Sunday, October 25, 2009

Death Becomes Them

In the spirit(s) of the season, I hopped the N train for Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and spent the day tromping around its rolling hills, searching out the graves of the famous and infamous, and attending a book event with the author of Death Becomes Them: Unearthing the Suicides of the Brilliant, the Famous, and the Notorious.The sky was blue-blue and the leaves were a blast of color.

Someone once wrote about the cemetery (founded in 1838) that "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 Green-Wood".The tree-filled hills and valleys are crowded with ornate mausoleums, statuary, and gravestones most suitable for all those Fifth Avenue toffs.

Broadway babies Leonard Bernstein and Fred Ebb are buried at Green-Wood. So are the Tiffany clan, inventors Elias Howe and Samuel Morse, Henry Steinway, Margaret Sanger, and Boss Tweed. To name a few.

The reading by author Alix Strauss took place in the ornate Chapel (lousy acoustics, by the way). The author discovered that no one had ever written a book about famous suicides and jumped right on it. She had a great sense of humor and she shared lots of juicy, interesting details about a couple of the folks in her book. She even gave away little bottles of Vincent Van Gogh Vodka and Death By Chocolate bars with every book purchased! I opted for chocolate-flavored vodka, thereby covering both bases.

Cemeteries are always fascinating, whether it's Halloween or midsummer, whether the rich and famous are buried there or not, and whether a lovely incentive like a reading about well-known suicides is dangled before you. Spending a few hours with folks who have "crossed over" is time well-spent. Death does, indeed, become them.

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