Inside Green-Wood’s Mausoleums

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    Green-Wood Cemetery opened the mausoleums of some of its most famous and wealthy residents last weekend. Visitors could walk inside, and guides and actors dressed in period costume — mostly mid to late 19th century — recounted the mausoleum’s history.

    The first stop on the tour was the tomb of John Anderson, a wealthy tobacconist who owned a shop in the Financial District in the 1840s and 1850s. He hired a pretty girl named Mary Rogers to help sell cigars outside his shop. She became famous in her own right as the “Beautiful Cigar Girl,” because she was featured in advertising and regular customers got to know her. But one day, she was found floating in the Hudson River, and no one knows exactly how she died (or if she was murdered, and by whom). Anderson was married, but the guides speculate the two could have had an affair, or the tobacco girl could have been murdered by a jealous lover.

    Here’s his tomb:

    Peter Schermerhorn, born in the 18th century, was a shipping merchant so wealthy that he built a tomb large enough to bury 30 to 40 people. He also donated land to the cemetery when it first opened, guaranteeing himself a nice plot and a grand mausoleum.

    Then there was the tomb of ruthless railroad mogul Dr. Thomas C. Durant, who staged mock Indian attacks and set the prairie on fire when railroad investors came to visit. He was also kidnapped by Irish railroad workers, who refused to let him go until he paid them all the wages he owed them (which turned out to be several months’ worth).

    Next we visited the beautiful tomb of the Chauncey family, who were incredibly wealthy. However, the cemetery didn’t have records of how the Chaunceys made their money, so there wasn’t much the guides could tell us about the family or how they could afford to build a mausoleum that could fit 36 family members (only 21 were buried there).

    There was also the simpler, less grandiose tomb of the Gilsey family, who ran the 300-room Gilsey House hotel at 29th and Broadway in Manhattan (now converted to apartments).

    We also heard from a cemetery employee dressed as glass-maker Louis Comfort Tiffany, who didn’t have a tomb despite his wealth and fame. However, he did design beautiful stained-glass windows for several of Green-Wood’s early mausoleums, the locations of which the cemetery doesn’t like to disclose because they are often vandalized, stolen or broken. (You can see a broken one pictured in the Gilsey tomb above.)

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