Crypt sweepers! French folks come to Brooklyn to clean wine merchant’s grave

Wax on, wax off: French volunteers (from left) Sonia Toyb and Camille Poezevara apply a wax coating to the bronze features of 19th-century French wine merchant Jacob Tartter’s gravestone in Green-Wood Cemetery.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Talk about French cleaners!

Five volunteers flew all the way from Paris to tidy up the Brooklyn grave of an obscure 19th century wine importer.

Pourquoi? Because he was French.

Preservationists gave Jacob Tartter’s Green-Wood Cemetery resting place a much-needed makeover last week, spending an hour scrubbing the multi-tiered gray granite gravestone and applying coats of wax to bronze detailing installed after the wine seller’s death in 1885.

The volunteers knew little about Tartter other than his country of origin — and that the obelisk marking his grave towered over the neighboring tombstones in the cemetery’s French Masons lot.

But after The Brooklyn Paper conducted a bit of cursory Googling and informed them of the deceased’s trade, they said he must have made their country — and his adopted borough — proud.

“He must be very important to Brooklyn then, wine is one of the main elements of French culture,” said 18-year-old volunteer Somia Toyb.

The Green-Wood Historic Fund cleanup is an annual event that draws eager preservationists, many of them French, across the Atlantic to do a charitable act and see the borough, according to Green-Wood Cemetery president Richard Moylan.

That explains why the group tidied Tartter’s tomb.

“We try to find one project each year that they can relate to,” he said.

By refurbishing the wine merchant’s grave, the volunteers helped celebrate French history in the cemetery and French culture in the city— and there’s plenty of that to go around.

“The yard that they’re cleaning right now is dedicated to French masons, but we also have another area dedicated to French chefs,” Moylan said.

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