I recently visited Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood cemetery and was able to get a first-hand view of a couple of its more beautiful and amazing sights. My girlfriend and I decided to spend a few hours volunteering. We were helping man the Historical Fund Cart where visitors can get free literature and buy books, t-shirts and other grave gifts. Janice, a dedicated volunteer who is extremely knowledgeable about the cemetery’s popular sights suggested we check out the art exhibit on display at one of the cemetery’s two chapels.
The two chapels at Green-Wood include the Historic Chapel and a more modern Cremation Chapel. The show, “Artists in Permanent Residence” was in the Historic Chapel and featured works by many of the 300 deceased artists that can be found there.
While the pieces on display, mostly paintings were interesting from both a historic perspective and as works of art, what really caught my eye was the chapel itself. I haven’t been able to find much specific information on the chandelier in the photo above but it appears to be gilded bronze and looks like something out of a storybook Renaissance palace. I’ve taken numerous trips to Green-Wood over the years, usually to visit the resting places of deceased relatives. This was the first time I had ever been inside this impressive work of Gothic architecture. The style of the chapel seems to have a Moorish Revival influence which is apparent on its domes.
Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in 1838 and predates Central Park as a major tourist destination of the early Victorian era. Janice also suggested we visit its reigning meritocratic monarch. It seemed appropriate that such a majestic, otherworldly space would have a king. He’s known (this is Brooklyn after all) as the “Soda Fountain King.”
John Mathews was the inventor of the first countertop soda fountain. After his death in 1870 he was buried with a fittingly extravagant monument complete with waterspouting gargoyles. It was designed by Karl Muller.
Anyone who’s ever enjoyed an egg cream or fountain soda can thank the effervescent work of Mr. Matthews for making counter-top carbonation possible.
Within view of the Soda Fountain King’s burial place is a lillypad covered pond and fountain. Not the kind you can make an ice cream soda from, the water that comes out of this fountain is sans fizz.
The cemetery’s front gate on Fifth Avenue and 25th street that greets mourners, history buffs and curious visitors has been doing so since 1861. It was designed by Richard Upjohn. The Gothic Revival stone spires have recently been restored. With the scaffolding gone, the monk parakeets (aka Quaker parrots) that nest in the middle steeple have returned.
Tours of Green-Wood Cemetery are available most weekends and there are special tours and events throughout the year. Volunteers are also welcome. There are countless other points of interest in Green-Wood that have not been covered in this article. This is a magnificent and special destination that should make everyone’s bucket list of things to see while they wander NYC…