Resting in Peace in the City That Never Sleeps: A Field Guide to N.Y.’s Cemeteries

Author: Douglas Keister
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Publication Date: Oct. 2011

I’m a taphophile. Taphophiles are lovers of all things funerary, although the term is more specifically applied to cemetery aficionados. The word comes from the Greek taphos, which translates to tomb or burial.

I’m not alone. There are many of us, from darkly draped Goths to gray-haired grandmothers. Thousands of my kind are lurking on Facebook groups and in the darker corners of the Internet — especially as Halloween approaches. Who knows, some of your best friends, officemates or family members may even be taphophiles.

In New York City, where everything seems to have a price, cemeteries are absolutely free (well, when you’re visiting). Larger cemeteries like Green-Wood, Woodlawn, Sleepy Hollow and Kensico even provide complimentary maps. And where else can you get within six feet of so many notable New Yorkers?

I’ve written five books on cemeteries and my latest is all about the final resting places in and around New York City. Below are the highlights of some of the “best” cemeteries in the area.

Green-Wood Cemetery

500 25th Street, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Phone: (718) 768-7300

Founded in 1838, Green-Wood was the first garden cemetery in the New York City area. It was modeled after Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Green-Wood proved so popular as a place to recreate and enjoy nature that 20 years later a tombstoneless version was established in Manhattan. That 843-acre oasis of green is known as Central Park. Green-Wood is home to many of the Big Apple’s 19th century movers and shakers including Horace Greeley, piano manufacturer Henry Steinway and sewing machine titan Elias Howe.

Keister will give a lecture and lead a trolley tour at Green-Wood on Oct. 2 at 11 a.m. The book talk is free but reservations are recommended. The trolley tour is $10 for members of The Green-Wood Historic Fund and $20 for non-members.


Some superstitious taxi drivers won’t go anywhere near Green-Wood Cemetery, according to historian Jeff Richman. producers Daniel Ross and Bijan Rezvani interviewed Richman and toured Green-Wood’s tombs and catacombs in 2008.

Take the 4 train to get to Woodlawn cemetery. It's located, appropriately, at the end of the line. Flickr/bcakesny

Woodlawn Cemetery

Webster Avenue & East 233rd Street, Bronx, N.Y.
Phone: (718) 920-0500

If ostentation is your thing, best journey north to Woodlawn in the Bronx. Just hop on the 4 train. You can’t miss your stop. Woodlawn Cemetery is poetically positioned at the end of the line. Woodlawn’s claim to fame is the over 1,300 mausoleums that punctuate the immaculately landscaped grounds. They are whimsical creations of many of the late 19th century’s most celebrated architects. Scattered amongst Woodlawn’s 400 acres are the granite mansions of hundreds of America’s most well-known industrialists, financiers and robber barons. Permanent residents include bargain store mogul Frank Winfield Woolworth, department store founder J.C. Penny, banker and philanthropist Jules Bache and John “Bet-a-Million” Gates, who made a fortune on barbed wire and had a reputation for gambling with large sums of his money.

Keister will lead a walking tour of Woodlawn Cemetery on Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. Meet at the Jerome Avenue Entrance. The tour is $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.

The headstone of Washington Irving, the author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." He penned into existence classic American literary characters like "The Headless Horseman" and Rip Van Winkle. Photo by Douglas Keister.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

540 North Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
Phone: (914) 631-0081

Conjure up a mental picture of a cemetery and you’ll most likely envision something like Sleepy Hollow. Sleepy Hollow’s breadth of tombs stretches from tidy 17th-century soul effigy tablets to magnificent million-dollar mausoleums like the classical revival gray granite residence of Harry and Leona Helmsley and probably Trouble, her moneyed Maltese. Thanks to Ichabod Crane and that well-known air-headed equestrian, lantern tours during Halloween month often sell out months in advance.

Keister will lead Sleepy Hollow Cemetery walking tours on Oct. 7 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. He will also lead a tour on Oct. 8 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Enter at the north gate. Admission is $39.99 with an autographed copy of “Stories in Stone New York” or $24.99 per person for the tour only.

Click to see more images of New York’s final resting places:

Douglas Keister is a California-based photographer and writer who has authored 35 books. He also writes and illustrates magazine articles and contributes photographs and essays to dozens of magazines, newspapers, books, calendars, posters and greeting cards worldwide.

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