NEW YORK (AP) — Decades before New York's Central Park was created, Green-Wood Cemetery's ponds, hills and winding paths provided not only a pastoral final resting place for the nation's elite but also a recreational spot for picnics and horse-drawn buggies.
The still-active cemetery in Brooklyn was the largest cemetery in the world at the end of the 19th century. It was also the second most-visited tourist destination in New York behind Niagara Falls.
The 478-acre site is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year with an exhibition opening Wednesday at the Museum of the City of New York. While it cannot replace a visit to the cemetery grounds, "A Beautiful Way to Go: New York's Green-Wood Cemetery" provides historical context for one of only four U.S. cemeteries to be granted National Historic Landmark status.
Founded in 1838 in what was then the City of Brooklyn, Green-Wood was an early example of the "rural cemetery." In contrast to the somber church graveyards in lower Manhattan that were rapidly filling up, it offered vistas of the New York Harbor and a new view of death that essentially said: "If you live a good life, this is the kind of afterlife you will have. It will be a place like this," said curator Donald Albrecht.
Visitors enter Green-Wood through the soaring spires of Gothic Revival-style gates designed by Richard Upjohn, the architect of Trinity Church in lower Manhattan who is buried there.
"It became THE place to be buried because of the varied features that it has," said Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman, and it attracted such luminaries as actress Laura Keene, who was on stage when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, New York Tribune founder Horace Greeley and "The Father of Baseball" Henry Chadwick.
"There was no Metropolitan Museum of Art or Brooklyn Museum, so you went to Green-Wood," he said. The scenic place offered an escape from crowded and unsanitary streets and an outdoor museum of hillside mausoleums, obelisks, statues and tombs designed by leading architects of the day.
Decades later, Green-Wood's natural topography became the model for the creation of Central Park, Brooklyn's Prospect Park and Llewellyn Park, N.J., America's first planned suburb.
By 1890, the cemetery encompassed 478 acres. Today, it is the largest New York City cemetery in terms of acreage with 560,000 people interred under or within 100,000 monuments or tombs. Among them are Cooper Union founder Peter Cooper; "The Father of the Erie Canal" and New York Gov. DeWitt Clinton; composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein; and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
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