Founded in 1838 and now a National Historic Landmark, Green-Wood Cemetery was one of the first rural cemeteries in America. Green-Wood is comprised 478 acres of hills, valleys, and pond, throughout which exists one of the largest outdoor collections of 19th- and 20th-century statuary and mausoleums. Four seasons of beauty from century-and-a-half-old trees offer a peaceful oasis to visitors, as well as its nearly 600,000 permanent residents, including Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Horace Greeley, Civil War generals, baseball legends, politicians, artists, entertainers and inventors.
Two decades after the cemetery was opened, the United States found itself embroiled in war, and Brooklyn, like most cities across the nation, found itself scrambling to provide adequate burial spots for the seemingly endless stream of Civil War casualties. They established a “soldier’s lot” that provided free burial for those killed in the war and by 1865 more than 200 soldiers and sailors, many of them unknown, were buried there. In 2002, the cemetery launched its Civil War project, which has located the graves of more than 5,000 men who fought in the Civil War and installed new, permanent markers for each one.
Despite the brutal conflict raging in much of the country, the mid-1800s was also a high point for Green-Wood tourism. With both Central Park and Prospect Park still under construction and few of New York’s iconic cultural buildings yet in existence, Green-Wood Cemetery, with its rolling hills, marble monuments and lush landscaping, became a popular escape from the already crowded city. By the early 1860s, it had earned an international reputation for its magnificent beauty and became the prestigious place to be buried. It attracted 500,000 visitors a year on average, second only to Niagara Falls as the nation’s greatest tourist attraction. Crowds flocked there to enjoy family outings, carriage rides, and sculpture viewing in the finest of first generation American landscapes. Green-Wood’s popularity helped inspire the creation of public parks, including New York City’s Central and Prospect Parks.
On September 27, 2006, Green-Wood was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, which recognized its national significance in art, architecture, landscaping and history. A magnet for history buffs and bird watchers alike, Green-Wood is a Revolutionary War historic site (the Battle of Long Island was fought in 1776 across what is now its grounds), a designated site on the Civil War Discovery Trail and a registered member of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System.