicians, artists, entertainers and inventors. Read the history and see the listing of famous residents here.
Several wooden shelters were also built, including one in a Gothic Revival style, one resembling an Italian villa, and another resembling a Swiss chalet.
On December 5, 1876, a Brooklyn theatre fire claimed the lives of at least 278 individuals, with some accounts reporting over 300 dead. Out of that total, 103 unidentified victims were interred in a common grave at Green-Wood Cemetery. An obelisk near the main entrance at Fifth Avenue and 25th Street marks the burial site.
“A magnet for history buffs and bird watchers, Green-Wood is a Revolutionary War historic site (the Battle of Long Island was fought in 1776 across what is now its grounds), a designated site on the Civil War Discovery Trail and a registered member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System.
On September 27, 2006, Green-Wood was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, which recognized its national significance in art, architecture, landscaping and history.
After almost two centuries, Green-Wood is as beautiful as it was at its founding. But such historic beauty is fragile. Time and weather have taken their toll on marble sculpture, granite monuments, brownstone mausoleums, cast-iron signs and landscaped parkland.
Established in 1999, The Green-Wood Historic Fund’s mission is to maintain Green-Wood Cemetery’s monuments and buildings of historical, cultural and architectural significance; advance public knowledge and appreciation of this significance; and preserve the natural habitat and parklands of one of New York City’s first green spaces. With funding from memberships and donations, The Historic Fund not only preserves the past to enrich our future, but keeps a vibrant presence in our current time by presenting open-to-the-public events which include themed walking and trolley tours, book talks and special seasonal events.” Taken from the official web-page.
For several magnificent tours and photographs of this historic wonder, please visit Mille Fiori Favoriti, My life in the big city, a blog done by Pat, a lifelong New Yorker. The title means “Thousand Favorite Flowers” in Italian. Thanks Pat.
As teenagers, we walked around the perimeter of the cemetery to get to the roller rink on Fort Hamilton Parkway.
As a young adult my future husband and I took Sunday rides or strolled down the many pathways in the cemetery. We would stop and watch as some people did etchings, others painted or sketched, some like us, just walked the grounds searching the monuments and stone markers for names and dates.
Green-Wood’s unique design and popularity became the inspiration for the creation of many New York City parks, such as Central and Prospect Parks.
It was also a great place for two rowdy kids to take twenty-five cents of bologna, share a Coke and a smile and spend a peaceful afternoon away from bossy big brothers.
How about you, would you visit a famous cemetery?
What is the strangest place you played as a kid?