CHAPTER XVII. The cemetery - Its beauties - The "Potter's Field" - The graves of children - Monumental eccentricities - Arrival of emigrants - Their reception - Poor dwellings - The dangerous class - The elections - The riots - Characteristics of the stre
It may seem a sudden transition from society to a cemetery, and yet it is not an unnatural one, for many of the citizens of New York carry their magnificence as far as possible to the grave with them, and pile their wealth above their heads in superb mausoleums or costly statues. The Pere la Chaise of the city is the Greenwood Cemetery, near Brooklyn on Long Island. I saw it on the finest and coldest of November days, when a piercing east wind was denuding the trees of their last scarlet honours. After encountering more than the usual crush in Broadway, for we were rather more than an hour in driving three miles in a stage, we crossed the Brooklyn Ferry in one of those palace ferry-boats, where the spacious rooms for passengers are heated by steam-pipes, and the charge is only one cent, or a fraction less than a halfpenny. It was a beautiful day; there was not a cloud upon the sky; the waves of the Sound and of the North River were crisped and foam-tipped, and dashed noisily upon the white pebbly beach. Brooklyn, Jersey, and Hoboken rose from the water, with their green fields and avenues of villas; white, smokeless steamers were passing and repassing; large anchored ships tossed upon the waves; and New York, that compound of trees, buildings, masts, and spires, rose in the rear, without so much as a single cloud of smoke hovering over it.
A railway runs from Brooklyn to the cemetery, with the cars drawn by horses, and the dead of New York are conveniently carried to this last resting-place. The entrance is handsome, and the numerous walls and carriage-drives are laid with fine gravel, and beautifully swept. We drove to see the most interesting objects, and the coachman seemed to take a peculiar pride in pointing them out. This noble burying-ground has some prettily diversified hill and dale scenery, and is six miles round. The timber is very fine, and throughout art has only been required as an assistance to nature. To this cemetery most of the dead of New York are carried, and after "life's fitful fever," in its most exaggerated form, sleep in appropriate silence. Already several thousand dead have been placed here in places of sepulture varying in appearance from the most splendid and ornate to the simplest and most obscure. There are family mausoleums, gloomy and sepulchral looking, in the Grecian style; family burying-grounds neatly enclosed by iron or bronze railings, where white marble crosses mark the graves; there are tombs with epitaphs, and tombs with statues; there are simple cenotaphs and monumental slabs, and nameless graves marked by numbers only.
One very remarkable feature of this cemetery is the "Potter's Field," a plot containing several acres of ground, where strangers are buried. This is already occupied to a great extent. The graves are placed in rows close together, with numbers on a small iron plate to denote each. Here the shipwrecked, the pestilence-stricken, the penniless, and friendless are buried; and though such a spot cannot fail to provoke sad musings, the people of New York do not suffer any appearances of neglect to accumulate round the last resting-place of those who died unfriended and alone. Another feature, not to be met with in England, strikes the stranger at first with ludicrous images, though in reality it has more of the pathetic. In one part of this cemetery there are several hundred graves of children, and these, with most others of children of the poorer class, have toys in glass cases placed upon them. There are playthings of many kinds, woolly dogs and lambs, and little wooden houses, toys which must be associated in the parents' minds with those who made their homes glad, but who have gone into the grave before them. One cannot but think of the bright eyes dim, the merry laugh and infantine prattle silent, the little hands, once so active in playful mischief, stiff and cold; all brought so to mind by the sight of those toys. There is a fearful amount of mortality among children at New York, and in several instances four or five buried in one grave told with mournful suggestiveness of the silence and desolation of once happy hearths.
There are a few very remarkable and somewhat fantastic monuments. There is a beautiful one in white marble to the memory of a sea-captain's wife, with an exact likeness of himself, in the attitude of taking an observation, on the top. An inscription to himself is likewise upon it, leaving only the date of his death to be added. It is said that, when this poor man returns from a voyage, he spends one whole day in the tomb, lamenting his bereavement.