• Benji Sills

Tomb of Secrets - New York's Most Mysterious Tomb

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Green-Wood Cemetery is one of New York’s oldest attractions - in just shy of 200 years it has accumulated over 600,000 graves. Among these are a pyramid mausoleum, a hefty bear sculpture placidly straddling a gravestone and a tombstone shaped like a cookbook with an actual cookie recipe inscribed. Yet the quirkiest tomb of the lot features a unique twist: there’s nobody buried below.

Paige and I spent a full day wandering the grounds of Green-Wood Cemetery, checking off the more notable sights. We were most looking forward to the Tomb of Secrets however - a unique plot that plays with the classic adage: “taking your secrets to the grave”. Well now you can, and it’s made easy thanks to this installation by artist Sophie Calle. Her eccentric projects have included documenting the movements of a complete stranger (although it’s hard to imagine ‘art project’ flying as a court defense) among others, but this creative graveyard installation covered quite different ground. She was inspired to create the interactive statement after an ex left her with a troublesome secret shortly before a breakup.

We posted a travel vlog (which you can watch here) that details, in part, where we found the tomb. It can be difficult: the cemetery is large, winding and densely occupied, not helped by our troubles understanding the map. Despite the heated comment of “millennial idiots” from an ancient Facebook user who looked only moments away from securing his own Green-Wood real estate, the point stands: the Tomb of Secrets took some scavenging to unearth.

After wandering vacantly around several nearby side streets, we eventually recognized a mausoleum next to the tomb from some photos. And sure enough: there the tomb stood atop a hill, pearly white with the somewhat ominous inscription “Here Lie the Secrets of the Visitors of Green-Wood Cemetery”. It works just like a USPS box, with a narrow slot in the front that drops submissions down into a chamber below. When the tomb’s chamber fills up, all of the submissions are incinerated, which sometimes feels like pretty much how USPS works too.

Of course, interactive installations are too tempting to pass by, so we decided to leave some of our own secrets in the box. It turns out that a difficulty that comes with being a millennial idiot is that I share all of my thoughts online and then have nothing left to confess. I brainstormed for a while, trying to come up with any secret at all. I eventually settled on admitting that my pants had a stain on them all afternoon. Paige wouldn’t show me her secret, so I have no sense of how seriously she took it.

We then got ready to submit our papers, which was slightly challenging on that day. Despite the commitment to clearing the tomb, it seems the good people of Brooklyn have had a lot on their minds recently and it was fully backed up. The secrets were practically overflowing onto the grounds, like a boardwalk garbage can. We were determined though and Paige enlisted the help of a long stick to clear some of the jam.

When we’d crammed our paper into the slot enough to feel satisfied, we stood back to admire the view. From this high hilltop we could see much of the cemetery, laid elegantly out before us. From here we could watch the people pass by far below and wonder just how many would be taking their pants stains to the grave.

The Tomb of Secrets can be visited any time during Green-Wood's hours, although it is hard to find. Through many angry comments on my map-reading abilities, I have gathered that Green-Wood Cemetery has an app that will help you find the tomb (and other memorable sights). The location is also marked on the Green-Wood map if you're feeling brave enough to use it.

The cemetery is open to the public and free to visit.

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