The main entrance to the cemetery, Photo: @historicgreenwood

In these waning days of fall, there’s only one place I can think of to immerse in art, trees, celebrity, the existential questions of life and death: Green-Wood Cemetery. The national landmark is the perfect backdrop right now for a family outing. If your brood is like mine — a range of ages, interests and moods — it’s hard to find a place to both bond and escape, and delight everyone for a few hours without a big schlep in the car or subway. 

One of the towering sculptures from The Remains of Winter, Photo: Nitin Mukul

Green-Wood is the answer, trust me. We head there to take in The Remains of Winterwhich we wrote about in last week’s Epicenter artist feature. Alaskan artist Athena LaTocha encases stumps uprooted from the cemetery in sheets of lead, creating two sculptures that fit right in among the gravestones and trees — all united in reaching up to the heavens. 

On the day we went, the sky beckoned, gorgeous. Three other reasons Green-Wood is a great family outing: 

  • You can drive your car right up to areas of interest. We walked several miles to get everywhere but I offer this tip for those of you with little ones or types to complain about too much walking; please note, no biking or jogging is allowed at Green-Wood. 
  • There are clean bathrooms (and water coolers) in the funeral parlor by the main entrance. 
  • And, most important, life and history lessons abound. 
Discovering the extensive Roosevelt family plotPhoto: Nitin Mukul

How long do we remember our loved ones? Some gravestones are decorated for Halloween or boasted fall plantings — even though the people buried had died decades ago. And then there are the litany of famous people across Green-Wood. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s grave is adorned with trinkets, pens, paintbrushes thank-yous scrawled on slips of paper. We were initially surprised to see this iconic artist buried in a row of otherwise unremarkable headstones. Then we talked about how we often don’t know what (or who) we’ve lost till they’re gone.

We ambled through the rest of the cemetery, and a confession that on occasion, we sang, laughed, danced, likened the dead’s names to the actors on “Stranger Things” or rhymed them with people we really know IRL. The kids gave me many a look, as if to say “You are being so disrespectful.” The reality, universality and finality of death, carefully noted in dates all around us from the 1800s till much more recent and fresher times, gave me comfort in seizing the day and the moment. 

A pyramid-shaped mausoleum, Photo: Nitin Mukul

My 10-year-old daughter and her friend took us on a wild goose chase looking for the Roosevelt family’s plots (we found them) and Alexander Hamilton’s grandchildren (we didn’t). My teen, who happened to be home visiting from college, learned that the rapper Pop Smoke is buried here. We searched everywhere only to turn to the internet for map guidance — and then learned his grave had been defaced last year. Thanks to photos from TMZ, we did some detective work on neighboring crypts and found his, unmarked. We sat before the final resting place, and my younger daughter said it was so sad that Pop Smoke had only been 20, the same age as her favorite babysitter, when he died. My elder daughter sent pictures and the location to her group chats. Family time, so cool, so pensive, so memorable.

This week, Green-Wood hosts Nightfall, an interactive event of music, movies, art and other performers. Tickets are $75 and it’s for the over-21 set. All other visitors are welcome daily, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

S. Mitra Kalita is a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra...

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