Bobby Paolillo thought he saw it all as an NYPD sergeant — then he got a gig at Green-Wood Cemetery. The 50-year-old chief of security works hard to make sure that nearly naked sunbathers, totally naked porn stars and witchcraft practitioners — who are all dying to get into the 171-year-old cemetery — don’t disturb the iconic graveyard. This week, he talked with still-alive reporter Ben Muessig.
Ben Muessig: Why does Green-Wood Cemetery need to have security anyway?
Bobby Paolillo: Green-Wood is open to the public, which means that people have access to it. We’re there to do the same thing as the police department, because the police department doesn’t patrol it. We prevent vandalism and theft. We help out when there are car accidents or when people get lost or sick in the cemetery.
BM: How do you stop vandalism and theft?
BP: That’s what we do by our presence. We try to deter things by stopping everybody who comes into the cemetery by asking them a couple of questions.
BM: Like what: “Pardon me sir, why are you carrying that shovel?”
BP: No, no. We don’t really have too much of a vandalism problem or a larceny problem at all. We stay on top of things. We have 24-hour patrol, we have K-9 patrol. We have other systems that we use. Altogether, we try to prevent anything bad from happening in the cemetery.
BM: So you’ve never seen someone come in with a shovel?
BP: No, no, never. I’ve been there a year and a half and I’ve never seen that.
BM: Other than visitors for funerals and mourners, who else comes to the cemetery?
BP: You name it, we have it in the cemetery. We have bird lovers, we have history buffs, Civil War buffs. We try to accommodate them. There are even some older people who are into foraging for nuts and mushrooms.
BM: Do you have a problem with people breaking the rules?
BP: We welcome people, but we also expect people to behave like they are in a cemetery — not a park. You’re allowed to walk around the cemetery, but not on people’s graves. Sometimes we find people having wine and cheese parties and we say, “You can’t do that.”
BM: What happens when you say, “You can’t do that?”
BP: People say, “I’ve been doing this for years.” That’s when we say, “You just haven’t been caught doing this yet.”
BM: What are some of the other things you’ve caught people doing?
BP: Making movies. We don’t allow any video recording in the cemetery without permission — and you can imagine the type of movies we’ve found people making.
BM: Actually, I can’t. What kind of movies?
BP: Sometimes it’s the type of movies that wouldn’t be allowed in movie theaters. I’ve come across some that don’t seem like G-rated movies.
BM: What do you do then? Shoo them along and tell them to get up, get dressed, and get out?
BP: One incident was like that. I told them to get up and get out. I had to be a little loud. My cop voice came out. It got into a little bit of a shouting contest, but they left. People will try to get away with whatever they can get away with.
BM: Like what?
BP: Like sunbathing in a graveyard — in a swimsuit.
BM: What did you say to the culprit?
BP: “Please put your clothes on and leave.”
BM: Do you have issues with folks visiting the cemetery to practice the occult?
BP: It really isn’t a problem, but people do leave stuff outside the cemetery sometimes, like chickens.
BP: There’s not a lot of that stuff. Once in a blue moon, you’ll find something hanging on the gate, like a chicken in a box with candles and stuff. It’s not really a problem.
BM: Is it scary working in a cemetery?
BP: At nighttime, it’s not the most pleasant place. We’ve got our dogs running around and there are lots of raccoons — their eyes glow in the dark. It’s very dark, there are no lights at all. You can’t even see where you’re going without a flashlight.
BM: Which is scarier: walking the mean streets of Brooklyn as a cop or working in a graveyard as a security guard?
BP: I’m not afraid of the dead people — it’s the live ones that are a problem.