Butterflies now flutter around the former graveyard just off the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. It was once the Brooklyn Naval Cemetery, where members of the armed forces who died at the hospital in the Brooklyn Navy Yard were buried, from 1831 to 1910.
Now it's a public space. "It's been a well-kept secret in the neighborhood," said Nina Bowers, a programming associate for the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. "People like to stop by. It's kind of a secret garden."
The cemetery was decommissioned in 1910, and the remains were moved to Cypress Hills Cemetery. The site sat vacant for decades but eventually was turned over to the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, a nonprofit group that's trying to link all of the borough's waterfront neighborhoods with a 26-mile green corridor. This spot, called the Naval Cemetery Landscape, is along that route.
"It's intended to be a small pocket park space where people can rest along the path," Bowers said. "Take in some native plants and pollinator habitat."
"Knowing that we could not develop the site because of the historic nature of the site and hallowed ground, we determined it would be a great idea to carve that 1.7 acres out and give it to the Greenway, essentially, to design a memorial landscape," said Shani Leibowitz, the SVP of Planning and Transportation for the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Because there might still be remains at the location, making it sacred ground, visitors must walk along an elevated boardwalk. Stones provide another path through the site.
But the Greenway Initiative envisions even more for the serene space. It's issuing an open call to artists to propose works to draw more people to the location.
"We're hoping for the artists to feel inspired by the space," Bowers said. "We also really want to encourage people to stay and contemplate and enjoy this space as much as possible."
The artists are invited to propose everything from statues to performances that would take advantage of the amphitheater-style seating. And the group says all submissions will be considered with up to a thousand dollars provided for materials.
Submission information can be found on the Brooklyn Navy Yard website. The deadline is July 15. Installations are scheduled for the fall.
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