It was a beautiful Spring day at Green-Wood Cemetery. We were there attending a walking tour led by historians who relayed stories of some of the famous "residents" interred there. As we walked, we came across a peculiar looking group of headstones. It was arranged in a circle and the stones were unlike all the others in the cemetery. They were older, more ominous looking. Seemingly out of place and deteriorated...unlike the rest throughout the grounds which clearly prided itself on opulence and architecture. It caught our eye. We had to know more. And so our journey began to research the stones. It became an obsession. So many questions. Who were these people? Why were these stones arranged in a circular pattern? How did they end up in the middle of this beautiful cemetery? Why were they the only stones written in Dutch with cartoonish skull symbols? What did these symbols mean? We had to know more.
(insert hours and hours and hours and hours of research here...…)
The stones we saw were original Dutch tombstones from the late 1600's/early 1700's. They were once located in a burial plot adjacent to a Dutch Reformed Church. As Brooklyn started to develop, the land became more valuable for building. The churches remain to this day, the graves were relocated and the land relinquished. Since many of the relatives were gone or couldn't afford to move their loved ones, Green-Wood Cemetery took them in. The circle you see there today is a mass grave. The stones around the circle are all that remain of this move. And so, Brooklyn developed and everyone moved on.
Fast forward. 2016. We couldn't believe it. Sitting right here in the middle of Brooklyn - real, tangible, some of the last remaining relics to the past. Stones carved by the hand of the original Dutch settlers that founded Brooklyn. Shouldn't they be in a museum somewhere? Somewhere better preserved? How could they be left out here to the elements? Deteriorating. Our thoughts turned to the realization that if we didn't know these portals to our past were here - exposed, unprotected - then neither did a lot of other people. If we weren't able to read the remaining words on the stones, we never would have been able to find out the information that we did. It would have been.....literally....lost in time. Like it never existed. And that is the real story of death. Gone. Forgotten. But the real story to us was not in the deaths of these people, but in the lives they lived. Who they were. What they did. How they contributed to this amazing place we lived in and called home, as they once did. We share a bond - a connection. It ran deeper than we realized and we knew at that moment that this story needed to be shared. We couldn't let this history die. We became consumed with the thought that once the remaining stones wore away, so then did the story of these people. It was the moment that we fully understood the importance of preserving our history.
And so the story behind Gotham Soul was born.
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