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

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