Niagara Gazette

Features

September 28, 2006

Brooklyn tour a graveyard smash

Gather ’round, boys and girls, for a titillating Halloween tale: The Petrified Body of Lake Placid.

Mabel Douglass was the first dean of the New Jersey College for Women, which was renamed in her honor back in 1955. But in 1933, she was a retiree who went out in a canoe one day — and simply disappeared.

Thirty years later, on a shelf about 90 feet down in the lake, her perfectly preserved body was discovered by divers. Her petrified remains were finally interred in Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery, where Mabel Douglass rests to this day.

Her grave, along with her story, are featured in the annual “Halloween at the Cemetery” tour, where Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman takes visitors on an eerie if entertaining trek through the graveyard where nearly 600,000 souls reside — nearly double the population of Pittsburgh.

“This tour is driven by stories — by murders, by spirits, by tragedies, all of that,” said Richman, who started the end-of-October tours a dozen years ago. “Unfortunately for Miss Douglass, her story kind of lends itself to Halloween.

“There’s just not that many petrified body stories out there.”

There are thousands of stories inside Green-Wood’s 478 acres, where the first permanent residents arrived in 1838. The vast manicured property is so steeped in lore that the cemetery has its own historian — tour host Richman, author of “Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery: New York’s Buried Treasure.”

It’s a cemetery with star power. Among those buried there are former Brooklyn Dodgers owner Charles Ebbets, composer Leonard Bernstein, telegraph inventor Samuel Morse, political boss William Tweed and mobster Joey Gallo. There’s no yellow brick road, but you can follow the asphalt to the grave of “The Wizard of Oz” star Frank Morgan (he played the Wizard). There are dozens of victims from the Civil War, and dozens more from 9/11.

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