Vandals Desecrate Historic Brooklyn Cemetery


When workers arrived at the historic Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn on Tuesday morning, August 21 to mow lawns, trim grass and weed gardens, they discovered a devastating act of vandalism, as more than 50 memorials and monuments had been desecrated.

This was the first case of vandalism in 30 years at the cemetery that was founded in 1838. Cemetery officials said that the oldest memorial that was vandalized belongs to a U.S. military general that lead troops during the War of 1812.

Richard J. Moylan, president of the cemetery released a statement last Thursday saying he was “shocked and deeply saddened by what happened” and added that, “most of the damaged monuments date back to the 1800s. Many cannot be replaced. We estimate the cost of repair to be upwards of $100,000.”

Despite an around-the-clock car patrol of the grounds and a high cast iron fence that surrounds the 479 acres of the cemetery that was granted National Historic Landmark status in 2006 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, vandals managed to wreak havoc. An arch was toppled, urns were cracked and pushed off their bases. Four marble crosses were destroyed as they broke into pieces. Two memorial porcelain photographs of the deceased were scratched repeatedly while another was smashed with a rock. Three gravestones were smeared with mud and a trash receptacle was rolled down a hill.

Surveillance cameras spotted one of the unidentified vandals and that footage has been turned over to police. The NYPD Hate Crimes Squad is now conducting a thorough investigation, swabbing the tombstones for DNA and dusting for fingerprints.

Jeff Richman, the cemetery’s resident historian said, “I have been visiting Greenwood since 1986, and, while I recall some minor incidents of vandalism, I cannot remember anything on this scale or close to it.” He added that, “When mindless vandalism like this occurs, society, and all of us, have a duty to protect these memorials. Although neither Greenwood Cemetery nor The Greenwood Historic Fund have any legal obligation to repair vandalized monuments, we are stepping up here and will be repairing each and every one of them. We also have been contacting the families of those whose graves were desecrated.”

Located in the Greenwood Heights section of Brooklyn, the cemetery, which has approximately 600,000 graves lies several blocks southwest of Prospect Park, between Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington and Sunset Park. Founded as one of America’s first rural cemeteries, Greenwood developed an international reputation for its magnificent beauty, as it boasts rolling hills, valleys, glacial ponds and rustic paths.
By 1860, Greenwood was attracting 500,000 visitors a year, rivaling Niagara Falls as the country’s greatest tourist attraction and it became the fashionable placed to be buried. Among the famous monuments located at the cemetery is a statue of DeWitt Clinton, a U.S. Senator from New York and a two-time governor of the state, and a Civil War memorial. During the Civil War, Greenwood Cemetery created the “Soldiers’ Lot”, for free veterans’ burials. Paul Goldberger in the New York Times wrote that it was said, “it is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon the Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Greenwood.” The escalating popularity of Greenwood Cemetery helped inspire the creation of public parks, including Central Park and Prospect Park.

Among those celebrated personalities buried at Greenwood Cemetery are musical composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein, famed abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, mobster and contract killer for Murder, Inc, Albert Anastasia, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr and his wife Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, father and mother of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Samuel F.B. Morse, inventor of the Morse code language of the telegraph, Charles Ebbets, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune newspaper, Henry Steinway, the founder of Steinway and Sons piano manufacturers, Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine and Samuel Blatchford, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, among others.