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What’s Hidden in Woodlawn’s Mausoleums? Extraordinary Stained Glass.

On a sunny Bronx morning late last year, an all-star team of stained-glass experts prepared to enter a dank 1894 tomb at Woodlawn Cemetery that had been opened just once in the past century.

The mausoleum at hand held the remains of José Maria Muñoz, a Panamanian-born New York merchant and son of a Spanish general. The scholarly tomb raiders were five energetic stained-glass conservators and art historians conducting an unprecedented survey of some 1,200 stained-glass windows that were installed in free-standing Woodlawn mausoleums from 1878 to the present.

The 1894 mausoleum of José Maria Muñoz, a Panamanian-born New York merchant and son of a Spanish general.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Woodlawn sits on 400 rolling acres ornamented with 1,300 such private family mausoleums, including extravagant Gilded Age temples erected for captains of industry, robber barons and the merely very wealthy. These titans of affluence and their spouses often spent lavishly on the adornment of their final resting places — even if the interiors of these grand structures weren’t destined to be seen by more than friends and family.

As soon as the team entered the mausoleum, shrieks could be heard bouncing off the interior stone walls. The experts had discovered a variety of stained glass none of them had ever encountered before.

On the back wall of the sepulcher, behind the stone sarcophagus that filled most of the clammy chamber, a jeweled blue-glass orb protruded from the flat plane of a stained-glass window — breaking through into the third dimension.

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