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Step Inside Green-Wood Cemetery's Catacombs... IF YOU DARE

Green-Wood was founded in 1838 on unused Brooklyn farmland. Originally, you had to take a ferry over as there was no Brooklyn Bridge. There also wasn't a Central Park or a Metropolitan Museum, so the cemetery became both a place for recreation and a place to see art.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

However, it didn't take off immediately, as people were used to churchyard burials (which had become way overcrowded and festering eyesores and necessitated the cemetery out of the city limits). So the cemetery boosters got the idea to move the most famous person known in NYC at the time: DeWitt Clinton. He was already buried up in Albany, but they got permission to relocate him to Green-Wood, and it worked.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants


People wanted to be buried in this new fashionable place, and visitors would come for the day and take a carriage ride or have a picnic. This fell out of fashion in the 20th century and by the 1970s/80s the place had fallen into disrepair (like a lot of NYC)<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

Now it's maintained pretty well by the historic fund. The cemetery covers about 478 acres, with roughly 600,000 graves, and was built on a glacial moraine from a glacier that covered NYC about 18,000 years ago. It includes the highest point in Brooklyn (battle hill, about 200 feet above sea level) and a flock of wild parrots in the gate.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

The catacombs in Green-Wood consist of a really long group mausoleum, with 30 vaults lit by skylights built into a hill.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants


The catacombs were built in the 19th century as a way for people who couldn't afford their own mausoleums to still be buried above ground. This was both because it was fashionable at the time, and more pleasant for people than thinking about being buried in the earth, but also because there was a fear of being buried alive. At least aboveground, they theorized, people could hear you if you woke up screaming in your tomb.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

Some of the spaces have been individualized by families with marble doors to the tombs, others are less ornate.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

The most elaborate gate was that of Ward McAllister who was the self-appointed arbiter of society who kept a list of 400 people, the number of people who could fit in the Astor ballroom, which were supposedly the "best" people in NYC.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

[Ed: We don't know what this is but yes it looks like a finger]<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

Stephen Whitney's mausoleum is an eight-sided Gothic chapel, with the stained glass inside showing symbols that were popular for Christian tombs in the 19th century...<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants


But those on the interior gravemarkers are oddly medieval and weren't really in fashion when the tomb was built.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

Whitney got such a great vista in the cemetery because he helped plan it. It was also one of the rare things his great fortune was spent on, as although his wealth was second only to John Jacob Astor at the time, he wasn't terribly philanthropic.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants

Whitney got most of his money by accepting cotton as a payment on debts in the South during the War of 1812, and then after the war he was able to sell that when trade again opened up. He invested that into other lucrative ventures, and helped build the Merchant's Exchange Building, the first home for the NY Stock Exchange (it was destroyed in a fire in 1835).<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants


It's said that the last thing Whitney did before dying was lock up his checkbook, which seems fitting, although it was definitely brought out again for the elaborate mausoleum.<br/>

Tod Seelie / Suckapants