The Sweet Hereafter: Honey from Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

From the grave to the table, this honey is produced by Green-Wood’s bees and sold exclusively at the cemetery gates.
Green-Wood Cemetery beehives
Beekeeper Davin Larson tends to bees in Green-Wood Cemetery.

Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery is the final resting place of over 560,000 New Yorkers, including famous artists, composers, politicians, and more. According to the website, “Everyone who was anybody in 19th-century New York wanted to be buried there, and they were.”

In the spring of 2015 Green-Wood also became home to several hundred thousand more lively residents: A colony of honey bees. The project was thought up by beekeeper Davin Larson several years ago when, while attending a classical music concert at the cemetery surrounded by graves, crypts, and Gothic revival architecture, he realized it was the perfect place to keep bees in the city.

Green-Wood brought in 15 hives in hopes of combating the recent rise of colony collapse disorder, a crisis believed to be created by a combination of many factors including urbanization, pesticides, antibiotics, and pathogens, that wipes out roughly one third of hives every year. When a colony collapses, the adult worker bees abandon the hive. They vanish, leaving behind the queen, as well as the food supplies, for reasons not yet understood.

Of course, keeping bees has its costs. To fund the project, Larson and the other Green-Wood beekeepers harvested about 200 pounds of honey this year. It was processed, jarred, and labeled with an image of a honey bee on a gravestone.

Jars of The Sweet Hereafter honey from Green-Wood Cemetery
The Sweet Hereafter honey available onsite at Green-Wood Cemetery only. via @historicgreenwood

‘The Sweet Hereafter’ is currently available for purchase exclusively onsite at Green-Wood’s 25th Street Gothic Arch entrance.

Green-Wood Cemetery in fall
Green-Wood Cemetery

Telling the Bees

Throughout history honey bees have been symbolic of human mortality. In mythology, the bee was often a sacred insect that bridged the natural world with the afterlife. Honey bees served as the royal emblem of the Merovingians, symbolizing death and rebirth for the dynasty that ruled France for 300 years.

In Victorian times, the superstition arose that if bees were not informed about the death of their keeper, they might leave or die. Some traditions involved offerings of biscuits from the funeral, decorating the hives in mourning bunting, or turning the hives to face the procession.

For more on the odd folklore of “telling the bees,” watch this installment of Caitlin Doughty’s Ask a Mortician:

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