I’ve always loved old graveyards. As it turns out, so does my girlfriend. (We’d both readily admit we are a strange couple–even considered individually.) For myself, considering my love for antiquated things and my penchant for writing gothic horror (amongst other things), I find cemeteries quite inspiring, and indeed peaceful to stroll through. Equally, my girlfriend finds them calming, and has always enjoyed history of any sort, even that of the Weird N.J. sort of fare. As such, my girlfriend and I have talked about visiting an old graveyard together for some time. (Quite the spot for a date, I must say.) So, just two weeks ago, when we had an afternoon to ourselves, she took me to one such site: the historical Brookside Cemetery in Englewood, New Jersey.
Now, if you read a little about Brookside (I know Wikipedia isn’t a reliable source, but here’s a link to their page about it, all the same) you’ll find that it was begun in 1876 and boasts the first Presbyterian church in Bergen County. What’s more, amongst the older permanent residents of the graveyard are a few notable persons (or corpses, rather), including two actresses and a number of political figures (some local, some national). It was precisely this tangible history which immediately drew me to the place.
Even knowing nothing of Brookside before I entered it, I needed only look at the historical plaque beside the church and the aged grave markers (or the dates thereupon) to know the place had a silent story of its own. The many monuments to the dead were quite beautiful and intricately crafted, especially one such stone set resembling a tree, with its branches cut, and around it, pieces of that “cut” tree to mark the graves of members of the family. Even the landscape itself was interesting as it rose and fell in small hills, and in one place a tree’s roots were growing around a set of graves–something I had never seen before, but quite loved.
Also there was a particularly old mausoleum which caught my eye. It was set apart from the others, on much lower level of ground, and it had a wooden door with three small open holes in them. However, try as I may, I could neither open the door (yes, indeed I tried) nor get my cell phone’s considerably bright flashlight to penetrate the palpable darkness within. Though my girlfriend did not miss a chance to try and scare me (good for her!) as I leaned closer into the hole, trying to catch even the slightest glimpse of what lay inside.
Then, of course, on a more humorous note, there were the names we came upon during our excursion. Indeed, it would seem as though actresses and political figures were not the only ones interred therein. Coffin was an ironically appropriate name to see upon a headstone, and one particular member of the Coffin family (Ms. Eva Coffin, to be exact), must have been a Hobbit who married in, as she carried the maiden name of Proudfoot. More, this site is the very resting place of that one half of the Odd Couple, Mr. Felix (L.) Ungar. And, little did I know Meet the Fockers was a documentary, as we found the grave of Bernie Focker’s (grand?) mother, Violet Fokker, who died in 1929. (Undoubtedly, the spelling was changed to Focker with successive generations.)
I’d love to make another trip to Brookside Cemetery. As with any museum (this one just happening to be a museum of the dead), there was too much to see in just one visit. I’d love to experience it all over again or see what a second pass through might reveal. Though, even more, I’d love to find more of these little treasure-troves of the dead and other strange landmarks of bizarre history. Are there any out there which you have visited or know of? If so, I’d love to know of them, so please share them by leaving a comment below. After all, who knows what sorts of stories such a trip might inspire?