Is Brooklyn a Good Place to Die?

The Lake at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery at night

This morning, I saw a Crain’s article titled, “New York: Finally, a great place to die,” and I wondered, what makes a town ideal for that final moment before the rest is silence? Is it political stability? The assurance that no Creon type will decree that your body must rot in public rather than receive a proper burial? No, of course not. It’s taxes: over the next five years, state law will evolve to align with federal law so that estates won’t be taxed unless they’re worth at least $5.34 million (as opposed to the present $1 million). This will affect… no one I know, except maybe some upstate uncles?

But it got me thinking: why does anyone care where they die? Presuming you don’t have a valuable inheritance to worry about, there’s only the romantic attachment to consider. Like, I was born in Brooklyn, raised in Brooklyn, educated in Brooklyn, and work for a company whose focus is Brooklyn: at present, I identify strongly with the place, so you might understand why I’d want to stay here to the end. But more than I want my eyes to look their last at some Brooklynscape, I’d want to experience death as I experienced life: quite literally in Brooklyn.

To that extent, there aren’t a lot of options. Brooklyn has several active cemeteries (and many small historic graveyards), but they’re often sectarian; cemeteries are maybe the last place where segregation is still acceptable. The Friends Cemetery in Prospect Park is only for Quakers; Holy Cross in East Flatbush is Catholic; Washington Cemetery—which is is almost full anyway—is Jewish; and so on. That leaves three non-sectarian burial options: Green-Wood, in the middle of the borough; and Cypress Hills and the Evergreens, both of which straddle the Brooklyn-Queens border.

Prices aren’t available online for Cypress Hills, but a single grave at Green-Wood will cost you: $12,000-$14,000, plus another $683 to $806 for the foundation, as well as a $1,772 internment fee and all other sorts of fees that depend on many different circumstances. Green-Wood is a desirable place to be buried, full of history, quite beautiful, and right in the middle of the action in Brooklyn; just like all such real estate, it’s pricey.

The Evergreens is less desirable, as it’s more geographically marginal (and thus more difficult for the loved ones you left behind to come and mourn you), which is reflected in the prices. Still, they sound expensive to someone making his living as a journalist: single graves are $5,400, and then there are the fees, which are similar to those imposed at Green-Wood. (Cremation is cheaper, which among other reasons has helped its rate rise every year since 1963.)

This is part of why, even though my family has been in Brooklyn for three-four generations, most of my dead relatives are spending eternity on Staten Island or Long Island. Brooklyn is a tough place to love because, unless you’ve got a lot of dough, it takes the idea of “till death do us part” quite literally.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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