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  • Writer's pictureEmily

Visiting While I Can Still Leave

When I checked into Green-Wood Cemetery on Facebook I made sure that my post clearly stated "I’m here as a visitor, not to be a permanent resident." I was at Green-Wood for the Historic Trolley Tour about the fascinating stories of the famous and infamous people (and pets!) buried there.

Green-Wood was founded in Brooklyn 1838 and was one of the first rural cemeteries in America along with Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the beginning, the cemetery was a popular tourist destination and families would come and enjoy a picnic lunch there. Green-Wood is on 478 acres and is home to 560,000 permanent residents.

We started our tour at the entrance which features beautiful gothic arches. Parakeets nest in the arches and the speculation is that they escaped from a shipment at JFK Airport that was on its way to South America. One of our first stops on the trolley was the Minerva and the Altar to Liberty sculpture which commemorates the Battle of Brooklyn. The sculpture is on a hill overlooking New York harbor with a direct view of the Statue of Liberty, as if Minerva is saluting Lady Liberty.

A few steps away, we visited Leonard Bernstein and were treated to a West Side Story song by our tour guide who used to be a singer.

Many of the gravestones at Green-Wood are shaped like pyramids and obelisks. This is because Egyptian influences were a popular trend at the time. This pyramid design is seen in the mausoleum of Henry Bergh who founded American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Bergh was also instrumental in the establishment of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Bergh passed away in 1888 and in 2006 a large bas-relief with animals on it was installed at the base of his pyramidal mausoleum. Interestingly, Green-Wood used to take pet burials but stopped in the 1870s.

The trolley tour was full of many interesting stories, trivia, and other tidbits. It touched on just a small portion of the large cemetery and there's still a lot more I'd like to go back and see. Our guide wrapped up the tour with a saying they always end with...

"come visit us while you can still leave"

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