Monday, June 30, 2014


In a little alcove at the front entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery is a computer where you can enter the name of a person whose grave you would like to visit and you will get a print-out map showing that location.  There are walking tours regularly, but you can buy a guide books and take your own tour.  One book is a guide for walking the south side of the cemetery and the other book covers the north side.  

When I offered to teach a writing class at Green-Wood, I was treated to a private tour by Lisa Alpert and we went inside the Receiving Tomb.  This is a huge barn-like structure with shelving.  In the winter when the ground was too hard for digging, the deceased were stored there in their coffins until spring.  As I recall it would hold 1500 coffins.  

We also went inside the chapel.
From the chapel, we traveled to an area on the north side of the cemetery called Battle Hill.  This is the highest natural point in Brooklyn and was another site of the Battle of Brooklyn during the Revolutionary War.  

Charles Higgins, who was successful at manufacturing India ink, bought a large plot of land there for his tomb. Higgins also commissioned and an Altar of Liberty to commemorate the Battle of Brooklyn as well as a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of war.  The statue of Minerva has a raised arm pointing toward the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

Buried a few feet from Higgins is my favorite person in Green-Wood Cemetery. Her grave market states simply, “Grandmother,” and her name is Elizabeth Tilton.  She figured in a very disastrous scandal along with her husband, Theodore Tilton, and Henry Ward Beecher.

The Tilton’s were members of the Plymouth Church in downtown Brooklyn where Beecher served as minister.  Theodore and Beecher were very close friends and worked together on a newspaper, “The Independent,” with Theodore acting as editorial assistant to Beecher who was editor.

Theodore was an abolitionist, an advocate of free love, and a bit of a bully to his fragile wife.  Apparently, he dallied in free love when he was away on his lengthy lecture tours.  The charismatic Beecher, who claimed to more than one woman that he had no marital relations with his own wife, visited and comforted Elizabeth while Theodore was away. 

Elizabeth was a Sunday school teacher and, apparently out of guilt, confessed to Theodore about the affair.  At first, Theodore and Beecher convinced Elizabeth to stifle herself.  But Victoria Woodhull heard the rumor and published that news in her paper.  Out of vanity, Theodore sued Beecher for “criminal conversation,” a polite term for adultery.  Elizabeth gave a statement to the court, but did not testify.

There was a trial and a hung jury.  Afterward, Beecher was awarded a raise in salary by the (all-male) church board - $100,000 a year.  Quite a sum in the 19th century.  Elizabeth confessed the affair again, this time to the church, and was ostracized from the church and community.  Her husband left for Paris, and she lived in poverty to her death.

Post by Alana Cash

Sunday, June 22, 2014


In the heart of Brooklyn there is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world.Brooklyn and all its culture, and quiet sanctuary.  The supposed father of baseball, as well as many politicians, a famous minister, his mistress, Mafioso, celebrities, one of whom is the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, all rest here.    There’s a chapel where they not only hold funeral services, but weddings.
  It’s a sculpture garden – Steinway’s tomb has a grand piano – a history of the people of

Green-wood was created in 1838 as a rural cemetery – meaning that it was not a church-yard cemetery.  The churches in Manhattan were running out of space and Green-Wood was built to accommodate the need for burying the population.  It is 478 acres and has more than a half a million residents – some unknown (more about that later).

There’s a pond at the cemetery that is part of a glacial lake.  The glacier covered most of Brooklyn, but stopped at that point.  It was used as a park for picnicking in the 19th century before it became popular as a graveyard.

I visited Green-Wood Cemetery quite a few times.  I even taught a writing class there that I called Cemetery Plots.  Green-Wood hosts a lot of events including dance recitals and play, and they sell books and memorabilia. 

One of the most interesting events is the Halloween Night Tour.  Of course, it takes place on October 31.  There is a tour guide taking you around to various tombs that are open and lit with candles, although you are requested to bring your own flashlight.    

The scariest place on the tour was the crypt.  It is underground with only a brick façade showing at the end.  The crypt opens through a wrought iron gate so that you can always see inside even when the gate is locked.  Of course, it’s very dark as you enter a long hallway and smells moldy. 

On either side of the hall, there are doorways open to small rooms.  The rooms each have about a dozen places for coffins.  The ones that have coffins in them are sealed.  The others, are completely empty and dark.  [You can see something similar in the walls of the cemeteries near the French Quarter in New Orleans.  Homeless people climb the fences and sleep in those open crypts.]

When the tour is over, the crypt is locked for the rest of the year.

Post by Alana Cash  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


The neighborhood behind the house was called Lefferts Gardens.  It used to be part of Flatbush, but the realtors carved up Brooklyn into ever smaller neighborhoods because they could only gentrify so much at a time.

In this part of Brooklyn, like most others, there were lots of row houses and pre-war apartment buildings (this term is used to delineate apartments built before World War II. They have bigger rooms, bigger casement windows, solid wood doors and oak floors.

Originally settled by Native Americans, then the Dutch, this area had also been an Italian and Jewish neighborhood where Rudy Guliani, Barbra Streisand, and Lanie Kazan grew up.  When I moved there, it was 90% black - populated African Americans and Caribbean and African immigrants.

It was kind of “me and them” at first  A few times I got called derogatory names, usually preceded by the word “white,” until I finally explained that no one had to tell me that because I already knew I was white.  I was sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb white.  Everyone settled down after a while, or maybe it was just me.  

I found that young black men were the most polite and respectful people I ever met in any part of Brooklyn, or Manhattan either for that matter..  The subway clerks, behind those bulletproof glass windows, set the tone for rudeness in the City or anywhere in the world in my opinion.  And the Brooklyn US Postal employees (also behind bulletproof glass) can be distinctly rude.  But I digress.

The sidewalks were crowded and people in that neighborhood liked to walk side by side with their friends – stretching five or six people across  – so that sometimes I had to step into the street to get around.  The streets were very dirty and noisy, too, because a lot of the stores played music for their customers and some stores sold music and were particularly loud.  When I say stores, some of these places were 4 feet wide and 6 or 8 feet deep – like a walk-in closet. 

The roads were not what you would find in Manhattan.  Some potholes were the size of a bathtub and half as deep.  Bad news if you are on a bike.  And the tar in the streets was melted and pushed into waves in the street.  There were “gypsy cabs” – these were private cars and vans that had not obtained a hack license from the city.  They transported people around the neighborhood and people recognized and flagged them down. 

There were also disguised police vehicles – beat-up vans or old Toyotas with mismatched doors.  I’d be at a corner waiting for the signal to change and all of a sudden one of those crappy looking vehicles would pull out a flashing cherry light, hit the hammer (siren), and take off after someone.  It was funny.

Most of the stores were built into the ground floor of old houses that you wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t looking.  The two upper floors were rented out as apartments or used for storage and some of them still had the painted brick advertisements from the 1950s.  To me, Flatbush Avenue was for exploring history and architecture, but not the best place for that in Brooklyn.

Post by Alana Cash

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


After getting somewhat settled -- unpacking all the boxes -- I decided to explore my new neighborhood.  I walked around to Flatbush Avenue, the only street I had ever associated with Brookyn.  It was the first behind the house (across the subway ditch) and down a block.

I walked down Flatbush Avenue the length of two subway stops (about 3/4 of a mile from
the house to Church Avenue where I saw a banner advertising the anniversary of the Dutch Reform Church which was established in 1654.  I learned that this church was built by order of Peter Stuyvesant, first Director General of "New Amsterdam."  He even gave the dimensions for the church -- 60 feet by 28 feet. It was originally built of wood and rebuilt a few years later out of stone. 

The Dutch Reform Church on Flatbush Ave. is not the oldest church ever built in Brooklyn.  That honor goes to another Dutch Reform Church that has since been razed.  The building that houses Macy's in downtown Brooklyn was built over that church site and cemetery.

Original Dutch Reform Church in Flatbush Village
There was a graveyard in back of the Dutch Reform Church on Flatbush Ave.  It was surrounded by a chain-link fence, but since it was Sunday, the gate was unlocked and I went inside and wandered around.  The gravestones were very weathered from age, general pollution, and acid rain.  

The oldest grave that I could find belonged to Adam Peterse Brouwen who died in 1693.  Doing some research later, I found out that Brouwen had originally worked for the Dutch West India Company, as did many of the first immigrants to Brooklyn, and he built the first flour mill in North America called the "Old Gowanus Mill."  

Gravestone in Dutch Reform Church Cemetery
Another grave in the cemetery belonged to Hendrick Lefferts who gave his name to Lefferts Gardens, the section of Brooklyn I had traveled through to get to the church.  The old Lefferts house is still standing in Prospect Park and is an example of an old Dutch farmhouse. [They host tours and events there.]  

I never attended a service at the Dutch Reform Church, although I did attend services at the the Society of Friends (Quaker Church) in downtown Brooklyn. Their building was much more modern -- built in 1851.

Brooklyn is called the borough of churches because it has more churches than any other borough of New York City.  The "F" train (the one used in the opening of "Welcome Back Kotter") has the highest tressle of any of the subway trains and gives a great view of Brooklyn.  Looking out the train window you can see dozens of church spires.

Post by Alana Cash