In recent years, it has developed into “the place to be,” a cemetery where you can be buried next to world famous artists and writers. But to the locals, the Green River Cemetery on Accabonac Road in Springs represents memories, peace and spirituality.
“The locals, who make up the base of our church membership, have been burying their deceased family members there for at least the last 100 years,” says Pastor Tony Larson from Springs Community Presbyterian Church. He has performed funeral services in the non-denominational cemetery—several in the front’s original two acres, established in 1902, and a few in the back acre, which was added in 1991.
“The cemetery reflects the unique nature of this community,” says Pastor Steve Howarth of The First Presbyterian Church of Amagansett, “and there are generations of families represented there. It’s very much a Bonac (local) cemetery.”
“It’s a real combination,” says Hugh King, Town Crier of East Hampton and Director of the Home Sweet Home Museum. “Sure there are local people buried there, but then you have all the famous artists and writers who jumped into the cemetery after Pollock!”
The cemetery was chartered in 1902, but there are gravestones from earlier than that. People used to bury their relatives on their own property if they didn’t want to bury them in the churchyard, and when the cemetery opened, they moved them.
“There are some stones that were moved there, because if you are standing in front of the cemetery, on the right side toward the back, there are some Civil War soldiers buried there,” says King, whose parents, grandparents and brother are buried in the cemetery. But he doesn’t have a plot for himself.
All cemeteries tell stories—by what’s found on grave markers, by the families that are collected there, by the discovery that longevity ran in one family, and another family had more than their share of tragedy. But the Green River Cemetery holds another unique draw for visitors—the artists and writers who are buried there, not all of them former local residences, but also people from “away.” There’s the exceptional art and architectural design, not to mention the added attraction of the Jackson Pollock grave, a multi-ton boulder.
“Lee, Jackson’s wife, ordered a bigger gravestone to replace the original one,” says Helen Harrison, art historian and Director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton, which is the former home and studio of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, two of the most famous Abstract Expressionist painters. Harrison also co-authored Hamptons Bohemia: Two Centuries of Artists and Writers on the Beach with Constance Ayers.
“The original gravestone was a medium granite boulder from the pile behind his house,” says Harrison. “Soon after, Lee told Jeffrey Potter that she was looking for another one. The current granite boulder was found in the neighborhood. In 1957, Potter, a marine contractor, and Harry Cullum excavated it and moved it to the cemetery on a flatbed. Potter describes the ordeal in his 1985 book, To A Violent Grave; An Oral Biography of Jackson Pollock. Lee’s stone is the original stone, moved to the base of the plot.” Harrison gave her husband, painter Roy Nicholson, a plot for his birthday in 1993, and it will their final resting place.
Elena Prohaska Glinn, an art curator and appraiser, native of the East End and daughter of painter and illustrator Ray Prohaska, describes her recollections of some of the notables buried in the Green River Cemetery, whom she knew personally: “James Brooks, a gentle soul and one of America’s great Abstract Expressionists; painter Jimmy Ernst, who had a very strong spiritual nature; Frank O’Hara, a sensational poet; painter Alfonso Ossorio, he was like royalty in East Hampton, eccentric and very regal; Elaine de Kooning, an Abstract Expressionist and definitely the woman behind the man (Willem de Kooning); Jean Stafford and husband A. J. Liebling, two distinguished writers; Jackson Pollock, well, he started it all.
“I did know him,” says Prohaska Glinn, “because our house was on Main Street, Amagansett. He would stop by periodically and say hello to my parents, and come and have a drink in the morning. We liked him. He was a cowboy; Lee Krasner, she was overshadowed by Jackson, but she should be well appreciated for her paintings.”
Some of the more recent burials include: Ibram Lassaw, abstract sculptor, in 2003, William S. Lieberman, curator of the Museum of Modern Art, in 2005, Dan Christensen, Color Field painter, in 2007 and Charles Gwathmey, architect, in 2009.
As for the originals: “It started out for the old-time residents but then the artists started getting involved,” says Freston Anderson, Superintendent of the Green River Cemetery Association. His parents and grandfather are buried there, and he has a plot for himself and his wife, Heather. “I know there’s one slave buried in there,” says Anderson. “I can visualize her tombstone but I can’t give you her name, at the moment. It’s right up at what they call ‘the top of the Horseshoe.’ The original cemetery was nothing but a horseshoe. Up at the very top of it is Jackson Pollock, and almost directly across from him is this slave. The new part is called ‘the part in the back.’ And as far as I can tell, this will be it. And right now there are no plots for sale.”
As for the name, Green River, where does it come from? “The section of Springs where the Cemetery is, is known as Green River,” says Heather Anderson, President of the Green River Cemetery Association. “One of the explanations is that somebody who lived there came from some place in New England that was called Green River. That’s one of the local stories. Then there was a family of Millers that lived there and they were always known as the Green River Millers, as opposed to the Fireplace Millers, who lived over on Springs Fireplace. It was an old way of denoting which Miller family you came from. Then it kind of spread to the area which is now known as Green River.”
Green River Cemetery is located off of Accabonac Road in Springs. Visitors are encouraged to first stop and see Helen Harrison at the Pollock-Krasner House for a copy of the map.