It’s big, green, historic, beautiful, and has more celebrities inside than you could ever imagine possible in an out-of-the-way spot in Brooklyn. Any day of the week, you can take a trip out to the lush woodlands, hills, and statuary gardens of Green-Wood Cemetery (and you should!), but every NYC history geek needs to visit the Museum of the City of New York’s A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery before October 13 to plumb the riches that have been assembled to celebrate its 175-year history.
We’re providing a walk-through on our Flickr feed, but the virtual experience is no match for the first-hand encounters with objects associated with the New York titans that are interred within the 478 acres of hills and countryside of Green-Wood itself – Tiffany, Duncan Phyfe, Boss Tweed, and even The Little Drummer Boy.
Consider the retail giants and brands: All five Brooks Brothers (who invented ready-made suits in 1849), the six Steinways who made pianos in Queens, Ebhard Faber (remember pencils?), the Domino Sugar owners (who once had 98% of the entire US market and who gave most of their vast art collection to the Met), the creator of Chiclets, the founder of Pan Am, and even F.A.O. Schwartz (yes, it’s a person).
MCNY has put the map of Green-wood on the floor of the gallery and has placed vitrines with objects associated with the rich and famous sort-of where they would be in the actual cemetery. Walking through the show is like random-access memory. You don’t know what or who you’ll stumble upon.
The tribute includes artists (from Currier & Ives and Asher Durand to Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, and Jean-Michel Basquiat); composers (Frank Ebb, Mr. Bernstein, and disco legend Paul Jibara); and inventors of things like the safety razor, the sewing machine, soda fountains, and the safety pin (think about that). Yes, it all happened in New York.
Green-wood is New York’s equivalent of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, full of vistas, trees, paths, lakes, works by celebrity sculptors, military memorials, and elaborate, ornate above-ground tombs. Lachaise spawned an international mania for sylvan-glade cemeteries when it opened in 1804, and when Mr. Pierrepont was laying out the Brooklyn street system in the early 1800s, he left a big, open green spot in the plan, where Green-Wood is today. It opened in 1838, predating Central Park, and grew into the No. 2 tourist attraction in the United States (after Niagara) by the 1850s.
The show’s front hall has spectacular landscape photos taken last year by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao, serving as luring calling cards to take the actual expedition to Green-Wood and its celebrated trolley tours led by uber-historian Jeff Richman.