Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Green Oasis

I hope many of you were able to listen to Jacki Lyden's story about Brooklyn's "Green Oasis"--the Cemetery of the Evergreens-on All Things Considered yesterday afternoon. A non-sectarian cemetery, it was incorporated in 1849, not long after New York's Rural Cemetery Act. Built on the principle of the rural cemetery (Mt. Auburn in Cambridge, MA being  another outstanding example of this genre), it's primary landscaper was Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852) who called it a "green oasis for refreshment of the city's body and soul." 560,00 people are buried on 225 acres, among them several hundred Civil War veterans, all but one from the Union.

On the program, Lyden interviews Donato Daddario, a former gravedigger, now historian of the cemetery. Daddario takes Lyden on a tour of the cemetery, discussing its more interesting inhabitants, among them Jonathan Reed who, for eleven years, lived in his wife's tomb. Furnished with a woodstove, a clock, urns filled with flowers, a painting on the wall and the family's pet parrot (alive and then stuffed), the tomb became Reed's home away from home. Arriving early every morning, he would greet his beloved wife and gaze on her face through the casket's glass plate. It is alleged that seven Buddhist monks came from Burma to visit the Reeds, as rumor had it that Jonathan had great insight into death and the afterlife.

Author John Rousmaniere's book Green Oasis in Brooklyn: The Evergreens Cemetery 1849-2008, with images by garden photographer extraordinaire Ken Druse, has recently been published.


JohnP said...

Thanks for the mention of Jacki Lyden's visit to the Evergreens and my book about it, GREEN OASIS IN BROOKLYN. Religious myself (I'm an M.Div from Union Theological Seminary in New York) I take very seriously the importance of a cemetery's ritual life. Every cemetery has four features: its place, the people who founded and who manage it, who is buried there, and the rituals that are performed there (from Memorial Day to Chinese ancestor worship to the simple respect paid the dead). The book is about all four in the setting of this little-known but important and beautiful place.

David Heald said...

Many thanks, John, for your comment. I'm looking forward to reading the book soon and enjoying Ken's photos. Do please pass the blog along to other's who might also be cemetery obsessed! All the best.