The City Concealed: Dead and Buried

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WNET Channel 13, our local PBS affiliate, recently launched a blog/online video series/vlog, “The City Concealed,” in which they send film crews and producers into New York’s hidden nooks and crannies. (They also take requests for where to go next; and they have a distinguished blogroll to boot!)

Two episodes have appeared so far, the most recent a fascinating underground tour of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery:

Green-Wood Cemetery is best known as the final resting place of
famous New Yorkers like Boss Tweed, the Steinway family, and Leonard
Bernstein, but it’s also a treasure trove of hidden sculpture and
architecture.

Established in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery became a destination for
American and European tourists. Every year, thousands flocked to the
cemetery to enjoy its lush gardens, rolling hills, and stately tombs.
Unfortunately, during New York City’s financial woes of the late
sixties and early seventies, the cemetery restricted public access and
lost its reputation as an urban oasis of art and nature.

Over the last decade, however, the cemetery has made efforts to
invite the public back inside, hosting concerts, film screenings, and
tours. Still, access to the most fascinating sites — inside the tombs
and catacombs — remains extremely limited. That’s why we called Jeff
Richman, Green-Wood Cemetery’s historian, who wields the massive,
dungeon-like key ring that unlocks the granite portals behind which lie
the dead.

Viewers may be most interested in the peek inside the cemetery’s vault system, whole rooms of family coffins stacked like that final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Okay, so not quite that bad; and though the cemetery does host “catacombs,” they’re not quite on the scale or model of the ones in Paris.) The vault system features prominently at other old NYC cemeteries — notably Trinity Church (which is why the graveyard towers so high above Church Street in the rear: it’s hollow and filled with bodies, not the secret underground tunnels of the Illuminati!) and one of my favorite small, private cemeteries, the New York City Marble Cemetery on East 2nd Street (between First and Second), where a good friend was married — not buried — last fall.

In case you were wondering, though: You won’t find Melville at Green-Wood, in spite of the fact that the cemetery’s chapel hosted readings of the Father Mapple sermon last year. No, for a Melville pilgrimage (you know you’ve always wanted to make one!) you’ll have to head up to Woodlawn, in the Bronx, the city’s other magnificent “rural” cemetery.

To arrange your own (live!) tour of Green-Wood, click here. Photo from the Times‘s Paper Cuts blog.

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