Woodlawn Cemetery

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 120 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned My favorite monument at Woodlawn is the Straus family mausoleum.  Three mini-tombs form a complex for the sons of Isidor and Ida Straus, plus a memorial to their parents, famously lost on the Titanic.  

Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York  It’s a unique hybrid of art deco and Egyptian Revival, complete with an awesome, streamlined, funeral barge.

Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York
Woolworth Chapel

I need to preface this review with a disclosure.  I have been visiting Woodlawn Cemetery for almost 20 years.  Also, I’m a member of, and volunteer with, the Woodlawn Conservancy, and help out with guided tours there.

So I have a strong bias. I love this place.

Cemeteries as Museums

In my review of Green-Wood Cemetery (New York’s other masterpiece cemetery, in Brooklyn) I explain why I think great historic cemeteries merit consideration as museums. In short, their unique combination of history, art, architecture and nature makes them both edifying and, for some definition of the word, entertaining.  And definitely inspiring.

Facts and Figures

Woodlawn spans 400 acres, making it a bit smaller than Green-Wood’s 478 acres.  For comparison, that’s a little under half the size of Central Park (843 acres).  In short, it’s hard to see it all in one visit, and wear comfortable shoes if you go.

Woodlawn was founded in December 1863, a generation after Green-Wood (1838). While still a beautiful, parklike setting, its plan is rather different.  Where Green-Wood, Laurel Hill in Philadelphia, and Mount Auburn in Boston were pioneering rural parks, Woodlawn follows the “landscape-lawn” design philosophy.  It’s still natural, but a bit more controlled and manicured than the first generation of cemeteries.

I could go on and on (and on) with facts and figures about Woodlawn.  Rather, I think I’ll let images do the talking for me this time. Here’s an assortment of photos I’ve taken at Woodlawn over the years that highlight its spectacular beauty and serenity.

 

People, Architecture, Nature

Whatever aspect of human endeavor catches your fancy, Woodlawn likely hosts some leading lights.  That’s particularly true if you’re into jazz — Woodlawn is home to the earthly remains of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Illinois Jacquet, and Max Roach, among others, who have created a sort of informal neighborhood.  

Whether it’s scientists or feminists, philosophers, artists, or plutocrats, Woodlawn has someone.  With a population of 300,000, you might even have a relative or two there.

Woodlawn’s monuments represent a who’s who of New York’s leading architectural firms, working in every style from Classical to Egyptian to Gothic to Art Deco.  The Conservancy holds regular tours when it opens up some of the mausolea to peek inside.

And the nature is fantastic too.  Immense trees, beautiful flowers, but also animals as well.  I’ve been menaced by wild turkeys and seen countless hawks, including a close encounter with one.  I was luckier than the squirrel.

Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York
Hawk and Squirrel are Not Friends

While autumn is my favorite time of year, Woodlawn’s beauty abounds in every season.

Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York

Visit Woodlawn Cemetery!

Obviously my answer to the question of visiting Woodlawn is “yes.” Woodlawn is completely worth the trek.

Woodlawn has steadily improved how it serves living guests, as opposed to its core constituency.  It holds regular tours, talks, and lectures on an array of subjects — worth keeping an eye on its calendar.  The Conservancy also has a pretty good app with tours that can help you find your way, although I love going there and just wandering.

I know the conventional wisdom says cemeteries are creepy places, and skulking around in them recreationally is best left to goths or wannabe goths.  But places like Woodlawn (and Green-Wood) are monuments to life, and lives, and memory. If you visit once, I almost guarantee you’ll be back to visit again.

Who knows, you may even decide to take up permanent residence in this beautiful place someday.

For Reference:

Address East 233rd Street & Webster Avenue, Bronx

(Also note there’s a convenient gate at Jerome Avenue and Bainbridge Avenue, near the northern terminus of the Number 4 train)

Website woodlawnconservancy.org
Cost  General Admission:  Free
Other Relevant Links

 

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