Saturday 11 July 2015

The Secret Victorianist in Brooklyn: Green-Wood Cemetery

Side by side are we still, though a shadow
Between us doth fall;
We are parted, and yet are not parted,
Not wholly, and all.

For still you are round and about me,
Almost in my reach,
Though I miss the old pleasant communion
Of smile, and of speech.

And I long to hear what you are seeing,
And what you have done,
Since the earth faded out from your vision,
And the heavens begun;

Since you dropped off the darkening fillet
Of clay from your sight,
And opened your eyes upon glory
Ineffably bright!
Excerpt from ‘Entered Into Rest’, Phoebe Cary

Last weekend, I made my first visit to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Founded in 1838, the burial ground sprawls across nearly 500 acres and houses extravagant monuments and mausoleums dating from the nineteenth-century.

Before the foundation of Prospect Park in 1869, the cemetery was Brooklyn’s main green space and was used as such, as well as for internments. It was also one of New York’s premier tourist attractions, due to the dignitaries and notable men and women buried there. Yet today it feels largely deserted. I saw only a handful of walkers when exploring the cemetery, despite its beautifully manicured paths and lawns.

Without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in New York, I’ll definitely be back – to walk (there are even some hills there!), to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, and to read and investigate the names on the older gravestones.

In my research since my visit I’ve already stumbled across some fascinating nineteenth-century female writers you can find there:

Alice (1820-1871) and Phoebe (1824-1871) Cary: Sisters from Ohio, poets Alice and Phoebe enjoyed some celebrity from the late 1830s, when their teenage writings were published in newspapers, and become even more prominent after 1849 with the appearance of a joint collection of poetry. Key figures in the New York literary scene up until their deaths, they died within five months of each other and are buried side by side in the cemetery.

Elizabeth F. Ellet (1818-1877): Elizabeth Ellet (nee Lummis) was a New York-born writer, best known for her involvement in a scandal concerning Edgar Allen Poe and Frances Sargent Osgood in the mid 1840s. Her major works include a tragedy, Teresa Contarini (1835), which was performed on the New York stage, and The Women of the American Revolution (1845) – the first work to document the role of women in the American Revolution.

Laura Jean Libbey (1862-1924): Libbey was an extremely popular writer of ‘dime novels’ (similar to modern day romance fiction). I’m sorely tempted to give one a read based on some of the titles alone! They include Daisy Brooks, or A Perilous Love (1883), Pretty Madcap Dorothy, or How She Won a Lover (1891), Jolly Sally Pendleton, or The Wife who was not a Wife (1897), Mischievous Maid Faynie (1899).

What other attractions would you recommend to a Victorianist in Brooklyn? Let me know – here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist.

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