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The Woodlawn Cemetery: Haunted Tales, Tours and Famous Burials

woodlawn cemetery

Visiting New York City? You’ve probably already made plans to take in the Brooklyn Bridge, or to view the Statue of Liberty. But instead of relaxing in Central Park, why not visit the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx?

The Woodlawn Cemetery isn’t the biggest cemetery in New York, but tours would prove that it’s the final resting place of some of the most infamous dead.

Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York

When you picture the Bronx, what comes to mind? Yankees Stadium? The Bronx Zoo? The Bronx is populated by almost a million and a half people, and is, if we’re being modest, home to some of the best international cuisine in the United States.

But the Bronx is also the site of a Civil War cemetery, one which was established in 1863. The cemetery sprawls over 400 acres, and is one of the largest in New York City. Despite its “inner city-like” surroundings, Woodlawn Cemetery is a peaceful place, wooded and quiet.

There are notable names on the headstones at Woodlawn. Resting alongside the Civil War soldiers who died in the late 1800s, there are jazz musicians, politicians and famed authors.

Woodlawn was designated as a National Historical Landmark, and has also been the recipient of Level II Accreditation by The ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and The Morton Arboretum. That is to say, the caretakers take pride in the cemetery.

So why should you visit the Woodlawn Cemetery? Why not instead visit the New York Botanical Garden, just four miles away? Woodlawn is a graveyard, yes. But in recent years it’s become more of a tourist attraction. Read on to find out why.

Who’s Buried at Woodlawn Cemetery?

As you walk the paths at Woodlawn Cemetery, you may feel as if you’re visiting an ordinary graveyard. The grounds are, of course, well kept – the headstones are maintained and legible.

But as you examine the grave markers more closely, you’ll notice that the names on those markers are far from ordinary. Countee Cullen, poet and playwright during the Harlem Renaissance, is buried here. Not far from the grave of Cullen lies Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick and other famous works.

Masters of the written word aren’t alone at Woodlawn. Resting with them are prominent musicians. Duke Ellington and Miles Davis were laid to rest at Woodlawn in 1974 and 1991, respectively. Irving Berlin, W.C. Handy, Max Roach and Holly Woodlawn are buried in the cemetery as well.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, if you’re not familiar with the name, was a strong leader in the United States women’s suffrage movement. This abolitionist and author of the Declaration of Sentiments was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery after her death in 1902.

Mayors of the city were interred at Woodlawn, as well as many other politicians. There are military generals buried among their subordinates, great philanthropists, actors and athletes. To put it simply, walking Woodlawn Cemetery is like strolling through a museum.

Woodlawn Cemetery: A Titanic Graveyard

As you likely know, the Titanic was a British passenger liner which sunk in the cold waters of the North Atlantic in 1912. Of the 2,224 passengers, it’s estimated that 1,500 died. Many of those who did not survive the Titanic were simply lost at sea.

The sinking of the Titanic took place almost 50 years after the first body was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. At that time, Woodlawn Cemetery historians state that the cemetery was attracting the “business” of many wealthy people.

Of course, those who were aboard the Titanic were often among those wealthy. And twelve of the headstones at Woodlawn are marked by the names of both Titanic survivors and those whose bodies were never found.

Ida and Isador Straus, owners of Macy’s, have grave markers at Woodlawn. Ida’s body was found washed ashore; Isador’s body was never recovered. The couple had refused a lifeboat, choosing instead to die together.

Henry Harper of Harper & Brothers Publishing House was also interred at the Woodlawn in the Bronx. According to survivors, no one cared for him. He chose to allow his Pekingese board a lifeboat with him.

The Woodlawn Cemetery does offer guided tours. If you’re interested in visiting the graves of the Titanic victims, jazz musicians or famous writers, call the main office at the cemetery. Tours are offered year round.

Is Woodlawn Cemetery Haunted?

With so many notable names buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, you may wonder if the cemetery is haunted. To date, there have been no verifiable records of hauntings at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Interestingly, one of the most famous ghosts in New York is buried at the cemetery. Olive Thomas Pickford was a Ziegfield girl and a star of silent films. She was, during her lifetime, frequently referred to as “the most beautiful girl in New York.”

Pickford died mysteriously at just 25 years old. The cause of death was attributed to mercury bichloride absorption, but the circumstances surrounding her death were suspicious.

Pickford is said to haunt the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway. While her body is buried at Woodlawn, her spirit has never been seen there.

There have been reports of a spirit at the cemetery, though. An apparition of a human has not been seen, but visitors to the cemetery claim that a man waves a flashlight around the cemetery at night. He can be heard yelling, sometimes screaming, near the Frankie’s Castle monument.

Woodlawn Cemetery Tours

Curious about Woodlawn Cemetery? Think you might be the first to sight an apparition or a spirit at the historical landmark?

The Woodlawn Cemetery does offer private tours. But they also host twilight mausoleum tours from time to time. Frequently held around Halloween, these tours allow guests to enjoy the beauty and the history of the cemetery after dark.

Regular hours are during the day – the cemetery closes to visitors at 4:30 in the afternoon. Photographers are welcome, but the cemetery asks that all guests remain respectful of those who lie in rest under their care.