Queens Writer Celebrates Cemetery Culture By Lisa Fogarty - 02/05/2009 Queens Tribune
Most of the protagonists in Alexandra Kathryn Mosca’s latest book are wealthy. Some are artistic geniuses who founded newspapers and conducted legendary scores. And, of course, there is a healthy sprinkling of suicidal poets, murderers and mobsters in the mix.
Despite their idiosyncrasies, the characters in “Green-Wood Cemetery” share one thing in common: they have all been buried in what is considered the grandest final resting place in all of New York City.
The roster at Green-Wood Cemetery, a 478-acre burial ground and national landmark located in Brooklyn, reads like a Who’s Who of New York’s most influential personalities. In this photographic tribute, Mosca, a lifelong Queens resident and local funeral director, captures the historical stories and anecdotes of past residents including F.A.O. Schwartz, Leonard Bernstein, New York Times founder Henry Jarvis Raymond and Charles L. Tiffany, the patriarch behind Tiffany & Co.
“Researching the book was the best part. I knew there were a lot of famous people buried there but I had no idea how many,” Mosca said.
In addition to illuminating the lives and deaths of many famous Americans, the book explores Green-Wood Cemetery’s effort to identify and properly memorialize Civil War veterans who previously lay in unidentified graves. It also features a section devoted to the cemetery’s architecture and landscape.
As part of her research, Mosca relied heavily on the Green-Wood Cemetery Archives, Library of Congress and Brooklyn Historical Society. She spent several hours exploring the cemetery by foot, searching for monuments to photograph or interesting inscriptions to include within her text.
“It was incredible. Readers would expect to see a lot of famous people in the book, and they’re there, but I also decided to include some common people as well – people with fascinating stories,” she said.
Growing up, Mosca always wanted to be a writer. In college she majored in English and took on a side job at a funeral home in Bayside. Rather than simply augment her income, her part-time job proved formative. Where some find tragedy, Mosca found meaning in funeral work.
“When you deal with death on a daily basis, it’s very profound,” she said. “People are coming to you at the worst time in their lives and you do what you can to help lessen their pain. You realize how fortunate you are and how every day is very precious.”
In her 20s, Mosca’s convivial outlook on life helped open the doors to many unique opportunities. She became a funeral director at a time when, for a young woman, the career choice was still an unorthodox one. At the same time, she carved a niche in the writing world as a contributor to trade publications “American Cemetery” and “American Funeral Director” magazines. She even posed for Playboy, selected for both her natural beauty and anomalous professional accomplishments.
“My feeling was ‘Who knows what’s going to happen in life?’ I was a portrait model so I jumped at the opportunity to pose for Playboy,” she said. “It seemed like at the end of life people regret the things they didn’t do. I didn’t want to have regrets.”
Mosca is currently working on a murder-mystery novel about a female funeral director involved in the solving of a crime. She began writing the book even before she got the idea to pitch “Green-Wood Cemetery” to Arcadia Publishing. Coincidentally, many of the scenes in her book actually take place at Green-Wood.
“Cemeteries are like outdoor history museums,” she said. “People should take advantage of them because you can really rediscover the history of this great city.”
“Green-Wood Cemetery” can be purchased on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and at Green-Wood Cemetery. To learn more about Mosca, visit www.alexandramosca.com.
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