Dead People and Chips

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?!

42 comments

  1. Hehe – I love the idea of an English food cafe – is it mainly patronised by the English or are Americans up for fish and soggy chips too? And was the tea proper English tea? I’ve had dismal experiences with tea in the US.

    1. Oh no, the Americans love it! They don’t get food like this anywhere else! Yes, they had PG Tips and Yorkshire Tea – all very authentic and served in chipped mugs. Just what I wanted!

  2. Dead people and chips sounds the perfect day out. Good to know you can get a proper cup of tea (but I bet you brought supplies from home, just in case!)

    1. It really was! I know, it is a comfort to know there is a place I can go for some PG tips, even if I do have to pay $3 for the privilege. Can you believe that? It’s like the price of train buffet trolley tea, but much better quality, thankfully.

      Of course I did! And I have more on the way. My sister is sending me tea, plain chocolate hobnobs, and some tights from Marks and Spencers.🙂

  3. I have always found cemeteries a peaceful place to relax. Since Springfield, Illinois is my hometown, I have spent many pleasant afternoons visiting Lincoln’s Tomb and the surrounding cemetery. I love the artwork on the tombstones. Recently, I picked up a copy of Spoon River Anthology and re-read it.
    I’m glad you found a place to eat food that reminds you of home. Everyone needs a taste of home now and then.

    1. They are just the loveliest places to escape for a while in, Janet. I’m glad you enjoy the same experiences – I didn’t realise Lincoln’s tomb was in Illinois. I might find myself up in that part of the country one of these days, I hope!

      Thank you! A taste of home is very lifting to the spirits!

  4. Do they not generally put milk in their tea across the pond?! I can do without sugar, but it’s just tanin taste without milk surely (genuinely horrified – am odd).

    1. Well the second time I went on the Sunday, the waiter didn’t give me any milk. When I asked for some he looked at me like I was mad! Generally the tea they serve up here is just sub par – like ashes. I don’t understand why they can’t make it properly! I think they’re much more a fancy coffee sort of country and they can’t hack plain drinks!

  5. I love old cemeteries as well. Sad and yet so beautiful. There is a great little documentary called Rick Sebeck: A Cemetary Special. He makes lovely little movies about sort of odd things (hot dogs, ice cream, old amusement parks, sandwiches, farmer’s markets) and the cemetery one is great. I would recommend any of his movies. And would you do me a favor? Would you please have tea or a meal at Tea & Sympathy in the Village (108 Greenwich Avenue at Jane) and let me know how it rates? I love it and it is run by an actual English woman but I would be curious to see what you think. I’m loving your New York stories!

    1. I’m glad you are a fellow old cemetery fan, Heather! I have never heard of Rick Sebeck before, but now I’m intrigued – I shall search out those documentaries! I am planning on going to Tea and Sympathy at some point so I will be happy to report back to you! Thank you, I’m glad you’re enjoying my little adventures!

  6. I’m so enjoying your reports and pictures. Based on our abbreviated experience in NYC, it sounds like it’s easier to find an English cup of tea than it is to find authentic Tex-Mex food.😉 Glad that you found some reminders of home — the day sounds fabulous. Old cemeteries are so intriguing!

    1. Thank you, Susan! I’m glad! Oh really? I haven’t attempted to find any Tex Mex food yet but I’m guessing what they have is not much good! It was a fantastic day – there is so much interesting history to be found in this city!

  7. What a splendid day you had then, Rachel. Chips and old bones. My kind of day.

    I love cemeteries, especially old ones. They are peaceful and often tell the history of a people. I imagine many in Britain are much older than here though. We have one nearby on the grounds of the oldest Catholic church in Cook County. It is the final resting place of mostly Irish settlers who worked on laying the railroad and building the I & M Canal. The inscriptions on the tombs are the stories of their lives – their names and birthplaces and such. It is up on a bluff that looks out at the valley below and is such a lovely place. If you come to Illinois, I will take you there.

    1. Yes it was a splendid day indeed, Penny! I’m glad it’s your kind of day too.

      We have a lot of old churchyards filled with interesting graves in Britain, but I am enjoying seeing the differences between American and British graves. The cemetery near you sounds fascinating and beautiful – I hope I get to come up and see it! And meet you too!

  8. How bizarre – that cemetery does not look at all ‘American’ somehow?! And there is nothing wrong with visiting multiple cemeteries – I love walking around old Churchyards. There are loads in Oxfordshire.
    I am so envious of the fish and chips – I still haven’t found a decent one here but am on the lookout!

    1. I know – it didn’t strike me as being foreign. I think you would have liked it! Churchyards are amazing…I miss damp and mossy English churchyards.
      Yes Oxford is a bit lacking in the fish and chip department, I remember that from our first trip together! Maybe a little village will surprise you with one soon!

  9. “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. ”

    – you are making me SO hungry🙂

  10. I just have to give you the prize for ‘Best Blog Post Title of the Month.’🙂

    I see you’re reading The Age of Innocence. Oh, lucky you. I haven’t read it since college and it’s on my re-reading list. I hope that after you read it you also watch the 1993(?) movie…the quick shot of Mrs. Manson Mingott’s house being built in the hinterlands of New York is my favorite bit!

    1. Hahaha thank you Audrey!

      Yes I am and I am LOVING it – I have already put a hold on the DVD at the library and I can’t wait to watch it! You have made me even more excited for it now!

  11. This post has warmed my anglophile heart, Rachel! I’m not used to you writing about ‘American’ things but I am trying.

    You could teach people a thing or two about a proper cup of tea! I groan when my teapot arrives at the table full of hot water and the teabag on the side…ugh! And I swear that one of these days I’m going to knit a mini-cosy to bring along in my purse for just these occasions!

    1. I’m sorry Darlene! I will do my best to give you English things to swoon over as often as I can!

      Oh I know, it is so frustrating. I don’t understand why it’s so hard…a tea bag…in water….squeezed….then REMOVE the bag….then add milk. Stir. Done. It’s not rocket science!!

      A mini cosy would be adorable!🙂

  12. Another lovely account. I did appreciate hearing about the tea and chips. I get so nostalgic that I actually long for a walk around Sainsbury or Waitrose! Not that I’m complaining about the food here.

    Tea’s another matter. Darlene has the same watery tea experience as I do – and it’s mighty expensive in France.

    That famous cemetery looks blissfully peaceful, not at all frightening.

    1. Hi Chrissy, thank you for the compliment! I glad you enjoyed it. It’s strange how you miss things you never knew you’d miss – like Tesco’s!

      Ah yes – the French are another coffee obsessed nation. I wish I could enjoy a good coffee but I just prefer tea and there is no changing my taste buds!

      Yes, it really was. Though, perhaps not so peaceful at night!

  13. Glad your chips and tea are keeping home-sickness at bay!

    When the offspring were wee we lived for a year in a housing estate with no shade in our garden. It was a hot summer and we used to set off for the nearest space with grass and trees — the local cemetery! The kids loved running around looking for the ones with teddy statues and baby angels. The children’s graves. While they were exclaiming in excitement at finding another ‘teddy’, I’d be choking back sobs. We were so glad to move down here to a garden FULL of trees…

    1. Thanks Penny! I think that it’s good to use cemeteries…otherwise what’s the point in them? If no one went there, the people in them wouldn’t be remembered. That is so sad, I hate children’s graves too. A garden is much preferable!

    1. I did! Lots of lovely people have emailed, including my mum, who has been reading my copy that got sent to her house! She was very chuffed to see me quoted!

  14. Yay, a Brooklyn-y post!🙂 Green-Wood is great – and home to the highest point in Brooklyn (with a view of the Statue of Liberty in the distance, no less). And mm, the Chip Shop and Blue Marble are both excellent. I must try Blue Marble’s pumpkin ice cream – I bet it’s perfectly autumnal. (I love their strawberry ice-cream – it’s not too sweet and actually tastes like strawberries.)

    1. I love Brooklyn, Heather! I need to spend more time there. The pumpkin ice cream was divine – I had some from a different place in the East Village this weekend and it was nowhere near as good as Blue Marble’s. So go get some!

  15. Glad you’ve found a place where you can get a bit of home. If you can find a good English tea shop–surely it would be in NYC! Lovely photos, cemeteries are actually very interesting.

    1. Thanks Danielle – it’s quite the place for English chips if you ever come to the city and want some!

      Oh there is a great place called Tea and Sympathy…I am saving that for an extreme homesickness situation!

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