The whole place intrigued me. I had not known much about the rural cemetery movement during the mid 19th century until I visited this site.
Firstly I must say I was a tad disappointed in the Dr.'s mausoleum. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it was so, well - plain. No angels embellishing the entrance, no epitaph, no dates, no sign of who was even interred inside these gray (granite?) walls embedded into the side of the hill. But then the variety of burial sites did surprise me. As you can see from the slide show below, there are all types of statues and burial plots at this cemetery.
While visiting, I learned a lot about this small oasis of tranquility in the middle of bustling Brooklyn. The Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in 1838 at the height of the rural cemetery movement. Before these massive land plots were developed into cemeteries most people were buried either in churchyards or private property. Many city residents, fearful of the spread of cholera from burials too close to heavily populated areas such as Manhattan, pushed for the development of rural cemeteries. At the time both Brooklyn and Queens had the land available. So many of the current cemeteries in and around New York City are in the borders of these two boroughs. In fact, there are more dead people in Brooklyn and Queens than live.
Green-Wood is 478 acres. It hosts 7,000 trees, glacial ponds, valleys, scenic views, and a lot of historical figures. Indeed there are over 560,000 permanent residents in the cemetery. Many famous.
It became vogue for wealthy New Yorkers to be interred in these rural cemeteries. The landscape was an escape for city residents as well. These cemeteries served as the first public parklands in New York state. People would go to pay homage to their loved ones, stroll the winding paths and maybe even picnic along one of the ponds.
I had to wonder though, why the mausoleums? There were so many at Green-Wood. And according to my sources Durant's somber gray monument cost him $60,000 at the time (1884), that is more than one million in today's dollars.
I read a few various accounts of why. One is that people were afraid of being buried alive and the mausoleum guaranteed a way out. Other sources believe it was purely a status symbol. A place to show off, even after one is dead.
I'm sure it is a combination of the two. Either way, it surprises me (or maybe it shouldn't at this point) that Dr. Durant, who, for all intents and purposes, was bankrupt at the time he died, was able to afford this opulent abode in Brooklyn. He was land rich yes - but cash poor. I guess it shouldn't surprise me though given the propensity of his family to spend money.