Green-Wood Glossary is a collection of photos of surnames displayed on Green-Wood Cemetery gravestones that happen to be English words. I took all the photos on the site, including the header images, beginning in January 2021, mostly using my phone’s camera (Samsung Galaxy).
Despite living nearby for over a decade I had only ever entered the grounds of Green-Wood Cemetery once or twice before 2020. That changed with the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Cemetery generously chose to expand its accessibility to the public (by keeping open the Prospect Park West and Ft. Hamilton Parkway entrances seven days a week instead of only on weekends), offering a convenient, beautiful and historic 478-acre place for long walks with social distance to spare. I’ve since become a regular visitor and a supporting member, and read with interest Jeffrey Richman’s history, Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Neither I nor this project are directly affiliated with Green-Wood, but I encourage you to visit (or revisit) as pandemic mobility allows, and to explore the official website.
With its thousands of trees and four ponds, Green-Wood attracts all kinds of birds, as well as casual birdwatchers and expert birders. Birds require knowledge and experience to identify precisely, are always on the move, and require dedication, skill and good equipment to photograph well. I’ve recently acquired a better camera, but I lack the knowledge, patience and devotion to be more than an occasional birdwatcher. Gravestones move much more slowly, though light and shadow can be fickle, as these humble photos attest. There are over 570,000 people interred at Green-Wood (many unmarked), and at least tens of thousands of visible, if not always legible, gravestones. The grave markers range from lavish family mausoleums to large and small family plot gravestones to simple plaques in the ground or on the walls of large community mausoleums or columbaria marking individual interments. There are Revolutionary War and Civil War veterans alongside 20th-century and 21st-century neighbors, with the occasional tarp-covered mounds of dirt prepped for imminent new residents. With all the physical and stylistic variety and temporal depth and the sheer number of memorials it’s hard to make sense of it all or to focus on specific graves.
Sometimes individual graves catch the eye though because the names strikingly engraved or embossed there are also common words. I decided to try keeping track of these instances with snapshots during my walks, let’s call it wordwatching–and soon progressed to seeking them out, all over Green-Wood, and this full-scale “wording” project was born. And more birds were spotted anyway, even one from mythology…