The Graveyard Guide

Jeff Richman’s Halloween tours attract many first-time visitors to Green-Wood. “When you love something, you want to share it with people. You want them to appreciate it as much as you do,” he says. Photo: Jeff Richman

Monk parakeets caw on the 106-foot spires of the Gothic-style arch at the entrance of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Purple-grey clouds settle atop weather-worn brownstone mausoleums.

One may mistake it for the opening of a Stephen King novel.

But Green-Wood’s full-time historian, Jeff Richman, spends a lot of time trying to convince people that cemeteries are nothing to be afraid of. Among other responsibilities, he organizes year-round tours across the cemetery’s 478 acres, the most popular of which are the “murder and mayhem” Halloween tours. For those, Richman dons a top hat and kitschy pumpkin-embroidered purple vest.

Richman brags about Green-Wood’s more famous “permanent residents,” like Boss Tweed and Leonard Bernstein, as a proud mother might describe her daughter’s straight-A report card. When asked about his retirement plans, the grey-haired 63-year-old laughs: “We’ll see how this week goes.”

Age: 63
Graduated from: Stony Brook University, political science major; New York University School of Law
Based in: Long Island, New York
Previous jobs: Practiced criminal defense law for 32 years

Years in the business: In 1990, I started giving tours of Green-Wood and researching to write a book about the cemetery. I realized there was a ton of misinformation and incomplete information, and I wanted to clear that up. In 2000, I became a part-time historian here, and went full-time five years ago. 

What initially brought you to Green-Wood? When I was young, I collected stereoscopic views, which are images placed in a stereoscope to create a 3D effect. I kept coming across images of Green-Wood from the 1860s and 1870s, so when I saw an ad in the newspaper for a photography tour of Green-Wood, I wanted to see whether it had changed in 130 years.

Did you have an “aha” moment during that tour? As I walked through Green-Wood, it occurred to me: This was a landscape in the middle of urban Brooklyn that had remained unchanged for over a century. I immediately knew it was the place for me, so I returned again and again, and soon started leading tours while practicing law part-time.

Green-Wood, which was founded in 1838 as one of America’s first rural cemeteries, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Photo: green-wood.com

Responsibilities as historian: It’s pretty varied. I lead weekly tours, blog for Green-Wood.com, and pick out plants for the gardens. I’m involved with curating exhibitions, writing books, and collecting things pertaining to the cemetery itself or the people buried here. I also work with our cutting-edge restoration team. Using an old photograph, we identified the broken remains of a monument in the cemetery, and then helped restore it.

Is Halloween your busiest time of year? Yes. This year, we had 450 visitors for our Halloween tours, which tend to draw a lot of first-timers.

Your Halloween tour attire: It’s been the same for years: black top hat, cape, Halloween vest, and jeans. I also use props, like a walking hand, spiders, and George Washington’s chattering teeth. I try to entertain the visitors to the extent that I can.

Yearly visitors: Between 200,000 and 300,000. Our trolley allows us to do themed tours throughout the year, like the Women of Green-Wood and the Pioneers in Baseball of Green-Wood tours. We also host a number of book talks followed by custom-prepared trolley tours throughout the cemetery.

Most famous permanent residents: Horace Greeley [founder and editor of the New York Tribune], William Magear (“Boss”) Tweed, and Leonard Bernstein. We also have Wyckoff Van der hoef, who died at sea on the Titanic, and more than 100 people from the Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876.

Is the cemetery running out of space? It’s 478 acres, but yes, we are running out of space for new graves. In 5 to 10 years, I think we’ll be filled up.

After Green-Wood opened in 1838, the cemetery attracted close to 500,000 visitors on a yearly basis for about 50 years. Its popularity helped inspire the building of Central Park. Photo: flickr.com/ Mambo’Dan

Cemeteries often get a bad rap, not in any small part thanks to scary movies. We spend a lot of time trying to convince people there’s nothing to be afraid of in cemeteries. We held a movie series in our chapel a few years ago to bring in children, in the hopes that they would no longer consider cemeteries a place to stay away from, but instead a great space to learn in.

Do you still show kids’ movies there? We had one vociferous complainer, so we ended that series. But we often bring in classrooms, and we’re pivoting to become a community-oriented historic park, an alternative to Central Park and Prospect Park.

Number of bodies interred at Green-Wood: More than half a million.

Okay, so you’re not scared of dead bodies. What does creep you out? Leading bus tours.

Are you superstitious? Not exactly. But I do believe that there are more than just, you know, coincidences. Sometimes, it’s like certain graves are calling to us: You never noticed me before, but I’m right over here, come take a look.

Best part of your job: The people. I’m currently writing a book for the cemetery’s 175th anniversary, for which I’m collaborating with curators, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other experts in their fields.

Most challenging part of your job: Keeping track of everything that needs to get done. But that’s a good problem to have.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I’ve always been a collector — baseball cards, duck decoys, nineteenth century primitive tools, photographic paperweights, and architectural details. And I already mentioned stereoscopic views.

If you had one hour of free time, where would you spend it? I love Acadia National Park in Maine, and the American Wing at the Met[ropolitan Museum of Art]. But Green-Wood, with all its levels of interest and discovery, is my favorite place.

Your favorite spots at Green-Wood: The spectacular marble carving of Jane Griffith, the Beard Bear, the Civil War Soldiers’ Lot, and Niblo Mausoleum on Crescent Water. Oh, and the hill above Valley Water where the Tiffanys are interred and my gravestone stands.

The tombstone of Frank Morgan, the title character in the The Wizard of Oz. Spoiler alert: this was not built with emeralds or yellow brick.

Are you dressing up for Halloween this year? No. After the tours, I’m pretty much done with Halloween. But I’ll still give out candy to the neighborhood children.

Do you plan to be buried at Green-Wood? Yes, I have a grave there. There is value in having a place where your loved ones can pay their respects.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Create a position on your own if you see a need for it. Approach the people who have funding and explain what you can do for them. In 174 years, Green-Wood has had only one other historian, and he died more than 100 years ago. Fortunately, I was able to come in and offer something helpful to our society.

Meet another No Joe Schmos bringing history to life: the guy who makes treasures from recycled waste at TerraCycle.

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The Horse Healer

Jeff Moore lives at an equestrian facility with his family. His father influenced his passion for animals at an early age. Photo: Cindy Sloan

One evening in central Washington, Jeff Moore received an urgent call. The man on the line was five hours away, in Canada – a horse trainer on his way to a big race with six horses in tow. He needed Moore’s help, so the two met at a halfway point, a deserted truck stop on the side of a highway. There, Moore cracked open his toolkit, filled with a pulsed electromagnetic blanket, micro-current machines, heat, and ice.

Moore is a certified equine bodyworker. He traverses North America to heal injured and sore horses on family farms using qigong, the Chinese medicinal practice of aligning breath and movement for exercise and meditation purposes.

“Working with horses is a peaceful, meditative job,” says Jeff Moore, as his two-year-old wails in the background. “It’s like I’m in a whole other world. Communicating with [the horses] is not always verbal. The essence is movement and body language.”

Age: 54
Grew up in: The Philippines and California. My father was drafted into the military.
Based in: Oregon
Graduated from: University of Washington, degree in biology
Years in the business: 20 years

Previous jobs: I worked at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, but I didn’t want to work for a state agency. So I bought an outfitting business and took people horseback riding in Hells Canyon between Idaho and Oregon. A client opened my eyes to how chiropracy can help horses move better and make them happier and safer, and I followed that healing path.

Job description in two sentences: I do bodywork, training, saddle fits, and clinics to help horses move correctly again. I’m also a qigong instructor, which has really informed what I do with the horses.

The Robert Redford movie has left Moore with disdain for the term horse whisperer. Photo: bossip.com

How large are the horses you work with? Anywhere from 80-pound miniature horses to 1,800-pound warmbloods. But size doesn’t matter much. Ponies and bullfighting horses in Mexico move relatively similarly.

Most common problem: Riders. A lot of what happens to horses is because of humans, often because they’re sitting incorrectly or forcing something that shouldn’t be forced. 

Your toolkit: Mostly my hands and eyes. I’m not much of a gadget person, but I do use a pulsed electromagnetic blanket that helps increases circulation, micro-current machines, heat, and ice. You need to know horses’ movements well enough to be able to see what’s not right.

In that sense, horse chiropracy seems similar to human chiropracy. Yes. A physical therapist can know biomechanics from the books, but if he’s also a runner, he has an intuitive sense of what’s happening in a runner’s body. So having the experience of being a rider and a trainer helps me with my work.

Trained by: An equine chiropractor. Legally, you have to be a vet to do any type of chiropractic or acupuncture work on a horse. I’m not a vet, but I’m certified as a equine massage therapist.

Best part of your job: I’m making the world a better place, one horse at a time. I’m helping to bridge the understanding gap between humans and horses. Horses are highly emotional animals.

Most challenging part of your job: Horse owners. Usually, when I see that a rider is hurting the horse, it’s not intentional. But my job is to keep out my judgment and help them in any way I can. People own horses for a variety of therapeutic reasons, not simply because they enjoy riding. 

When horses photobomb. Photo: flickr.com / Andreas Müller via buzzfeed.com

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? How sensitive horses are. They just want to get along; they’re incredibly forgiving of humans’ mistakes. The more I approach them from a healing point of view, the more I realize that.

Other animals you work with: I gave a client’s chicken monthly massages for the same fees that I charge for horses. I’ve also worked on cows, pigs, dogs, and cats.

Standard session: About 1.5 hours for $135; clinics for neural re-patterning last for three days. I work with 20 to 25 horses each week on an as-needed basis.

Session rundown:

  1. I typically don’t get too much information about a horse before arriving at the barn, so when I get there, I ask the owner what’s going on. By listening to the owner, I start a diagnosis in my head.
  2. I get my hands on the horse and ask the horse what’s wrong. I watch him move. Sometimes, there’s a big difference between what the owner thinks is going on and what the horse thinks is going on.
  3. I decide what tool(s) will best help that horse: body clinics, physical bodywork, fractural relief, or spinal adjustment. I’ve been doing this long enough that it’s often apparent what’s wrong. For chronic musculoskeletal conditions, Moore integrates traditional vet diagnoses with therapeutic horse shoeing, spinal mobilization, acupressure, and flower essences.

Do you own any horses? We have a thoroughbred mare, an English cob, and a 19-year-old Arabian horse that my 9-year-old daughter rides and jumps. We also have a few cats and dogs.

If you could communicate with horses, what would you say? “I’m sorry for my species.”

Meet more hoof-happy No Joe Schmos: the kiddie ride refurbisher and the bull rider.

The PG-Rated Mermaid

Linden Wolbert, aka “Mermaid Linden,” can hold her breath for five minutes. “When I’m not in the ocean for a long period of time, I get really itchy,” she says. Photo: Ric Frazer

“People don’t realize how hard it is to be a mermaid,” Linden Wolbert explains. Sometimes, when a pool’s chlorine levels or pH balance are out of whack, she can’t see well enough to drive home. Other times, she wakes up covered in bruises from hitting the sides of small pools.

But even with cloudy, stinging eyes, Wolbert has no plans to retire to land. Six years ago, hailing from landlocked Amish Country, she plunged into “mermaiding” full-time, spending months molding a tail using fiberglass, clay, and 35 pounds of silicon, which she likens to a newborn child. A 35-pound, 6-foot-long newborn child.

Unlike other mermaids, Wolbert refuses to work bachelor parties or go topless: “I’m not that mermaid.” Quite the contrary: she feels most comfortable teaching children about ocean conservation and working with nonprofits to increase awareness about water safety.

Age: 32
Based in: Los Angeles, Calif.
Grew up in: Amish Country in Lancaster, Penn.
Graduated from: Emerson University, Bachelor’s degree in film and science
Years in the business: 6 years

Describe what you do in a few sentences. I perform in my mermaid tail, which has a real monofin inside, to spread the message about ocean conservation. I’m a geeky, PG-rated mermaid focused on wholesome entertainment and education, an ambassador of the ocean.

At children’s birthday parties, kids swim with Wolbert at warp speed. “Fins down, it’s an incredible sensation,” she says. “They see someone from Disney movies come to life.” Photo: Reuben E. Reynoso Photography

Regular gigs: I’m gone 4 to 6 months out of the year doing underwater work. When I am home, my time is split among the following: children’s birthday parties and nonprofit events about ocean education; celebrity clientele parties [for audiences including Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Christian Audigier, and Justin Timberlake]; and photo shoots for film and TV, with or without my tail.

Mermaid ensemble: My 35-pound silicon tail, a beautiful beaded top, and a paua shell necklace from New Zealand. It’s pointless to wear toenail or fingernail polish, and I only wear makeup when I’m performing on camera.

Where does one buy a silicon tail? I worked with special effects artist Allan Holt in Hollywood  to create a mermaid tail. It took seven months. We made a mold of my body from the waist down and filled it with fiberglass to create a fake pair of legs. Then we used about 35 pounds of clay to sculpt a tail, which I designed myself. We created a fiberglass mold of it, and the mold was then injected with a high-grade silicone. I’m normally 5’4″, but I’m almost 8 feet tall with my tail on.

Dream job as a college student: An underwater wildlife documentary filmmaker. I started scuba diving right after graduation [from Emerson], and immediately became enveloped in the underwater world. After getting open-water scuba certified, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) hired me as an underwater model to travel around the world and appear in ad campaigns and educational materials about diving.

Did you dress as a mermaid for those ads? When I saw my first monofin, I could barely contain my excitement. It’s a single bladed fin made from powerful fiberglass with two foot pockets next to each other. Freedivers strap them to their feet to get more depth and distance. After I tried one on, I knew I had to be a mermaid. I knew I had to turn it into a career.

How did your friends and family react to your decision? I’m the luckiest mermaid in the world; they are so supportive, and didn’t laugh when I told them. At parties, others will usually introduce me first: This is Linden, she’s a mermaid.

Wolbert has never visited SeaWorld, and doesn’t plan to. “I won’t put any money toward keeping animals in captivity,” she says. Above, swimming with whale sharks. Photo: Jewels Diver

Benefits of a mermaid tail: The tail creates so much thrust and torque that people have a hard time keeping up with me in the ocean. This month has been epic: I just went freediving with wild dolphins and swimming with whale sharks in Mexico. And I can’t walk with my fin, which means that I get to be carried around by strong, gallant men.

Storage space for your tail: On my bedroom floor, swaddled in towels in a cool place. I treat it like a newborn. I call it my baby.

You molded the tail at age 26. Have you grown since then? Yes, proportions shift. I have to maintain a very healthy lifestyle and stay in great physical shape. I’m currently designing a new tail with a couture designer, which is a top-secret project.

Did you always love water? I know every word to The Little Mermaid. I have been on swim team since I was a tiny tot, and my parents were both swimmers. I lived in our community pool during summers in Pennsylvania.

Breath-holding record: Five minutes. That means I can dive 115 feet – and come back up – in a single breath.

Do you prefer land or water? Definitely water. I’m in the water as often as I can, whether in a bathtub, the ocean, or a swimming pool. It makes me happy and balanced. Plus, the abundance of wildlife in the ocean is amazing.

Best part of your job: Children’s response to a mythical creative coming alive in front of their eyes. I’m really a science geek.

Most challenging part of your job: Being a one-woman show. I built an entire company around my job. A lot of critics ridicule or belittle my job, but that goes for any artist. Sometimes, I wake up after an awesome day in the pool or ocean and feel crippled. I’ll have bruises from the boat, my neck will be stiff, and my eyes will be watering and cloudy and stinging.

Freediving relies on a diver’s ability to hold his or her breath until resurfacing instead of using external breathing devices. Above, freediving in Bahamas in 2011. Photo: Walter Steyn

Would you consider wearing goggles? No.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? I say no to a lot of requests for – well, shall we say, less savory events. It’s against my ethics. I’d rather teach swimming safety to people in the Bahamas — about 80% of them don’t know how to swim.

In 10 years, you’ll be: right here. I plan to dive until I can’t walk anymore. Actually, as you age, your metabolism slows, which means you can freedive for a long, long time.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
A few words for aspiring merpeople.
1. Follow your heart. Don’t listen to the critics if this is truly what you want to do.
2. Stay honest, stick to your morals, and don’t compromise yourself for opportunities.
3. Get proper safety training, like PADI open water certification. Start with scuba diving, and then pursue freediving. Remember that not all mermaids are freedivers.

PLUS: For more amphibious (or amphibian-loving) No Joe Schmos, meet the alligator wrestler and the oyster farmer.

Follow Mermaid Linden on Twitter at @MermaidsnMotion, on her Facebook page, and in her video series, The Mermaid Minute

Editor’s note: Earlier this year, Discovery Channel aired the documentary Mermaids: The Body Found, which examined whether or not mermaids are real. (h/t @ohquarrie)