Green – Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn: A National Historic Landmark

Last month whilst on a trip to New York City, I took the time to visit Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. As I stepped off the noisy, chaotic streets of Brooklyn into the acres of quiet tranquility sitting above Brooklyn, it was like stepping into the ‘Secret Garden’.

The history of Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood cemetery originally opened in 1838, and over the last 170 years, over 600,000 well-to-do New Yorkers have been buried here. Covering some 478 acres, including the highest point in Brooklyn rising to 200 feet above sea level, Green-Wood sprawls out over knolls and hills overlooking the city below.

The cemetery was the brain-child of Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, a Brooklyn social leader in the 1830’s, and was as popular a tourist attraction back then, as it is now. By the middle of the 19th century Green-Wood was attracting 50,000 visitors a year and rivalled Niagara Falls as the nation’s greatest tourist attraction. Families would flock to the cemetery to enjoy the green open space, taking carriage rides around the pathways and appreciating the fine sculpture of the statues and memorial markers. Indeed the popularity of Green-Wood Cemetery inspired New York City to build further large green space areas in the city including Central Park and Prospect Park.

The land the cemetery was built upon is steeped in history marking some of the momentous moments in the nation’s short but turbulent history. The Battle of Brooklyn was fought in 1776 on the very land that is now consecrated as Green-Wood Cemetery.

It is this rich heritage that spurred the U.S. Department of the Interior to designate Green-Wood a National Historic Landmark in 2006. The cemetery is home to over 7,000 trees, numerous hills and valleys, glacial ponds and miles of winding pathways. Visitors not only enjoy the tranquil oasis of green space in the midst of the city, the site is also a bird-watching haven. Paul Goldberger, the famous architectural critic, once stated that “it is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon the Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood”.

The ostentatious tone is set by the auspicious gothic gates to Green-Wood as you enter uphill to the entranceway. It is said that Green-Wood Cemetery was inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts. This was the first English style rural cemetery which broke away from the traditional harsh view of death embodied by church-affiliated graveyards and Colonial-era burial grounds. Green-Wood, like Mount Auburn before it, is a non-secular and more aesthetic, natural landscape way sought to create a beautifully-designed environment that was also a final resting place of souls.

Green-Wood Cemetery today

Today, aside from still being an operating cemetery with a crematory on-site and a chapel, Green-Wood also hosts events and offers guided trolley tours around the vast acreage. You don’t have to have a morbid fascination in death or graveyards to find Green-Wood worth a visit. The myriad of interesting crypt structures, monuments and statues plunge you into a time gone-by and resonate with those scenes of graveyards that feature in the imagination of most of us!

What is the Cost of interment at Green-Wood Cemetery?

Being buried at such an auspicious site does not come cheap, and like many things in NYC, real estate is expensive. The costs below are merely the charges from the cemetery for interment, and do not include any funeral service provider charges.

  1. A single burial plot (that will hold up to three burials) costs between $12,000 to $14,0002
  2. Mausoleum Sites (756 sq. ft.) from $320,0003
  3. Community Mausoleums – Single entombment costs between $20,000 to $34,5004
  4. Community Mausoleums – Double (two entombments) costs between $30,600 to $68,0005
  5. Cremation Niches from $1,850 to $20,500
  6. Cremation Urn Sites from $3,500

Add to this an opening and closing fee for the grave, vault or mausoleum which is $1,805.00 for an adult grave site and $936.00 for a child (under 10). In addition to this there are extra incremental fees if a burial is required at a weekend or for other special circumstances, such as at an extra depth or in a customary container.

The opening and closing fee for a cremation niche is $199.00.

The fee for a direct cremation at Green-Wood crematory costs $377.0.

Memorial Monuments in Green-Wood Cemetery

There is a whole array of interesting monuments decorating the grave plots around the cemetery. Most cemeteries have strict regulations about the erection of memorial markers within their grounds and Green-Wood is no different. What many folks do not realize is that the cemetery cannot only regulate the type of marker you can erect, they will also charge you a fee to ensure it is correctly erected so as not to subside. Generally a period of time elapses between the burial and when the marker can be erected to allow the ground to fully settle.

Green-Wood lays a foundation for any memorial marker to be erected and this foundation lies as deep as the gravesite itself. The cemetery charges for the laying of the foundation. This is charged on a per cubic foot basis but the minimum charge for a single grave is $695.00 and for a memorial proportioned for two graves is $1,383.00. So all’s told a single burial plot at Green-Wood, with interment on a week-day and no special requests, with a single memorial marker erected can cost $14,500 (without the cost of the headstone included).

Famous graves in Green-Wood Cemetery

The wealthy and the famous of New York have chosen to be buried here for nearly two centuries, so this is certainly an important heritage site in Brooklyn, and you can positively feel the history as you amble around Green-Wood. Early regulations of the cemetery prevented anyone executed for a crime, or dying in jail, from being buried there but the family of the infamous Boss Tweed somehow managed to circumvent this rule and lay him to rest in Green-Wood Cemetery despite him dying in Ludlow Street Jail.

Some of the monuments are very auspicious, and represent the wealth of New York past and present. There are too many notable residents to mention but a few of the most notable famous burials at Green-Wood include: Leonard Bernstein, Henry Chadwick, Jean-Michel Basquait, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Horace Greely, Henry Steinway along with countless Civil War Generals, Baseball legends, 19th Century inventors, important political figures, artists and entertainers.

If as Paul Goldberger claimed you are a New Yorker who wishes “to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood”, then you may want to set up that burial fund now! However, as a rich heritage site and a wonderfully interesting green space in Brooklyn, I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Green-Wood as a must for any New Yorker and anyone visiting the city.

Published: 10-14-2014

Written by

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 15 years.