Inspired by Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where a cemetery in a naturalistic park-like landscape in the English manner was first established, Green-Wood was able to take advantage of the varied topography provided by glacial moraines. Battle Hill, the highest point in Brooklyn and built in 1838, is on cemetery grounds, rising approximately 200 feet above sea level. As such, there on that spot in 1920, was erected a Revolutionary War monument by Frederick Ruckstull, Altar to Liberty: Minerva. From this height, the bronze Minerva statue gazes towards The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
The cemetery was the idea of Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, a Brooklyn social leader. It was a popular tourist attraction in the 1850s and was the place most famous New Yorkers who died during the second half of the nineteenth century were buried. It is still an operating cemetery with approximately 600,000 graves spread out over 478 acres (1.9 km²). The rolling hills and dales, several ponds and an on-site chapel provide an environment that still draws visitors. There are several famous monuments located there, including a statue of DeWitt Clinton and a Civil War Memorial. During the Civil War, Green-Wood Cemetery created the "Soldiers' Lot" for free veterans' burials.
The gates were designed by Richard Upjohn in Gothic Revival style. The main entrance to the cemetery was built in 1861 of Belleville brownstone. The sculptured groups depicting biblical scenes from the New Testament including Lazarus, The Widow's Son, and Jesus' Resurrection over the gateways are the work of John M. Moffitt. A Designated Landmarks of New York plaque was erected on it in 1958 by the New York Community Trust.
Several wooden shelters were also built, including one in a Gothic Revival style, one resembling an Italian villa, and another resembling a Swiss chalet. A descendent colony of monk parakeets that are believed to have escaped their containers while in transit now nests in the spires of the gate, as well as other areas in Brooklyn.
On December 5, 1876, the Brooklyn Theater Fire claimed the lives of at least 278 individuals, with some accounts reporting over 300 dead. Out of that total, 103 unidentified victims were interred in a common grave at Green-Wood Cemetery. An obelisk near the main entrance at Fifth Avenue and 25th Street marks the burial site. More than two dozen identified victims were interred individually in separate sections at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn.
Also buried at the cemetery are 6 British Commonwealth service personnel whose graves are registered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 3 from World War I and 3 from World War II, among the latter being Leading Aircraftsman Remsen Taylor Williams (died 1941 aged 26), Royal Canadian Air Force, who is buried in the Steinway Vault.
Green-Wood has remained non-sectarian, but was generally considered a Christian burial place for white Anglo-Saxon Protestants of good repute. One early regulation was that no one executed for a crime, or even dying in jail, could be buried there. Although he died in the Ludlow Street Jail, the family of the infamous "Boss" Tweed managed to circumvent this rule.
Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749–1838), Italian poet and memoir writer; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Italian librettist, author of librettos of The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni; first Professor of Italian at Columbia University
James E. Davis (1962–2003), assassinated City Councilman, was buried here for a few days. Upon learning his killer's ashes were also in Green-Wood, his family had his body exhumed and reinterred in the Cemetery of the Evergreens.
^ abc"Green-Wood Cemetery". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-14. "Green-Wood Cemetery, established in 1838, was the largest and most varied of the early American rural cemeteries. Its scale, diverse topography, and intended civic prominence made it the prototype for how a cemetery with Picturesque landscaping could be created in contrast to the rapidly expanding cities of the 19th century. Inspired by Alexander Jackson Downing, the most nationally prominent landscape designer and author in antebellum America, David Bates Douglass conceived the overall plan for the Picturesque landscape, executed with complementary Gothic Revival buildings by Richard Upjohn and his son Richard Michell Upjohn"
^ abCollins, Glenn (April 1, 2004). "Ground as Hallowed as Cooperstown; Green-Wood Cemetery, Home to 200 Baseball Pioneers". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-28. "Before A-Rod and Jeter, there were J-Creigh and Woodward. That would be James Creighton, Jr., the world's first true baseball star, and John B. Woodward, an outfielder who became a Union general in the Civil War. Both played for the Excelsior Club – sort of the Yankees of the early 1860s – and now both reside in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. ... Mr. Nash discovered some monuments, like that of Duncan Curry, by sheer chance, while walking through the cemetery. Curry, first president of the Knickerbocker Baseball Club, is immortalized with a monument that proudly dubs him Father of Baseball because he headed the club that scholars say first codified many of the game's rules. ... Another Green-Wood resident, DeWolf Hopper, a thespian, delivered a rendition of the Ernest Thayer poem, Casey at the Bat, shortly after it was published in 1888, and proceeded to perform it more than 10,000 times over the next half-century. One of his six marriages was to a Hollywood socialite who took his name: Hedda Hopper. At Tulip Hill, the imposing granite vault of the three Patchen brothers – Sam Patchen (shortstop), Joe Patchen (right field) and Edward Patchen (infielder) – is the only crypt of early baseball players, the Alou brothers of their time. ... A happier story is that of Charles J. Smith, one of the great players of the 1860s, Mr. Richman said. He was buried in a seemingly unmarked grave at Green-Wood. But investigation by a grounds crew discovered his monument last year, a few feet underground, where it had sunk. It has now been restored."
^"Pierrepont Family Memorial". Archived from the original on 2007-10-21. Retrieved 2007-09-23. "Henry Evelyn Pierrepont was known as the "first citizen" of Brooklyn for good reason. He, along with his father Hezekiah B. and mother Anna Maria before him, played a significant role in the planning of Brooklyn as a physical city, its crucial ferry services to New York, and the establishment of Green-Wood Cemetery itself."
^Pesquarelli, Adrianne. "Gotham Gigs; Birdman". Crain's New York Business. Retrieved 2007-09-23. The article presents information concerning the year-round tours led by Steve Baldwin in Brooklyn, New York to the nests of parrots. Baldwin volunteers to lead walking tours to the nests of an extended family of wild Quaker parrots which escaped from a shipping crate at JFK International Airport in the late 1960s.
^ CWGC Cemetery Report. Breakdown obtained from casualty record.