Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York

If you’ve visited New York before, you’ve probably already shopped till you dropped and seen all the sights Manhattan has to offer. Maybe a trip a little further afield is in order – to Brooklyn, the borough of kings. There’s no shortage of attractions, and many have the added advantage of being easy on the pocket.

Among them is Green-Wood Cemetery, which once rivalled Niagara Falls as one of North America’s most popular places to visit. While it may not have the same spooky charms as London’s famous Highgate Cemetery, its beautiful landscaping inspired the later developments of Central Park and Brooklyn’s own Prospect Park.

Victorian sculpture

The cemetery is home to a vast array of Victorian funerary sculpture, as broken columns, wreaths and urns abound. Each has its own particular symbolism; a figure pointing upwards represents faith, while a pair of rings indicates a married couple.

Weeping angels or women are an obvious representation of grief,  or mourning for a life cut short too soon.

Weeping angel sculpture, Green-Wood Cemetery, New York

Lola Montez’s grave

Green-Wood Cemetery is also the final resting place to many New York luminaries, including artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, composer Leonard Bernstein, and actor Frank Morgan (most famous for the title role in The Wizard of Oz).

Jewelry empire founder Charles Lewis Tiffany and his son Louis Comfort Tiffany, designer and stained glass artist, are also buried there.

Of particular Irish interest is the grave of the infamous Lola Montez, marked by an unassuming headstone engraved with her birth name Eliza Gilbert.

The Battle of Brooklyn

History buffs will be interested to learn that it was the site of Battle in Brooklyn (aka the Battle of Long Island), the first major battle to take place after the United States declared independence on 4 July, 1776.

George Washington, then a General, led the Continental army against the English. However, the Americans suffered a heavy defeat, resulting in their retreat and abandonment of the strategically important city of New York.

The battle is commemorated by the ‘Altar of Liberty’ atop Battle Hill. A statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war,  raises her arm in salute to her more famous sister, the Statue of Liberty.

If you look closely, you’ll see The Statue of Liberty in the photo, just above Minerva’s right elbow.

Statue of Minerva, Green-Wood Cemetery, New York
Minerva hailing Liberty

Free entry

Entry to Green-Wood Cemetery is free, and complimentary maps are available at the entrances, or you can download the PDF version here. Alternatively, you can download the “Green-Wood Discover” app for €1.99 for iPhone or Android.

The cemetery occupies an area of almost two square kilometres, so there’s a lot of walking involved, and plenty of hills. Smaller paths are not always well paved, so it’s definitely a day for sensible shoes.

If you can’t manage all that walking, organised trolley-bus tours run at least once a week. The tours are very popular, so advance booking is recommended. There are also occasional concerts in the gothic chapel and other events – check the official website for dates and to buy tickets for both tours and events.

Cemetery rules

Remember, Green-Wood is still a working cemetery, so be respectful on your visit. Leave the boom-box at home and pick another picnic spot.

There are a few rules to observe: no jogging, cycling, motorbikes, or pets. No video photography and no live models (there goes the fashion shoot).

However, still photography for personal use is encouraged, but for professional photography you’ll need a permit.

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