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The Man Who Calls Green-Wood Cemetery Home (No, He's Not Dead.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

There are two things you might not guess about Ken Taylor when you first meet him: his arms used to be like tree trunks from pushing a lawnmower up and down the hills at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery where he started working when he was 16, and he is a dead-ringer for Boss Tweed.

They were hanging up plaques celebrating some of Green-Wood's famous permanent residents when his workers called him over. "They said 'Boss, you'd better take a look at this,'" he said.

The problem? The photo of Boss Tweed looked uncannily similar to Taylor. "Well, we put it up anyway. We have a good laugh about it every now and then."

Video: Green-Wood After Dark

Green-Wood Cemetery was a great place to work as a kid in 1967. Taylor loved being outside in the fresh air.  And every time he decided to get serious about life and move on, something else would open up.

He has done every job under the sun ... and moon: grass cutter, gardener, mechanic, heavy equipment operator, a chauffeur, a grave digger, a foreman, a custodian, a guard. Now he holds the title of Vice President of Operations. And 44 years after he picked up his first paycheck, he's not tired of the place: "It's great to be here while you're still vertical!"

But he doesn't just work at Green-Wood, he lives there.

"If I go out my front door, I'm on the city streets," Taylor said. "If I go out my back door, I'm in the cemetery."

Green-Wood is 478 acres of rolling hills and glacial ponds. Taylor can remember when kids used to climb over the fence at night to "kiss their girlfriends." In the '70's, the cemetery experienced some vandalism and 24-hour security was brought in.

"Those men drove around with an attack dog in the back seat and they carried a sidearm and a shot gun," he said. "And they made a lot of arrests."

Today, Taylor says things are different.

"You don't see kids hanging out in the pizzeria or the street corner or the school yard anymore," he mused. "They're all home playing Nintendo or Wii or whatever the newest game is or on the computer and texting or whatever you have. They're not out running around on their own and playing basketball in the school yard or push over a tombstone in the cemeteries. That's just not happening."

Taylor still puts on extra patrols during Halloween just to play it safe, but there are never any problems.

"People will bring their kids in at 3 in the afternoon in their Halloween costume to walk around the cemetery," Taylor laughed. "We say, 'Nah, you're not coming in like that today.' We're not here for Halloween, we're here for something else."

Driving around the cemetery after dark on a recent fall evening, Taylor talked about the rise in cremation: "It's a disposable society. Some people don't memorialize at all. After the cremation, nobody knows where those cremated remains are. And it's a shame."

Ken Taylor's kin won't have that problem. When his dad died, Taylor buried him in Green-Wood, which is still an active cemetery. His brother and sister-in-law will be on one side and he and his wife will be on their other.

"That's if I ever die," he laughed. "I don't plan on dying."

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