At the beginning of the month, I led a couple of tours into the catacombs of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn for Obscura Day, organized by Atlas Obscura, an annual worldwide event that happened this year on April 9. The idea is to explore the wondrous places that are in your own backyard. Being that I live in a rather industrial part of Brooklyn, Green-Wood Cemetery is the closest thing I have to a backyard.
The catacombs are rarely unlocked, but the fantastic Green-Wood Historic Fund allowed them to be opened for us that Saturday. I also led us to some of the cemetery’s graves and other sites along the way, as Green-Wood is such a gorgeous place and dense with New York history. This included the geographic features carved by the glacier that once covered New York, the Revolutionary War site Battle Hill and the Minerva statue that gestures to the Statue of Liberty, the graves of American icons Leonard Bernstein and Boss Tweed, and beautiful statues like the Valentine Angel. It might seem unusual to visit a cemetery for reasons other than mourning, but Green-Wood was designed as a park and visitors once took carriage rides on the winding paths and ate picnics by the glacial ponds. I apologize that I could not arrange carriage rides.
The catacombs aren’t like those you would see in Paris, which were created in response to the city’s overflowing cemeteries (literally, putrid bodies sometimes spilled out from churchyards into the streets). Rather, these catacombs were built as a middle class option for above ground burial. If you were unable to afford to build your own mausoleum, you could buy a space in the Green-Wood catacombs. The catacombs are basically one long tunnel lined with vaults, with light coming in through skylights. The most notable permanent resident in the catacombs is Ward McAllister, a self-appointed arbiter of 19th century New York society, who unfortunately died not as wealthy as those in his carefully curated social circle.
More catacombs photos are below. To see my complete set of Obscura Day photos, click here.