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.

Continue reading “Woodlawn Cemetery”

Green-Wood Cemetery

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 219 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned You never know who you’ll meet at Green-Wood.  For example, Do-Hum-Me, an Indian princess who came east with some of her tribe and died in New York.

Gravestone, Green-Wood Cemetery
Do-Hum-Me, Daughter of Nan-Nouce-Rush-Ee-Toe

Green-Wood CemeteryI feel like I’m on thin ice with this one. There’s a fairly strong argument to be made that cemeteries are not museums. Start with the fact that they are called “cemeteries” and not “museums.” But bear with me here.

First off this isn’t the first cemetery I’ve visited on this project. A significant part of what makes Trinity Church important is its graveyard, and Trinity’s is relatively tiny.  Grant’s Tomb offers a lone voice trying to rehabilitate the General’s somewhat tattered reputation.  And the African Burial Ground seeks to recall those whom history has forgotten.

New York’s two great cemeteries, Green-Wood in Brooklyn and Woodlawn in the Bronx, represent an amazing convergence of art and architecture, landscape design, nature, and the people, famous, infamous, and not-famous-at-all, who over centuries have made New York City what it is. A stroll through a one of these vast and amazing places can be almost as edifying, and at least as entertaining, as going to a gallery or historic house (or certainly a botanical garden).

The great cemeteries were parks before the City had parks.  They provide a visceral a tie to the past that dusty displays at historical societies can’t match. Continue reading “Green-Wood Cemetery”