Green-Wood Historic Fund Gala features the reinvention of a cemetery

John Turturro lends his support to Green-Wood and is honored with the DeWitt Clinton Award for Excellence during the Green-Wood Historic Fund Gala on September 16. ©Mark D Phillips

Green-Wood Historic Fund Gala features the reinvention of a cemetery

Park Slope

As Green-Wood reinvents itself from its primary service as a cemetery, last night's Green-Wood Historic Fund Gala brought out just how much the location has evolved.

In the words of Gala host, Kurt Andersen, "Green-Wood still has plenty of room for all of you - By which I mean right now - for walking around."

People began picnicking in Green-Wood as soon as it opened in 1838. Green-Wood began with an 178-acre land purchase by Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, and one of its esteemed residents. And now it is becoming a haven for arts and history.

Designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior, The cemetery is home to thousands of historic figures and boasts extraordinary works of 19th-century sculpture, statuary and architecture, including mausoleums featuring Tiffany glass. Green-Wood Cemetery offers tours of its grounds, concerts, book readings and other public events throughout the year. Their events are often featured on's HAPPENINGS section.

Green-Wood is running out of land to use for their primary operation. The Green-Wood Historic Fund is the non-profit organization that is charged with keeping the programming and the upkeep of the 478-acre property, half the size of Central Park and 2/3 the size of Prospect Park.

The DeWitt Clinton Award for Excellence is named for one of its early residents. Honoring critically acclaimed author and long-serving Green-Wood Board Member Malcolm MacKay and Award-winning actor John Turturro, the evening was a celebration of the public programs and the support from the community.

Kurt Andersen ©Mark D Phillips

Proceeds from the event will be used to support the Green-Wood Historic Fund and its many programs including restoration of the Landmarked Weir Greenhouse as a visitors center, a necessity with over 300,000 visitors coming through the grounds last year. In the past years, the cemetery has become an important stop on the Civil War Discovery Trail and the Revolutionary War for Battle Hill and the Battle of Brooklyn. The Fund has raised over $3 million so far to make it a reality. Liz and Bob Jeffe were recognized for giving a $1 million donation to develop the Archive Study Center and Library at Green-Wood which will house the largest repository of burial records in the United States.

Richard J. Moylan, President of Green-Wood, said, “Within Green-Wood’s 478-acres are hundreds of thousands of stories and memories so it is fitting that this year’s honorees are storytellers – John as an actor and Malcolm as an author.  John’s support – in particular, his star turn on our short film last year – has helped us highlight so much of Green-Wood’s vast history and beauty.  Malcolm’s leadership as a long-time and dedicated Board Member has been invaluable to Green-Wood over the years as has his commitment to so many important New York City organizations.

“And it doesn’t hurt that they’re also Brooklynites,” Moylan added.

Malcolm MacKay ©Mark D Phillips

Awardee Malcolm MacKay is a life-long Brooklynite who can trace his local roots back 13 generations. MacKay demonstrates an unwavering commitment to preserving the cultural fabric of Brooklyn and New York City.

Kurt Andersen brought a light-hearted humor to the evening. "This is sort of the public radio of death," he said as he stressed the need for the public's continued support. Later in the evening, he sat down with John Turturro for a radio-style interview of what Green-Wood meant to him.

In talking of his career, Andersen pointed out that Turturro had been in more Spike Lee movies than any other actor. Just three weeks older than Spike, they were both from Brooklyn. "He grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Cobble Hill, and I grew up in a black neighborhood in Hollis, Queens, brothers from another mother."

John Turturro ©Mark D Phillips

Andersen also brought up how many period pieces he had performed in -- Barton Fink, O' Brother Where Art Thou - and asked "Why do you think they see you as an early twentieth century person?"

"Because I'm a man from another time," said Turturro. "I never really felt I was of the time I grew up in. I've always been interested in what came before."

Turturro's mother, a Brooklyn native, is buried at Green-Wood. He is a frequent visitor. His support of Green-Wood includes narrating a video history, "GREEN-WOOD “UNLIKE ANY OTHER PLACE,” which was released last year and is available on

When the president of Green-Wood didn't have his award to present to him, he quickly ad-libbed, "I'll take a plot instead."