Another weekend, another cemetery. I just can’t get enough of dead people! Before you label me as a morbid freak, please let me assure you that I don’t usually go to cemeteries every weekend, and the fact that I have spent consecutive Saturdays visiting cemeteries does not say anything about my state of mind or soul. It is merely coincidence, coupled with autumnal colours and a need for green space, that have led me to parks of eternal repose on these two sunny weekends in October.
This past Saturday, I didn’t have to go too far afield for my fresh air and gravestones fix; just a ride on the R train to Sunset Park in Brooklyn, and I was at Green-Wood Cemetery, resting place of many famous 19th century Americans of whom I had never heard, along with a few I had, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Henry Ward Beecher. I was expecting an experience like at Highgate in London, with romantic overgrown vines and tumbledown catacombs, but Green-Wood couldn’t have been more different. Despite recent storm damage, it was impeccable, largely because it is still a working cemetery. Spread across 400-odd landscaped acres of hills, lakes and beautiful foliage are thousands of graves and mausoleums, dating from the early 19th century to the present day. In wooded glades nestle tiny house-like mausoleums, some complete with stained glass windows, glimpsed through tiny chinks in the padlocked doors protecting their long dead inhabitants from the prying eyes of the outside world. In open, grassy glens, at the side of ornamental lakes, there are statues of angels, pointing triumphantly to the skies. Some graves celebrate the achievements of those who lived long, happy and successful lives; other, tiny, crumbling graves, depict heartbreakingly short lives, and the grief of the parents they left behind.
Green-Wood is an oasis of calm, filled with beautiful reminders of an age when death and mourning were of an elaborate and much more central importance to society than they are to us today. Autumn was an especially beautiful time of year to visit, with the grass beginning to be covered in the red-gold leaves from the abundant trees and the gentle sunlight providing a pretty, hazy glow. I was in raptures, and there was so much to see and explore that it would be impossible to do it all in one day. I was surprised it wasn’t a more popular attraction; in its heyday, in the mid 1800s, it was second only to Niagara Falls as a tourist destination in the US. On Saturday, there were just a few people milling around, many of them visiting newer graves of more recently deceased relatives. As such, it really is an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and I can imagine it being a delightful spot to bring a book on a summer’s afternoon.
After lots of fresh air and walking around, there’s nothing an English girl wants more than a plate of fish and chip shop chips and a mug of tea. Thankfully, in Brooklyn, there is a cafe called Chip Shop, an English restaurant which serves delicacies such as Fish and Chips, Sausage sandwiches, Steak and Kidney Pie, and Scotch Eggs, not to mention mugs of proper tea, with milk and everything. Off to this heaven we headed, and I gorged myself on fish, chips, HP sauce and PG Tips. It was divine!
The following day, an English friend and I were taken back to Brooklyn by more well meaning Americans, who marched us to the Chip Shop’s other location on Atlantic Avenue. After a pleasant sunshiney stroll down this pretty street, filled with delightful antique shops, farmer’s markets, delis and shops stocking all manner of lovely things you didn’t realise you needed until you saw them looking very enticingly at you through the window, we stopped for lunch. This time around, I had a sausage sandwich and a lovely mug of tea, and I felt like I was back at my mum’s. It was just what I needed.
On the walk back to the subway we succumbed to delicious icecream from Blue Marble – I had blood orange sorbet, but the pumpkin was equally delicious – and then we headed back to Manhattan, bellies full and homesickness cured. Another lovely weekend in the Big Apple; who knows what the next one will bring?!