Walking Among the Dead at Woodlawn

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo and Julie Schwietert Collazo

We’ve visited many cemeteries while traveling: the Petit Family Cemetery on the land where I grew up in South Carolina, where the graves of slaves are indicated with simple rocks.

Cementerio Colon in Havana, Cuba, where the sister of Francisco’s son is buried.

The local cemetery in Mompox, Colombia, at night, during a ceremony honoring the dead, candles flickering on tombstones and families holding hands, some crying, some talking quietly, some entirely silent and meditative.

The municipal cemetery in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where ostentatious monuments marking the final resting place of former governors and famous families draw attention from the old crypts, cracked open by decay, displaying bones on the back retaining wall of the cemetery.

New Orleans’ St. Louis Cemetery

a cemetery in southern Chile

It’s not that we have a fetish for the dead. But there’s something illustrative about a place, a culture, and its people that can be narrated without words when you visit a cemetery.
Perhaps you’ve visited cemeteries on your travels, too, or stopped at the graves of the famous dead to honor them or simply say you’d been there.

But like us, you probably haven’t spent much time at the cemetery in your hometown.

Woodlawn Cemetery, one of New York City’s cemeteries, is located in the north Bronx in an area that was considered rural back in 1863, when the cemetery was founded. More than 300,000 people have been buried at Woodlawn since then, and many of them constitute a Who’s Who list of American public life.

We visited recently:

The tomb of Miles Davis

The mausoleum of Augustus Juilliard, founder of The Juilliard School

The tomb of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights, famous for writing The Declaration of Sentiments

The tomb of Joseph Pulitzer, the so-called father of journalism. Founded Columbia University’s School of Journalism and the Pulitzer Prize.

The modest tomb of Ralph Bunche, who, among many other accomplishments, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, the first African American to receive the honor.

What cemeteries have you visited on your travels and what have they taught you?

Published by

Julie Schwietert Collazo

Julie Schwietert Collazo and Francisco Collazo. For more information, please contact us: e-mail: collazoprojects@gmail.com

14 thoughts on “Walking Among the Dead at Woodlawn”

  1. I specifically remember biking through the cemetery in Granada, Nicaragua and walking through the famous one in Buenos Aires where Evita is buried. I’m always surprised by how ostentatious many of the tombs are.

  2. Wow, Julie, what a great idea. I never contemplated visiting a cemetery until I went to one in Terlingua. Initially I thought it would be eerie to visit the desolate coda of a once-busy town but it was rather moving. It’s where I realized that both life and death can be celebrated in a dignified fashion, without charged emotions and, like you mention, words to narrate. I’ll definite consider visiting cemeteries around me wherever I go from now on.

  3. Oh, Terlingua! I visited the cemetery there and you’re right- so moving. I remember it as very humble but also with touches of creativity that characterize Terlingua itself- felt a bit wild and unkempt. It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been there, though, so I’m wondering if you have similar impressions.

  4. Kyle-

    Francisco and I have a friend in Puerto Rico who once had a job as a door to door casket salesman. He told us he’d look up the names and addresses of professionals respected in their fields and approach them specifically, trying to convince them that they needed to purchase a very ostentatious casket. Even though no one would be able to see it after the funeral, the ostentatiousness characterized their eternal life, too! Thanks for sharing your memories of the places you’ve visited.

  5. We also fall into the group of people who visit cemeteries when traveling. They tend to offer unusual insight into the culture and the view of what happens to someone when he dies. Some of my favorite cemeteries were in Central Asia. The Turkmens would leave teapots and cups at the grave with the idea that the dead still wanted to participate in ceremonies and drink tea. In Kyrgyzstan, some graves were like yurt frames with a metal structure instead of wooden. You could see the mixture of Muslim and indigenous nomadic culture. Very peaceful and beautiful places.

  6. Really cool idea. Hadn’t done this before but thinking of places we’ve been, even a place like New Orleans with it’s above ground burials, and it makes so much sense as a cultural exploration.
    The graveyard outside Trinity Church at the old World Trade Center site in NYC is loaded with old settlement history too.

  7. Love the name of your blog- going to check it out now!
    And thanks for adding the Trinity Church graveyard. I’d forgotten about that one.

  8. I have to admit I am slightly uncomfortable visiting cemeteries. Whether it’s my own fear of death, or whether I feel I am intruding, I don’t know. That said, I still seem to wander in to them. City of the Dead in Cairo is most mindblowing I’ve seen. And in Poland they have a similar festival to Day of the Dead, when the graveyards are all lit with candles, lights and other offerings. Pretty and spooky.

    Love the photo of the cemetery in southern Chile!

  9. Yeah I do, but I’m away at the minute so will have to dig them out when I get home. Organising my photos is coming up soon on my list of “online stuff I really have to get together sooner rather than later”!

    PS only saw your reply by accident… is it possible to subscribe to commments?

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