Monthly Walk Series: Green-Wood Cemetery & Sunset Park, Brooklyn

One of the most unexpectedly moving parts of getting married, for me, was the way it allowed me to experience my community. I don’t mean my geographic community — although my native New Yorker husband and I did take the subway to our own wedding and get stuck in traffic on the BQE on our way home — but my human community. Our loved ones took time away from their lives and flew across the country (or the ocean, in one case) or drove for hours and paid for expensive New York City lodging to witness an event we conjured. One friend even left his home state of Texas for the first time in a decade just to attend our wedding! It was a monumental reminder that each of us as individuals and our relationship to one another doesn’t exist in a vacuum but in a vast, strong, interconnected network of love, support, and community. Even months later, I feel full of gratitude at the thought.

After we came home from our honeymoon, we decided that it was important to us to actively cultivate that community and foster those bonds. One of the ways we’re doing that is by hosting a monthly walk series, an opportunity to explore and connect with New York and with our community here. We’ve led two so far. The inaugural walk took place in November: we met at Columbus Circle, walked the main loop of Central Park counterclockwise, and then had lunch at Whole Foods after. It’s one of my favorite routes in the city, but it was also one with which I was intimately familiar. Although the last one was years ago, countless long runs along that loop in snow and rain and blazing heat meant that I knew every water fountain, every incline.

This past weekend, we took the opposite approach in our second walk by visiting a neighborhood that was entirely new to us. We met outside the main entrance of Brooklyn’s landmark Green-Wood Cemetery, one of those places I’ve meant to check out a thousand times but never actually got around to visiting. It was the morning after the season’s first snow, brisk but clear, the cemetery blanketed in softening white. None of the four of us who met that morning knew much about Green-Wood Cemetery, but someone recollected that it had served as an inspiration for Central Park, and it was easy to see why as we walked along the perimeter of the most picturesque and fascinating cemetery I’ve ever explored.

We passed tranquil ponds, rows of hedges, steps that wove up sheltering hills. A field of plain grave markers contrasted with a cluster of ornate Grecian tombs, adorned with statues and columns. Everywhere, the inscriptions evoked for us stories we could nearly imagine as memories of an old New York. We examined a monument to D. M. Bennett, densely inscribed with his ideas. “He had a thousand friends,” the stone banner proclaimed (“and even more opinions,” we quipped). We read a poem on an elaborate stone, a tribute from a husband to his deceased wife, and observed from his much more modest marker that she must have died first, even though their dates were buried in snow. We found a grave for “Alexander the Great,” which appeared to be for an unnamed child of the Alexander family, dead the year after birth. We saw a tomb shaped like an Egyptian pyramid, decorated with Christian statuary. There was a point where we could stand and see the Manhattan skyline looking one way and the Statue of Liberty looking the other.

A lap later, we emerged back out of Green-Wood’s main gate and were tempted into Baked in Brooklyn, across the street, by the delicious aroma of fresh-baked bread. After we left, laden with cupcakes and enormous cinnamon buns and other confections, we walked through the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn to its namesake park, which offered even more splendid views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty than from the cemetery. From there, we made our way to 8th Ave, the main thoroughfare of Sunset Park’s Chinatown. In the stretch we walked, about a mile, it seemed full of the same sensory pleasures as every other New York Chinatown — tantalizing roast meats, mini hot cakes, gloriously colorful produce — but without the throngs of tourists. Easily accessible via the 8th Ave stop on the N train, now that I’ve been there, I’m more surprised than ever how few people know about or visit Sunset Park’s Chinatown. We stopped for lunch at Kai Feng Fu Dumpling House, where we gorged ourselves on astonishingly cheap comfort food; my favorite, the fried pork-and-leek dumplings, were flavorful and deliciously greasy and cost $1 for 4.