On the Record
by Holly Tsang
Sep 01, 2009 | 16214 views | 0 0 comments | 513 513 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The first time Jeff Richman saw Green-Wood Cemetery was in a photograph, while he was building up a collection of stereo views of New York City.

In 1986, he signed up for a photographic tour, wanting to see in person the place he now knew so well from pictures, but even that did not prepare him for the majesty of the real Green-Wood Cemetery.

Richman was so deeply affected that he promptly began photographing and researching Green-Wood, founded in 1838 and one of only five cemeteries in America considered a natural and historic landmark. He started working part-time as a consultant to the cemetery and even began giving tours.

Fast-forward to 2007, when Richman left his law practice of 33 years and became Green-Wood Cemetery’s full-time historian, a decision he clearly does not regret.

“It’s the constant discoveries at the cemetery; there’s a very different approach in working with both the triumphs and tragedies of life,” said Richman.

He still occasionally gives tours, helping people see beyond the surface and realize that Green-Wood is not just an eternal resting place for the deceased.

“People narrowly think of and associate it with funerals and loss and death, but the cemetery is really so much more than that,” said Richman. “The reality is that a cemetery is a place of history and a repository of stories and of lives.”

There are some famous figures buried at Green-Wood: Leo Bernstein, longtime conductor of the New York Philharmonic and composer of West Side Story; Horace Greeley, editor of the influential New York Tribune; and “Boss Tweed,” the 19th century politician notorious for robbing NYC taxpayers.

Richman even speculates that the first people buried in what would become the cemetery were Revolutionary War patriots who died on the grounds.

In addition to its rich history, Green-Wood also boasts ponds, birds, trees, gardens, and sculptures.

Richman pointed out that before Central Park and most museums existed, over 500,000 people a year visited Green-Wood to enjoy art and nature.

“It’s a Revolutionary War battlefield, it’s a place of over half a million people’s stories, and it’s a place of quiet and enjoyment for people, something very different from the urban surroundings in Brooklyn,” said Richman.

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