January 29, 2011 1 Comment
As the car slowed, a mangy grey tabby emerged from behind a tombstone and started a quick trot towards us. We were sitting in the backseat of one of Greenwood Cemetery‘s patrol cars.
“That’s Maisie,” M. explained. “I sometimes let her ride up front with me.”
Ten minutes ago we had been trying to get out of Greenwood Cemetery. It was lunch time, we had been walking for two hours amongst mausoleums, cenotaphs and tombs, but the exits on the western side were locked. My friend stopped a patrol car and asked for directions. The officer told us to get in and he’d drop us off at the main entrance. “That’s where Al Capone’s right hand man is buried…” The car stopped at a fork in the road. “You know what, I don’t need to be back for half an hour. There are some things you have to see.” The car jerked back into motion. In our attempts to leave, we had somehow found ourselves on a guided tour of New York’s largest cemetery.
M. was our guide. A young blonde haired Brooklynite with dark sunglasses. This was his second job. He had worked at the cemetery for two years. He’d bought a burial plot there. “It’s real estate.” His true passions were photography and acting. One year M. played an Englishman in the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Brooklyn. He had a musket. “It was so much fun! Someone forgot to notify the police there would be cannon going off and the bomb squad turned up…” In two years, M. knew the layout and the history of Greenwood like he was born in it.
Suddenly the cemetery was populated with over 900,000 burials including General Washington’s soldiers from the Battle of Brooklyn, mobsters, murderers, inventors, victims of plane collisions, Titanic survivors and M.’s grandparents. M. knew which plots of land had been released, which stained glass windows were designed by Tiffany and where they used to store bodies in the winter before they had machinery to dig through frozen soil. We were introduced to the cemetery’s living inhabitants – Shelley the prehistoric turtle who lived in Sylvan Waters (one of the cemetery’s lakes), her offspring and of course Maisie the cat.
I looked back at Maisie, who sat in the middle of the road and watched us leave. Behind us was a perfectly formed pyramid nestled in the hill. New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.
M. dropped us off at the main entrance and told us to check out the history books. We went inside, we picked up a map each and my friend signed the petition to save the line of sight between Minevra, a statue in Greenwood, and her sister the Statue of Liberty. Just as we were about the leave, M. rushed over. “Get in. There’s one last thing I have to show you.”
My friend and I exchanged glances and got back into the patrol car. “This,” M. announced as he pulled up infront of a slab tomb, “is where the man who invented carbonation for Coca-cola is buried!”