In my part of Brooklyn there is this vast and old cemetery called Green-Wood. Six hundred thousand people are buried there. We’ve been taking the kids.
Prospect Park is bigger, and very close to Green-Wood, but it’s mobbed, and everyone is desperately getting their recreation in. New Yorkers at play look like 500 wolves chasing one rabbit, and that rabbit is seratonin. They forget to keep their distance, and I worry that a cyclist will swerve to miss a jogger and run into my kids.
Green-Wood is not streamlined at all. It juts all over the place, and is very hilly, with lots of winding paths. It’s full of vistas and glens. Manhattan looks especially Ozlike in the distance.
The main entrance is extremely gothic and infested with large parakeets. And they’ve opened all the gates for pedestrians, which has been a blessing. Apparently there has been some crowding and some mild disrespecting of the graves, but I suppose it’s settled down as people have learned to behave more responsibly in exchange for a couple hours of relative freedom.
There were lots of other people taking constitutionals, but it was overall very calm and easy to stay distant. Everyone looks frizzy in a special way that New Yorkers get frizzy. I can’t define it. The rougher we get the more defiant we are about it. Eventually people are wearing six T-shirts instead of a winter coat and smoking. I haven’t seen a tourist in months. I remember tourists as sort of soft and shiny, and filled with sweet liquid, like a juice pouch.
There’s a part of me that hates all this beautiful greenery hidden away. I don’t quite get wanting to make a little park for your bones. But if it wasn’t a graveyard it would probably be a bus depot, and Green-Wood as an organization is very civic in intent, welcoming art events, celebrating its history, opening itself to the community, and also, look, I didn’t buy all those 4AD CDs for nothing. If I wasn’t fat I’d be goth. If we must have graveyards in our culture, they should all be like Green-Wood.
We walked up to Minerva, which is what I always like to do when I’m here. Minerva is at the highest point of the park (which is also the highest point in Brooklyn). She was put there in 1920 to stand guard at the tomb of an Irish India Ink merchant named Higgins. She looks out across the harbor and has her arm up—she waves at the Statue of Liberty.
Not long ago developers were going to obscure this view by installing tall condos, but the crisis was averted by keeping the condos short. Usually I find NYC’s rejection of tall buildings to preserve views to be total hypocrisy but in this case the view belongs to all. Let the ladies wave.
Also, they still make the ink! Higgins! You can buy it and dip your nibs in it. I wish I had the wit to brand the outcome of some fundamental chemical process.
Brooklyn used to be a manufacturing center. There’s a directory I found online years ago, called Half Century’s Progress, which is an 1886 guide to Brooklyn businesses. We made everything. You could walk around and get hats made, and buy beaver pelts, and so forth. Great place to manufacture ink. It was all very commercial and exciting, although there were also a lot of dead horses in waterways. I wish we still published city directories because I seriously have no idea what the hell anyone does here now.
Seeing the sculpture made me miss going to museums worse than normal. Just a few months ago we went to the Brooklyn Historical Society and they had a whole basement given over to infectious diseases. I just want to be back in that basement looking at tuberculosis and seeing fragments of wooden sewerpipe.
P.S. As I was poking around the Internet Archive for fun Green-Wood facts I ran across something so intensely goth industrial that it made me suddenly listen to Skinny Puppy. If you aren’t impressed just keep going until you reach the implements.
P.P.S. I’ve written about Green-Wood lots of times before, and there’s one piece I always think of fondly—of course it’s a meditation on death, albeit sort of in the form of an advice column. This was from a time in my life where I didn’t feel a lot of control—probably mid-IVF—so I worked over every sentences with a dental pick, went on long bike rides to take the pictures, etc., etc. It later got republished in Harper’s, after I quit being an editor at Harper’s, which was a nice way to go out.
Re-reading it I think that one of the worst things about life is that you grow up learning about the utopian possibilities of a bunch of different ideologies and then you look around and realize that if they’re going to deliver, it’s not going to be in your lifetime. All kinds of equality and progress are just not going to land before you kick it. And you’re not going to make it happen either. Someone else fought the important wars, the graveyard is full, and no one needs much India Ink these days anyway. But we also haven’t joined a massive AI and headed off to colonize the universe. It’s also increasingly clear that we’re basically all here setting the stage so that in the next 50 years a heroic band of ecological warriors can fight to build a new society that can withstand wave after wave of climate-driven fascism. It sucks to be born during an intermission but that’s showbiz.