The cemetery. Not the first place to come to mind when thinking of an outing to take the kids on a weeekend, but why not? Especially when you have one as beautiful as the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. I believe it’s one of America’s oldest cemeteries and perhaps, one of the most beautiful. Some notable people are buried here: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein, the Steinways, Peter Cooper (the Cooper Union founder where I went to school), members of Theodore Roosevelt’s immediate family, and most recently just last year, two time Pulitzer Prize winning American composer, Elliot Carter, who Mark and I both admired during our music studies in college.
I think the girls were a little confused when we got off the bus and I told them that we were going to the cemetery, but you gotta love kids. For the most part, they just go with the flow no matter how random. Soon enough, however, they discovered why I love this cemetery so much. At nearly 450 acres, it’s easy to meander and get lost through the narrow cobblestoned paths that cut into the hills. They started foraging for leaves, stray flowers that got blown away from their graves and other little nature treasures. They went on a quest to find the oldest tombstone they could find and stopped at mausoleum entryways to bow down in their own little ceremonies. We talked about what cemeteries were and why we needed to respect the land and the graves.
I’ve never been to Greenwood in the winter and it was sort of fitting that it was a gray, slightly foggy day. It rendered everything a bit colorless and desaturated except for the gold, moss green and amber hues found in the ground and the few surviving leaves on the trees. There’s something beautiful about the starkness of dark, bare branches against a white sky, isn’t there? (hey, trying to see some positives in this bleak weather). And something peaceful about the weathered statues and the graves below. We vowed to return in the Fall when I’m sure the landscape is spectacular, though the cemetery did suffer severe damage to nearly 300 of their 7,700 trees during Hurricane Sandy. Some of the damage has yet to be cleared away.
By the way, do teenagers still hang out in cemeteries or is that just a thing that new wave goth kids did in the 80s? (we have a lot of cemeteries in NYC).
Photo of me and C taken by Megan McCormick. And yes, the symbolism of that last grave site is quite something.