A cemetery may not be the first thing to come to your mind for a fun place to spend an afternoon. But Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is full of interesting history.

Entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery.
Entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery

Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in 1838 and was one of the first rural cemeteries in America. It’s located on a sprawling 478 acres in western Brooklyn. In the early 1860s, crowds from Manhattan used to enjoy escaping the city for Green-Wood to enjoy its beauty and peacefulness. You too can enjoy an outing to Green-Wood—just make sure you don’t end up a permanent resident!

Henry Bergh

Henry Bergh grave at Green-Wood Cemetery.
Henry Bergh grave at Green-Wood Cemetery

Bergh is best known as the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Bergh did a lot of world travel and in 1865 he visited the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in London, England. This sparked the idea for starting the ASPCA in America in April of 1866.

Bergh died on March 12, 1888, at age 76. In 2006, a large bas-relief of animals was installed in front of his pyramid-shaped mausoleum. A ceremony was held to unveil the new addition, and for the first time in over a century, attendees were allowed to bring their dogs and other pets into Green-Wood Cemetery.

Susan Smith McKinney-Steward

Susan Smith McKinney-Steward was the third African-American woman to earn a medical degree in the country and the first in New York state. In 1870, she graduated as valedictorian from the New York Medical College for Woman. Dr. McKinney-Steward practiced medicine on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn and from an office in Manhattan. Much of her career focused on prenatal care and childhood disease.

Dr. McKinney-Steward’s grave is located in the Smith Family Plot on Border Avenue between Dale Avenue and Sassafras Avenue. She was born Susan Maria Smith and first married the Protestant Episcopal minister Reverend William G. McKinney who is also buried in the plot. She was widowed in 1895 and then married Reverend Theophilus Gould Steward, a U.S. Army Chaplain.

Henry Steinway

Steinway mausoleum at Green-Wood Cemetery
Steinway mausoleum at Green-Wood Cemetery

Dozens of members of the Steinway family are buried at Green-Wood Cemetery’s largest private mausoleum. Henry Steinway was a German-American piano maker and the founder of the piano company Steinway & Sons. The Steinway mausoleum was built shortly after Henry Steinway’s death in 1871 for $80,000 or $1.5 million in today’s currency.

The Steinway Mausoleum is a massive and imposing structure located at the top of a hill. Green-Wood Cemetery often opens the doors of the mausoleum during special events. Visitors can peek inside at the two walls lined with over 200 individual crypts. The doors to many of Green-Wood’s mausoleums, including Steinway, are accessed only with giant skeleton keys by visiting families and cemetery workers.

Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein grave at Green-Wood Cemetery
Leonard Bernstein grave at Green-Wood Cemetery

Prominent composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein is best known for his collaboration with Stephen Sondheim on the Broadway musical West Side Story. Bernstein was also the music director and chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic. His other acclaims are as a music teacher through his Young People’s Concerts, a pianist, and a theatrical conductor.

Green-Wood Cemetery was founded as a nonsectarian Christian cemetery but over the years a few Jewish people have been buried there including Bernstein. Bernstein had an interest in a variety of religions, but the services for his burial were from the Jewish religion. On my tour of Green-Wood Cemetery, our guide was a lovely singer and treated us to an impromptu performance of one of Bernstein’s songs.

Green-Wood Cemetery offers historic trolley tours with a guide to take you to the major sites. Green-Wood also provides special events, and I highly recommend the popular Open Doors. The cemetery literally opens the doors of its famous mausoleums for a peek inside at their stunning architecture, stained glass, and gates.