Monday, October 20, 2014

Photo of the Day: Cemetery and City, in Brooklyn

Scoff if you like, but for a long time, I’ve maintained a lively interest in burial sites. They are jam-packed with all kinds of human interest stories, if only we knew how to begin to know them—and few more so than Brooklyn’s most prominent cemetery, the exclusive final address for thousands of New York’s elite over the years.

I don’t think you can gauge the true impact of Green-Wood Cemetery until you compare it to its surrounding environment, as I sought to do with this picture taken on a visit to this National Historic Landmark a week and a half ago. Way off in the background you can see the modest working-class, largely immigrant neighborhood of Sunset Park.

But in the foreground is Green-Wood, founded in 1838 as one of America’s first rural cemeteries—a sharp break from the church graveyards dominant till that time. So lushly beautiful were its 478 acres that New Yorkers took to promenading around its hills, valleys, ponds and paths, often oblivious to the grim reality of death that had brought so many here to their final ends. And so influential was this pastoral setting that it later gave rise to two other epic experiments in landscape architecture, Central Park and Prospect Park, by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

For several months, my friend Elizabeth—transplanted to the South, but still a Brooklyn diehard at heart—had urged me to visit the cemetery. Last week, I took her up on the advice. I made the mistake of going on a Thursday, when tour buses were not operating, so I did not have the chance to see as much as I would have liked. But this gives me all the more incentive to return—and, in any case, you will be seeing some of the results of what I did manage to see in my brief afternoon walk on future posts of "Photo of the Day."

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