A few short weeks ago back in early September, I was quite loudly bemoaning to anyone and anything that would listen the fact that summer was leaving us to our fate for the foreseeable future, was encouraging us to prep for the changing of the seasons by packing up our swimsuits and sundresses and pulling out our pullovers and pantsuits (okay, that was just for the alliteration, who *really* wears pantsuits anymore besides Hillary?). I was genuinely gloomy at the prospect; I wasn’t ready for the music festivals, for the “vacation mode” mindset – the one that seemed to permeate the office and make it okay to sneak out at 5:30 to grab a seat at that open-air bar or head to an early concert – to end. I wasn’t ready to give up on the fact that I could so easily request to “work remotely” (i.e. drink iced lattes in my pjs while occasionally checking emails) because literally everyone else in the office was on vacation. I wasn’t ready to forgo picnics in the park to hibernate for the next nine months, to wallow in the harsh beauty and first-world misery that is a New York City winter.
Fall signifies the coming of winter, but that doesn’t mean that I hate fall. Oh, no – to the contrary- fall is my favorite season, just as Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love the crisp air that lets me wear boots and leggings, a comfy sweater or my favorite leather jacket, which is by now so worn that it might be time to retire it.
Of course the real reason I was ready for Fall to make its grand entrance was because I had finally, for the first time in four years, updated my fall wardrobe. After putting on my fifth pair of leggings with holes in them and realizing that my toes were officially popping out of my well-worn shoes, I had reached desperation level. I spent a couple of weeks in September preparing myself for the coming cold by heading out to the Queens Center Mall, Banana Republic, Gap, and Buffalo Exchange to slowly stock up on leggings, sweaters, sweater dresses, “fall-ish” dresses, and a jean jacket. So when September 21st rolled around, and it was 87 degrees out at 90% humidity, I was not a happy camper. I’m never this ready for the fall weather, and summer had decided to foil my plans by forcing me into the same skirts I’d been wearing for the last five months since May. You know the old adage about the house guest over staying his welcome? Yeah, that was Summer 2017. Nobody wants to be that house guest – it’s better to leave your hosts wanting more, not wishing you had booked that earlier train out a day (or five) sooner.
Given the recent – and seemingly futile – effort put into a wardrobe update, I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when last weekend, Fall decided to *finally* show up to the party and grace us with its presence in the form of absolutely perfect jacket weather, a crisp-but-not-cold breeze, and deliciously partly-cloudy skies dripping with atmospheric light. It was obviously the perfect weekend to explore a cemetery.
Yeah, I know, it sounds weird – more than one person has pointed out the disconnect between this “nice, sweet girl from small-town PA” and her freakish obsession with scary movies, the macabre, Tim Burton, Halloween, and all things creepy/ghoulish/slightly death-related. I don’t really know when my fascination with the dark or spooky started, exactly, but it was probably in me from the beginning. Alice in Wonderland was my favorite childhood movie, after all, one that would be played on repeat on sick days much to my mother’s dread (“Why don’t we try a nice princess movie, here, let’s put in Sleeping Beauty…”)
Maybe that’s why I connected so well with my favorite blogging couple – Lynn and Justin over at Mad Hatters NYC. With a name like that and my soft spot for Alice, it was bound to be a blogging friendship made in heaven. Who better to go on a New York City adventure to a graveyard with (and indulge in artery-massacring food) than the duo that also has a love of Lewis Carroll, street art, Queens Comfort, and other foods that send you into cardiac arrest? It’s just icing on the cake (and I’m pretty sure we ate the whole cake) that they have a similar opinion of Brooklyn. But would they also be interested in exploring the stomping grounds of the undead with me? Much to my delight, when I suggested to Lynn that we check out Green-Wood, her reaction was not “Hey Justin, maybe we should find a new friend because this one seems a little weird,” but rather, “Cool! What time?”
Hence last Saturday, the last day of September and the first real day of Fall. I bounded out of bed bright and early, made myself a pumpkin spice latte (you know, to be extra basic in my love of autumn and sweater-weather), threw a fall-colored dress and a jean jacket (finally!) on top of my black leggings and tan boots, and went out into the warm and sunny weather to catch the N train that would take me straight to Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Because no NYC adventure is complete without some sort of crazy food outing, and especially so when it’s with the Mad Hatters, we decided to start at the Avocaderia.
Claiming to be “the world’s first avocado bar,” (#InstagramBait), the Avocaderia serves up toasts, salads, bowls, and smoothies featuring California and your basic white girl’s favorite green fruit – the avocado – as the main ingredient. As much as I’m all about avocado (being both a #BWG and a Californian by adoption), I will sadly and somewhat reluctantly admit that I was not so impressed with my “Beets & Blue” avocado toast.
While the staff was incredibly nice and the presentation was beautiful, I found the toast to be both overwhelming in flavors (the avocado was lost for the rest of the ingredients) and underwhelming in taste (some things were just not meant to be combined). Personally I found the green pico and house-made agave mustard a little too sweet and a bit over-the-top, not really meshing all that well with the beets, blue cheese, and arugula. The toast was also cold and hard to bite/cut into with the plastic forks they gave us. I found my eyes wandering over more often than not to Justin’s meat-packed sandwich in what was a serious case of food envy. Not to say that it was bad, necessarily – I’m sure some people would go crazy for it; just that it could hardly be described as worth the trek for something I could easily make at home with fewer ingredients and a better outcome.
Of course the real reason we found ourselves in Sunset Park was not for the sub-par avocado toast, but for Green-Wood Cemetery, a 478-acre burial ground for New York’s elite founded in 1838 and housing over 560,000 “permanent residents” (a euphemism if there ever was one). Again, you may be wondering – why is this weirdo spending her free time on a sunny Saturday wandering around a graveyard? Apparently, I’m not the only one – at one point, Green-Wood Cemetery was second only to Niagara Falls as the nation’s greatest tourist attraction; its expansive green space not only drew in a large number of visitors (nearly 500,000 a year in the early 1860s), but also inspired the development and architectural styles of both Central and Prospect Parks, two of New York City’s most famous outdoor spaces.
In any event, Green-Wood cemetery – best accessed by the N/R trains at 36th St. or 25 St. stations, or by the D train at 9th Avenue – was the perfect introduction to Fall in New York, setting the tone for the month of October and my favorite holiday. Because it was close to Industry City where the Avocaderia was, we entered on the southwest side near the 36th St. train station, and leisurely worked our way over to the southeast side, to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s grave (a must-see for all of us). Over the course of 4 hours and 20,000 steps (I definitely earned the pint of Talenti I devoured later), we enjoyed a thoroughly peaceful walk on rustic paths surrounded by trees, crispy changing leaves, lakes, geese – and yes, beautifully ornate Gothic stonework in the forms of incredible mausolea, tombstones, and gravemarkers.
What was so striking about Green-Wood was how incredibly peaceful and quiet it was. While we did see a couple of funerals taking place, there weren’t the mass groups of tourists and cyclists, of peddlers hawking scarves and trinkets and candied nuts and second-rate portraits, that you find in other parks and tourist attractions in the city. I can’t really think of any other place that offers such incredible views of lower Manhattan, framed by trees and clouds and statues and architecture, without all of the (living) people that come with it.
Another thing that makes this urban cemetery so exceptional is that, unlike other graveyards, it is the perfect fusion between art and nature, the contrasting exposition of the city and the country. Looking at the tombstones of Boss Tweed, Basquiat, and Louis Comfort Tiffany while on top of a former Revolutionary War Battlefield so blatantly makes clear the universality of life and death across both past and present; I couldn’t help but think of the memento mori inscribed above the interred skeleton in Masaccio’s famous Holy Trinity painting in Santa Croce, Florence: I once was what you are, and what I am, you also will be.
If you plan on escaping the madness of Manhattan to visit Green-Wood cemetery this autumn, be sure to first check the hours on their website, as they tend to change up closing time (which differs at each entrance) in accordance with the daylight. Also, because Green-Wood is still an active cemetery today, remember to be respectful and conscientious – no running, yelling, biking, skateboarding, etc. And even though the space is huge, keep in mind that it is a graveyard and not a park – so there won’t be any places for you to purchase food or bottles of water if you get hungry (though there are restrooms at some of the entrances).
Besides recommending the obvious, such as wearing comfortable walking shoes and making sure to pack for the weather (umbrella, jacket, etc.), I would also argue that the best plan is no plan when it comes to mapping out your visit. At the end of the day, all gravestones essentially look the same – they just have a different name on them. So it doesn’t *really* matter if you hit all the famous ones on your first time through. Rather, I would suggest taking a leisurely stroll, going on some of the off-the-beaten-paths, admiring the geese by the lake, the creepy Gothic trees (seriously, look at the tree above! It looks like it came straight from a horror movie!) and impressive architecture, and of course, taking pictures. I would also recommend walking up Battle Avenue near the southeast entrance to reach the cemetery’s highest point (and the best views of Manhattan). If you must see a particular site, I suggest picking up a map at one of their entrances or downloading one off of their website prior to entering the grounds.
Even though an early-AM trek into Brooklyn meant that I couldn’t sleep in on a Saturday (and in fact woke up earlier than I normally would on a weekday to make up for the long commute/unpredictable weekend trains!), it was totally perfect – I could not have closed out September and officially rang in fall in a more fitting way. Besides–you can sleep when you’re dead, right?