History of The Greenwood Cemetery in New York City

The most beautiful cemetery of the city of New York, and the place where its people most long to sleep when “life’s fitful fever” is over, is Greenwood. It is situated on Gowanus Heights, within the limits of the City of Brooklyn, and covers an area of 413 acres of land. It is two and a half miles distant from the South Ferry, and three from the Fulton Ferry, with lines of street cars from both ferries. A portion of the grounds is historic, for along the edge of the heights occurred the hardest fighting in the battle of Long Island, in 1776.

The cemetery is beautifully laid out. The heights have been graded at immense expense, and the grounds are provided with carriage roads built of stone, covered with gravel, and with foot-paths of concrete. The carriage drives are seventeen miles, and the foot-paths fifteen miles in extent. The sewerage is perfect, and the greatest care is exercised in keeping the grounds free from dirt and weeds. The cemetery was laid out under the supervision of a corps of accomplished landscape gardeners, and it abounds in the most exquisite scenery. From the higher portions the bay and the cities which border it, with the blue ocean in the distance, may all be seen. Everything that art could do to add to the attractions of a naturally beautiful spot has been done, and the place has come to be, next to the Central and Prospect Parks, one of the favorite resorts of the people of New York and Brooklyn. The entrances are all adorned with magnificent gateways of stone. The northern gateway is adorned with sculptures representing the burial of the Saviour, and the raising of the widow’s son and of Lazarus. Above these are bas-relief figures, representing Faith, Hope, Memory, and Love.

The cemetery was opened for burials about twenty-seven years ago. At the close of the year 1870 the interments had reached 150,000. From fifteen to twenty interments are made here every day. The deep-toned bell of the great gateway is forever tolling its knell, and some mournful train is forever wending its slow way under the beautiful trees. Yet the sunlight falls brightly, the birds sing their sweetest over the new-made graves, the wind sighs its dirge through the tall trees, and the “sad sea waves” blend with it all their solemn undertone from afar.

The tombs and monuments to be seen at Greenwood are very beautiful. Some of them are noted as works of art. Many of them have cost from $10,000 to $100,000. About 2000 of these tombs are scattered through the grounds. In beauty of design and costliness they surpass any similar collection in the New World, but in one respect they are like all others, for they speak nothing but good of the dead. Indeed, were one to believe their inscriptions, the conclusion would be inevitable that none but saints are buried in Greenwood. All classes come here, but the cemetery is characteristic of the living city beyond. Wealth governs everything here as there.


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