Post by Stephanie Raptis
According to “History in Asphalt” by John McNamara, Woodlawn Cemetery has been a cultural resource and outdoor museum since it was incorporated as a non-sectarian cemetery in December 1863. Reverend Absalom Peters was a theologian, poet, and a man with great civic vision who sponsored the “Rural Cemetery Movement” to insure ‘uncongested’ burial spots outside of Manhattan. He wanted the burial spots to conjure thoughts of woods and lawns, hence, Woodlawn Cemetery. The first internment of the 310 acre tract of land was made in January 1865, a few months prior to the end of the Civil War.
Woodlawn’s website, www.thewoodlawncemetery.org is chock full of information about the cemetery’s history and progress. In 2011 Woodlawn Cemetery was honored and named a National Landmark by the National Parks Service. Over 300,000 are interred at Woodlawn Cemetery and there are at least 100,000 visitors each year. Its celebrated lot owners comprise artists, writers, business moguls, civic leaders, entertainers, jazz musicians, suffragists, and more, including Herman Melville, Joseph Pulitzer, Fiorello LaGuardia, Celia Cruz, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The cemetery has an unrivaled collection of monuments, including over 1300 mausoleums. Many were designed by legendary American architects, landscape designers, and sculptors. The works of McKim, Mead & White, Carrere & Hastings, Beatrix Farrand, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Daniel Chester French grace Woodlawn’s grounds.
Aside from paying respects to loved ones, visitors can take part in tours and other programs sponsored by the Woodlawn Conservancy. The Conservancy relies heavily on donations to maintain its initiatives and service to the public. Donations can be made here: http://woodlawnconservancy.org/index.php/give/donate
Currently there are twenty undeveloped acres on the grounds of Woodlawn Cemetery and plans are in the works. According to their website, they are “designing their first “cemetery within a cemetery.” This concept envisions an inclusive burial complex comprising a central feature mausoleum, traditional burial ground options, and unique selections for the burial of cremated remains. The area’s naturalistic, landscaped setting includes terraces and walkways that provide visitors ease of circulation within an intimate yet interactive environment, and seating venues offer spots for rest and contemplation.”
Some common myths about cemeteries are that they are creepy, haunted, and that the dead will awaken if you walk over their grave. Woodlawn does everything to dispel those myths. Each time I have been there I find it to be a beautiful and peaceful place. To my knowledge, no one has haunted me, it has not been the least bit creepy and, well, I haven’t walked over any graves to test the third myth. Let me know if you do! If you plan to visit, I have one piece of advice, stop by the office and get a map or you will get lost. This is the voice of experience talking.