It’s the spookiest time of the year and chances are you are looking for fun and spooky things to do that will spook and delight you. Watching spooky movies, going to some kind of spooky haunted house, or, if you are a sociopath, paying actual money to go into one of those locked-room, touching-allowed nightmare basements.
Anyways, it is definitely illegal and probably disrespectful and maybe bad luck to sneak into a cemetery and have a séance or sacrifice a goat or bring someone back to life. But legally walking into a cemetery, touring the grounds, drinking spiced liquor and listening to bagpipes is a definitely above-board, spooky and fun activity for the Halloween season. On Saturday Night, international weird-place and event organization Atlas Obscura put on Into the Veil, an after-hours exploration of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and I can assure you that it was both spooky and fun!
Like many Atlas Obscura events, the target audience sort of falls on a spectrum from something like possessing a moderate amount of disposable income to I’m LARPing which, honestly, is a perfectly legitimate spectrum. The whole mission of Atlas Obscura is to curate interesting places around the world, and the events always have a cool theme and nice attention to detail.
Founded in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark, sitting on over 450 acres of land, and the final resting place of 560,000 people. Green-Wood is a New York institution as well, such an attraction in its heyday that it inspired the development of nearby Prospect Park, and a place to find many area luminaries from the Theodore Roosevelt's dad to Basquiat. Civil War veterans, American Revolution figures, and regular people like you and me are also spread throughout the rollin' hills.
Cemeteries “matter” in a weird way. Old cemeteries render a usually monolithic History in an idiosyncratic way, through individual and often minor lives, bearing a kind of cultural significance that you can't get from a museum. (In the '90s, every Halloween movie or TV show involved being in a cemetery at night at some point, but I feel like that isn't really a popular trope anymore.)
And Green-Wood is a very cool part of American History—the guy who is credited with inventing the fastball is buried there! So is—that’s right, you guessed it, the one, the only, Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism! Also, R.I.P. Charlotte Canda, debutante killed in a carriage accident in 1845.
At a certain point the sky was basically orange, and the moon was out and bright, and one finds oneself walking through a wrought-iron gate up a hill towards a backlit white marble church facade looming under a nearly full moon. You are given a map and sort of set free to roam the grounds, coming across performances, readings, music, drinks, crypts, dances, and open crypts. It was all surprisingly unencumbered, your ability to roam around the cemetery only gently guided by small lights on the ground.
I spent about a half hour in one of the churches with a live pianist accompanying some silent films, watched a river of Styx performance on a lake, and walked into a bunch of crypts they had opened up. It’s unclear to me how they were able to allow us access into these private family mausoleums, but the chance to see inside of them is actually very special and cool. A lot of these buildings are at least 150 years old, and in excellent, if weathered, condition. The first open one that I happened featured a young boy playing "See You Again" on a harpsichord, which was the most profound thing that has ever happened to me. I'm sure there are skeptics out there but for my money this was a Very Cool Event.
Take a look through Tod Seelie's gorgeous, moody photos of the night's happenings.