Perhaps you know Green-Wood Cemetery, a 478-acre expanse of rolling, reposeful, halcyon loveliness nestled in the heart of Brooklyn, as the place of rest for figures of certain historical import, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonard Bernstein, Bill â€śThe Butcherâ€ť Poole, Samuel Morse and William M. â€śBossâ€ť Tweed. Or maybe you know it as a particularly peaceful place to stroll around on circuitous roads and pathways until you find your way up to the groundsâ€™ higher elevations, from which you can take in wonderful views of New York City and its surrounding waters. Did you know, though, that among Green-Woodâ€™s 560,000 residents are over 5,000 Civil War veterans, including not only revered generals, but also Brooklynâ€™s first fallen soldier in the Civil War, the 12-year-old â€śLittle Drummer Boyâ€ť Clarence MacKenzie? These latter facts are what make Green-Wood such a perfect setting for To Bid You All Good Bye, an exhibition of photographs, letters and other forms of memorabilia that, after 13 years of research and preparation, is now on view in observance of the Sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War. We spoke with Richard J. Moylan, the President of Green-Wood, and Jeff Richman, Green-Woodâ€™s Historian, to find out more about how this exhibit came to be and what visitors can expect.
Green-Wood has become a much more enlivened place, as it were, in recent years, thanks to tours, exhibitions and various research initiatives. How does To Bid You All Good Bye fit into this aspect of Green-Wood activities?
RM: There are two essential aspects of Green-Wood that we share with the community: the Cemetery and the stories of those interred here. This deeply moving exhibition is the product of 13 years of meticulous research done by Jeff Richman and volunteers who identified 5,000 individuals interred here who played a role in the Civil War. The exhibition tells 20 inspiring stories of soldiers, generals, drummer boys, abolitionists, and brave nurses who treated the sick and wounded. Green-Wood is home to thousands of stories. Itâ€™s our obligation to find them and keep them alive through initiatives like To Bid You All Good Bye.
Aside from considerations related to the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, what was the administrative impetus to mount this show?
RM: We have been collecting items related to the Civil War and our permanent residents for years. We saw this anniversary as an opportunity to partner with the Brooklyn Historical Society, which has very rich collections, to tell two related stories of Brooklyn and the Civil War. We produced To Bid You All Good Bye: Civil War Stories, and BHS is presenting Personal Correspondents.
The multi-media aspects of the exhibit certainly make the soldiersâ€™ stories ‘legible’ in a range of formats. What were some of the challenges in gathering such documents and objects?
JR: Itâ€™s always a challenge to work in a rather limited space. Our historic Chapel is a great venue, but itâ€™s not big. Out of necessity, we were selective when choosing items from our archives. We used the space it to its fullest potential without overwhelming the visitor.
Did you unearth, so to speak, anything alarming, perhaps, or sentimental, or of otherwise particular historical intrigue while conducting research for the exhibition?
JR: Yes! Weâ€™re displaying a firemanâ€™s badge that was dug out of the Louisiana soil a few years ago. It was proudly worn by a Brooklyn fireman on his Civil War soldierâ€™s uniform, but he lost it in 1863 and, soon thereafter, was killed in battle.
Do you have any favorite elements of the exhibit? Documents or objects that youâ€™d like to make sure visitors keep a keen eye out for?
JR: The exhibition gets its title from a letter written by Captain Henry Sand. After watching the color bearer of his regiment shot down in battle, Henry led the charge. But he, too, was wounded. Not knowing if he would live or die, he wrote a note to his mother: â€śMy wound is painful but not mortal I believeâ€”however I send you these lines to bid you all good bye in case I never see you again. I hear our men cheering & hope the day is oursâ€”if we only have a great victory, I am contented â€¦â€ť. The letter speaks to this young manâ€™s selflessness and commitment to the cause. His mother came to the battlefield in the hopes of nursing him back to health. Sadly, he died a few weeks later in her arms.
What other Green-Wood programming would you like to highlight while To Bid You All Good Bye is on view, or after?
RM: Up next is Dark Wonderland, a nighttime festival of visionary music, dance and theater that marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carrollâ€™s Aliceâ€™s Adventures in Wonderland. Itâ€™s presented in conjunction with MAPP International Productions, and will run every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in June. You can find all of our programs online at www.green-wood.com.
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