Green-Wood Cemetery is a sprawling, 478-acre graveyard located just a few blocks southwest of Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Founded in 1838, the grounds’ rolling hills, placid lakes, and ivy-covered mausoleums are home to the likes of famed painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988), composer Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990), and a slew of other notable politicians, athletes, artists, and war heroes. The site hosts more than 560,000 “permanent residents” and became a National Historic Landmark in 2006.
But earlier this month, on a sunny autumn Saturday, Green-Wood Cemetery’s scenic landscape was not the backdrop for a somber funeral procession or a guided tour of Revolutionary War battle sites. Rather, the grounds hosted roughly a dozen twentysomethings as they chugged cans of cheap beer, weaved their way through weathered tombstones, and attempted to make drunken contact with the dead.
“I guess to be blunt, this is a thinly veiled attempt at drinking as much as possible in public places while doing weird shit,” Anthony Long, the 29-year-old founder and “chief ectoplasm officer” of the Brooklyn Paranormal Society, tells the Voice. Sporting a vintage Goosebumps baseball cap, he’s taking pulls off a vaporizer and throwing back beers at an outdoor bar at the foot of the cemetery. “They say you shouldn’t drink while you’re doing this because it makes you more susceptible to being possessed. I say fucking bring it on.”
Long started the Brooklyn Paranormal Society in September on the social networking site Meetup.com as a way of bringing strangers together to drink copious amounts of booze while hunting the forgotten ghosts of New York City. In just a few short weeks the group has grown to over 220 members — or “boo-zers,” as they call themselves — and a number of production companies have already expressed interest in turning their inebriated misadventures into a television series.
What started as a joke — and in many ways remains a slightly more dysfunctional, expletive-laced version of Ghostbusters — has quickly turned into a popular social gathering for young Brooklynites looking for something a bit out of the ordinary.
“At the end of the day everyone here, everyone that comes to the meetups, they just want to have a good time. They want to do something different,” explains Long, who grew up in Queens and now lives in Brooklyn. “I’ve hung out with people that take paranormal investigation very seriously, and they’re not that much fun to be around.”
So far, BKPS has attracted a wide range of members: everyone from skeptics and cynics to staunch believers in the supernatural. Long seems to register somewhere in the middle of the spectrum — both aware of the inherent absurdity of what he’s created, while expressing a genuine interest in the ghost-hunting gizmos he’s been able to purchase off of eBay.
On this day, the boo-zers consisted of a couple on a Tinder date, a few nervous Manhattanites dragged to Brooklyn by their friends, and a man dressed in black carrying a leather-bound Bible and rosary candle, whom Long had drunkenly met a few weeks before in a bar.
“I feel like if you’re dabbling in this there’s a level of safety that needs to be addressed,” explains Stacy Cecil, a professional psychic and medium who accompanied the group to the cemetery on Saturday. Cecil first realized as a teenager that she had a knack for predicting the future, and says she felt drawn to the Brooklyn Paranormal Society so that she could help safeguard its members from evil forces. “If you have spirits they can be good or bad, and I think it’s important to protect people in a way.”
Another boo-zer, Julie Velarde, had simpler reasons for attending the meetup: “I came because it’s super-hard to meet weirdos who like to drink and get into bad situations,” she said.
The outings do tend to focus far more heavily on binge drinking than any sort of paranormal investigation. But on occasion Long might whip out an EVP recorder — a tool used to pick up “electronic voice phenomena” from ghosts — and through stifled giggles try to commune with restless spirits.
On October 17, the Brooklyn Paranormal Society will be given unrestricted access to investigate St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery — an excursion Long believes will further legitimize the group as a real social club in New York. Despite visiting hallowed ground, Long still intends on drinking himself stupid while attempting to torment the spirit of Petrus Stuyvesant, the infamously anti-Semitic governor of New Amsterdam who is buried in a vault beneath the chapel.
“If you’re a dick in life, you get treated like a dick in death,” he explains to two of his ghost-hunting comrades. “We’re doing everything in the book. Anything that we can throw at this bastard ghost, we’re going to throw at him.”
Still, more than messing with the spirits of dead governors, Long seems primarily concerned with keeping his fellow boo-zers drunk and entertained as the Brooklyn Paranormal Society continues to grow in popularity.
“It’s not disrespectful. We’re not drinking wine and dancing on the graves of the dead,” he says. “We’re making a really good, fun atmosphere for people to come hang out and perhaps find love in the spookiest of places.”