Nature’s Late-Summer Hurrah

September 10th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

“Our appointment with life is in the present moment,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in Peace Is Every Step. My appointment with life is in the present moment. Even saying these words slows down the moment and magnifies it. This can be a challenge as the days speed up and we think too much and too quickly of tomorrow or back to yesterday, without seeing what is around us today.

In the daily world of many in North America, late August and September bring a busy, surely speeded-up time, as people return from vacations, head back to school, start on new deadlines, and plan ahead and do many things in anticipation of autumn and winter. But nature has its own rhythm, in a summing up of the summer, with fields, parks, and roadsides full of bursting flowers and fruits.

While we may walk different streets and pathways in the years of our lives, always the seasons make their turn, in their own timeless ways. In the Northeast United States, nature is at a time of pause and unhurried movement toward the turn of the seasons. The nights are cooler, a harbinger of what is to come. In the far north, leaves have begun to change colors. In the Mid-Atlantic, though some leaves and plants are changing colors, the trees and flowers are still lush. A green canopy remains above and around us, soothing and clear in the crisp September air. [Read more →]

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What You Can Do to Save the Palisades

August 16th, 2014 · Be a Mindful Activist

Fast forward several years and picture that you are on the east side of the Hudson River, looking across at the steep ledges of the Palisades north of the George Washington Bridge. But where once over many years the cliffs stood out boldly, etched against the skies, now a large office tower protrudes above the Palisades, marring the amazing natural view. The tower defaces the landscape. This is what could easily happen, unless people defeat a corporation’s effort to despoil the Palisades with its corporate tower.

The Palisades provide as natural and pristine a view as one could find in various parts of the Rockies, but the formation sits in the middle of a metropolitan area of nearly 20 million people – and a major area of it is under threat. The magnificent view and natural presence of the Palisades in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, has been unspoiled for generations. It rises boldly to the west above the Hudson River, a beautiful wall of green in spring and summer, a glorious show of many colors in autumn, a starkly beautiful rising of stone and snow in winter. However, a company’s plan to build a tower that will protrude above the Palisades threatens an immaculate view that the citizens of New Jersey and New York first took action to protect more than 100 years ago. That any group of people could envision a tower going up that will rise above the unspoiled view of the cliffs is difficult to understand. [Read more →]

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July Notes: Daylight, Towers, Prison Ships

July 17th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

For early summer, let’s skim the stones across the waters of several Mindful Walker topics.

Honoring the First American Prisoners of War: The words “freedom” and “Independence Day” are inextricably linked, but how often on the Independence Day weekend did any of us think about those who gave their lives for the cause of American freedom from the rule of a monarch? The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, is one of the most moving places to understand and contemplate this sacrifice (see “In Our Midst: The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument,” on Mindfulwalker.com). This hallowed place honors the more than 11,500 prisoners who perished aboard the ships on which the British confined them in New York’s waters during the Revolutionary War. Within a crypt buried at this monument lay the remains of thousands of the captives. In August, an annual event will provide an opportunity to honor these first American prisoners of war.

This is a neglected tragic chapter of United States history. Recently, a commenter, Christine, shared on Mindfulwalker.com about how her ancestor, Nathan Ainsworth, was among those who succumbed while British soldiers held him as a prisoner. Ainsworth, born in 1740, died between 1776 and 1777 aboard a prison ship, a genealogy site indicates. [Read more →]

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A Peek Inside Dazzling 29 Broadway

June 20th, 2014 · Columns and Features, Explore New York

It’s hard to quantify the exuberance of Art Deco. Its energy can make an immobile decorative element feel like it’s about to move. Its images jump off of flat surfaces. Its zigzags, lines, and circles seem to dance. Such is the quality of the lobby of 29 Broadway, a lesser-known beauty in New York’s Art Deco universe.

The architects Sloan and Robertson – John Sloan and T. Markoe Robertson – designed this beautiful, quirky-shaped, and wedding-cake setback-topped building near Bowling Green. In a city beset by the Great Depression’s joblessness and economic hard times, the building of 29 Broadway provided good work for construction workers and for the craftsmen who won awards from the New York Building Congress for the skill of their stone-cutting, marble-setting, and other work. (For a look at the exterior and more on the building’s history and the architects, see “The Art Deco Pleasures of 29 Broadway” on Mindfulwalker.com.) The 30-story building’s sculpted entrance, bold horizontal bands of black and white, and setbacks give it a soaring quality that taller skyscrapers achieve. [Read more →]

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Traveling Near and Far With Spring

May 24th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

Edwin Way Teale wrote that spring advances up the United States at an average rate of 15 miles per day. Imagine a new season wending its way up the coastline, through the river valleys, across the fields, and along the mountain ranges. An author and naturalist, Teale knew firsthand of what he spoke. In 1947, he and his wife Nellie packed their Buick, filled its glove compartment with marked maps, and drove with the intention of following “the triumphal pilgrimage up the map with flowers all the way, with singing birds and soft air, green grass and trees new-clothed….” The Teales had been making such trips since 1945. In part, their planning and taking such trips helped them deal with the grief over the loss of their son David, who was killed in World War II in Germany. The spring trip became a 17,000-mile journey and the foundation for Teale’s book, North With the Spring, one of four Teale wrote chronicling and capturing the seasons of North America. Nellie Teale, also a naturalist, played a central role in their explorations.

Starting their “rendezvous with a season” in February, 1947, in Florida’s Everglades, the Teales drove northward and watched, marveled, and delighted in spring unfolding before them. Teale, part scientist and part essayist, weaved stories and documented the flora and fauna of the natural world meticulously – juncos, eagles, grackles, jays, eels, wasps, ants, butterflies, baby cottontail rabbits, wild strawberries, lichen, pixie moss with tiny white flowers, water hyacinths, hemlocks, and tulip trees, to name only a partial list. The sheer variety is breathtaking. I’ve long been inspired by Teale and other gifted observers to be outdoors, slow down, and simply be mindful of what is happening right in front of me.

Observing nature in the ways of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, Teale saw the interconnection of all living things, as biographies of him note. His photograph, for instance, depicts how water lily leaves formed feeding platforms for migrating birds. During this “season of the young,” as he called it, Teale photographed baby cottontail rabbits and blue jay fledglings. Teale noted how a brown eaglet was waving its wings for the first times, making them stronger, in a bald eagles’ nest in Florida. The couple discovered the beauty of newly growing white violets, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, red columbine, and other wildflowers in a woodland glen of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In Virginia, they felt wonder at the subtle, ribbon-like variations of green from tree to tree, branch to branch near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Indeed, spring was on the move. [Read more →]

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Joseph Mitchell’s Regard for Ornament

April 18th, 2014 · Columns and Features, Explore New York

Joseph Mitchell possessed a lifelong fascination with New York City’s survivors, both its characters and its buildings, especially ones that often escaped notice. For some 26 years, from 1938 to 1964, his essays in The New Yorker portrayed the city’s inhabitants from the bearded Lady Olga of circus sideshows and the stout Germans carrying their own sets of knives who were the chefs of the old East Side school of beefsteak dinners to the fringe of the fringe who peopled McSorley’s saloon and even the minutiae of the types of rats that populated the city’s five boroughs. Then after 1964, no essay of Mitchell’s appeared in The New Yorker. Yet, through the rest of his time there until his death in 1996, Mitchell continued to go the magazine’s office each day.

Though Mitchell did not submit a word for publication after the mid-1960s, he kept on writing – and walking the city. Mitchell’s walking was an obsession that set in early. When Mitchell first came to the city in 1929, at the age of 21, one of his editors at the New York Herald Tribune advised Mitchell to “walk the city, get to know every side street and quirk and character,” according to an introduction to a Mitchell essay in The New Yorker. He obviously took this to heart, for many decades, and his stories rendered the results of his explorations as he depicted the city’s steelworkers, longshoremen, restaurant proprietors, movie house bouncers, social club operators, and others among the unsung and the oddball. [Read more →]

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Spring Signals: The Songsters Return

March 15th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

It occurs one dawn, quite beyond our human planning. Open the window or the door, or walk down the street, and you’ll hear it in a way that was absent the week before – birdsong. This isn’t the twitter of the hardy chickadees and juncos that have wintered here through the deep snows and sub-zero freezing temperatures, welcome as those sounds are each day. This is the chatter and song that fill the woods or the city park, turning what was much quieter into a natural amphitheater. It’s one of the early and sure signs of the coming spring.

For anyone who watches closely and delights in how the seasons change, March is never a predictable plot. In the Northeast, even as the snow is melting inch by inch, the March temperatures zig and zag above and below freezing. The icy cold of a couple March mornings is enough to remind us that winter changes into spring on the seasonal cycle’s own time, not by our calendars. Still, the Northern Hemisphere’s lengthening daylight is unmistakable. The migrating birds have arrived and miraculously, to this human eye, found their precise locations of the spring before. Not to worry, they tweet at dawn, spring, spring, spring is on its way.

A house sparrow chirping from a birdhouse heralds spring.
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Pennsylvania Station: Its Glory and Death

February 18th, 2014 · Columns and Features, Explore New York

If ever a hallowed place existed for the travel of the common man and woman, it was New York’s original Pennsylvania Station. Yet a magnificent, soaring station that Alexander Cassatt and the Pennsylvania Railroad built for the ages and opened in 1910 lasted barely over a half-century. Two days after workers started tearing down the station on Oct. 28, 1963, a New York Times editorial called the demolition “a monumental act of vandalism” and observed “…we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.” Still, the Times’ Oct. 29 news report of the demolition’s start termed Pennsylvania Station “a grimy monument to an age of expansive elegance” and an “anachronism” – its fate as an allowed-for-years-to-dilapidate rail station in an age celebrating the automobile and the jet. This week, the PBS American Experience series is premiering its film on the station’s birth and ultimate destruction in “The Rise and Fall of Pennsylvania Station.”

The station’s elegance and its engineering accomplishments, indeed, had inspired masses of travelers when it first opened and during subsequent decades. Some 100,000 visitors came on Nov. 27, 1910, the grand opening day when the first trains began using the Hudson River tube, according to the Times. The railroad had opened portions of the station in September, 2010, and trains were able to use the new East River tunnels to Long Island.

Crowds on the Pennsylvania Station concourse, 1944 (Photo credit: United States, Office of War Information – From the collections of the Museum of the City of New York)

Those who caught trains or arrived in New York at Pennsylvania Station found a spectacular space that covered eight acres in all. The Beaux-Arts temple to travel that Charles McKim of McKim, Mead, and White designed had grand archways and dozens of Doric columns, 150-foot-high ceilings, shafts of light through an iron and glass roof, and inspiring sculpture. While it captured the classical grandeur of Ancient Rome, the early 20th century space also drew on the “new tradition of the Crystal Palaces and the glass galleries and halls of Paris exhibitions,” wrote Nathan Silver in his 1967 book, Lost New York. The station also represented the Pennsylvania Railroad’s transformational feat of constructing 16 miles of innovative tunnels under the Hudson and East rivers that would connect the railroad not only to New York City but eventually to New England, as the PBS program recounts. [Read more →]

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The Dazzle of Winter Trees

January 31st, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

During the howling of the wind, the crunching sound of steps on a frozen trail, or the diamond sparkle of the late afternoon sun, you see it standing there – unmoved, strong, and enchanting to the eye. To know nature’s spirit in infinite variety, get close to a single tree in winter – look at it, touch it, stand back and take it in. Hal Borland, the essayist and author who walked the woodlands and fields for decades and shared what he saw and felt with thousands of readers, wrote of finding “the truth of trees” in winter. He cited particularly the hardwoods of his backyard, the Northeast’s hills, though the experience is in many places. In summer, the trees collectively become lush, vast woodlands. In autumn, they burst with exuberant colors that paint entire hillsides. In winter, however, the clarity of the sunlight most reveals each tree as a unique form, as Borland observed.

“Trees, not a forest or a woodland,” Borland wrote. “Trees rooted in earth, reaching for sun and stars, each in its own way. And each with its own symmetry, its own pattern. Trees that have known ice and storm, have been maimed, have healed, have held fast through more winters than any man will ever know. Trees waiting, as only trees can wait, for spring and summer when they will be a woodland again, a vastness of green and an ocean of shade.”
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Art Deco Jazz in Brooklyn Heights

January 19th, 2014 · Columns and Features, Explore New York

Naomi Fatouros, one of three children of architect H.I. Feldman, once wrote that her father “had no pretensions about being artistic.” Still, architects and builders had high regard for Feldman for creating building plans that minimized construction costs and that provided renters and buyers with good views and high-quality apartment layouts, she said in the letter to The City Review. Whatever the merits of each of the thousands of buildings that Hyman Isaac Feldman designed in the New York metropolitan region, The Cranlyn certainly exemplifies artistic beauty and style. This Brooklyn Heights building at 80 Cranberry St., like various high-rises Feldman also designed on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx early in his career, is a handsome Art Deco structure.

Walking Brooklyn Heights, I was particularly delighted to explore this building and several others with David Thompson, an expert on Art Deco and a friend who shares the wonder and inspiration of this style from all over the world on his blog, Art Deco Buildings. As with so many Art Deco structures, The Cranlyn rewards you the closer you look at it (which is a problem for many people who fly by in their walking). Built in 1931, it has what the AIA Guide to New York City calls “jazzy brickwork” in eye-catching bands and some dazzling features on the front and entrance and in the foyer. [Read more →]

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The Enduring Wonder of the Rookery

December 30th, 2013 · Beyond Gotham

One could be forgiven for thinking that one of the crows in terra cotta on Chicago’s Rookery building depicts a current leader of the U.S. Congress. Some of our greatest buildings possess an expressiveness that speaks not only of the time period in which architects and builders created the structure but also to today. The Rookery captures this quality wonderfully. The squawking, quarrelsome birds in terra cotta on its exterior, for example, were said to represent the crows and pigeons who perched on the walls of the dilapidated structure that preceded this building at the corner of LaSalle and Adams streets.

They had another meaning as well. The city of Chicago used that old structure for a time as City Hall after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and it became known as “the Rookery” – a name that won out when a company constructed this high-rise on the site. The birds, some say, also personified the shady Chicago politicians of the day. To my eyes, they bring up the interminable squawking and stalemate we have come to know in today’s Congress. Thus, the images are both historic and contemporary.

The Rookery invites contemplation, wonder, and yes, perhaps a laugh or two at those gaping bird beaks. If buildings have life-like characteristics, the Rookery expresses very divergent qualities. Its dark and massively squared-off exterior gives way inside to a very light interior space. Such buildings exist, but the Rookery is one of the most dramatic.

Yet both exterior and interior have a delicacy in decorative detail when you look up-close. The ability to appreciate it today is even more precious given that the structure somehow survived a wrecking ball for generations and that someone then carefully and lovingly restored and renovated the building in the late 1980s. It embodies beauty, engineering achievement, timelessness, varied and rich personalities, and sculptural appeal. [Read more →]

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The Art Deco Pleasures of 29 Broadway

November 15th, 2013 · Explore New York

Their names are unknown, but the fine results of their craftsmanship remain today. On an evening in late February, 1931, the New York Building Congress gave awards and gold buttons to 26 craftsmen for their outstanding work in constructing 29 Broadway. The awards went to William John Delaney, a stonecutter; Louis Materossi, a cement mason; and Michael Cito, a marble setter, among others. All around the city and country people were dealing with the Great Depression’s joblessness and difficulty. A slump in skyscraper construction had set in following the 1929 stock market crash. Thus, it was no small thing that the excellent work of such craftsmen made them “the best salesmen for their contractors and for themselves,” as William Ginsberg of the Adelson Construction and Engineering Corp., said in a speech, the New York Times reported on Feb. 26, 1931.

As this 30-story cream-colored skyscraper was rising in New York, other giant skyscrapers were drawing more attention, especially the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. Though lesser-known, the Art Deco structure that architects Sloan & Robertson designed in New York’s Financial District is a fine building with striking features and many exquisite details. What’s more, it’s a survivor to cherish in a city currently undergoing another building boom. [Read more →]

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The Child Who Became Sojourner Truth

October 14th, 2013 · Beyond Gotham

In her strong legs and the bare, vulnerable feet; in a long, deep gash on her back; in the upright posture and gaze; and in the sight of the two large jugs she is carrying are the visual reality that children lived as slaves in the United States. This statue is sure to inspire many stories and conversations about what this young girl lived through and triumphed over. The newly unveiled sculpture of Sojourner Truth as the child Isabella, in the Hudson Valley village of Port Ewen, will speak to generations about aspects of slavery in America that do not get enough attention.

The sculpture is likely to generate a greater focus on a woman who rose from her difficult beginnings as a slave to become one of the most prominent activists for freedom in American history. On Sept. 21, the Town of Esopus unveiled the sculpture of Truth in a ceremony that drew some 200 people. The unveiling capped an ambitious, painstaking initiative of several years by a group of Ulster County residents.

The striking sculpture is believed to be the only statue in the United States to show a slave child at work. It sits in an attractive corner plaza, a tiny place of peace amid many village storefronts and near the often traffic-filled intersection of Route 9W and Salem Street. The memorial doesn’t need to be huge or possess a grand promenade to portray history very powerfully. Instead, the sculpture’s life-like qualities in showing a young enslaved girl and its accessibility – on a short base that allows children to be on the same level as the sculpture – do so. Moreover, the power lies in how it documents a fact that many either do not know or neglect: Slavery existed in the North well into the 1800s.

Sojourner Truth Statue- Port Ewen, N.Y.

Artist Trina Greene created the bronze sculpture, which shows Truth at about the age of 13 during the time that she was a slave whom a local man, Martinus Schryver, owned. Truth spent the first 29 years of her life as a slave in various Ulster County households, before she walked away in the pre-dawn darkness and escaped to her freedom one day in 1826. (See “Tracing Sojourner Truth’s Escape Route” on Mindfulwalker.com.) Schryver operated a tavern, and his family lived in a still-standing stone house on Route 9W just a half-mile from where the memorial is located.

The statue captures a child who is soft, vulnerable, and yet strong, not so different from many children her age. This is its power, too, an ability to bring home that slavery occurred to children who are like our children today. Truth, as the child Isabella, is a beautiful girl whose facial expression is open, serious, and perhaps pained in some way, but not defeated. [Read more →]

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Town to Unveil Sojourner Truth Statue

September 16th, 2013 · Beyond Gotham

History will never be able to restore Sojourner Truth’s childhood to her. When she was a young girl known as Isabella, growing up as a slave in the Hudson Valley, she worked day in and day out for several owners, sustained terrible beatings, and lost almost all her brothers and sisters because slave owners sold them away. Nothing, however, could extinguish her spirit. Finally as a young adult, she escaped by walking out the door in the pre-dawn darkness one morning and trudging many miles, carrying her infant daughter Sophia and only a few belongings. At various times in her life, she spoke of how others had stolen her childhood from her.

After this month, a new bronze memorial statue is sure to mean that others will know much more about what Truth endured as a child. The sculpture in the Town of Esopus, just south of Kingston, will bring attention to the experiences and hardships of her early life as a slave in Ulster County, N.Y. Moreover, its physical presence and qualities will capture the strength and dignity of this young girl who later escaped slavery and became an abolitionist, lifelong activist, and champion of human rights.

The Town of Esopus will unveil the statue in a ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 21, at 2 p.m., at the Sojourner Truth Memorial, located at the corner of Route 9W and Salem Street, Port Ewen. The unveiling caps an ambitious initiative over several years by a dedicated group of Ulster County residents. Truth was born in nearby Rifton around 1897 and grew up as a slave in the Hudson Valley, and this effort aims to increase public knowledge about her beginnings. It also brings home that slavery survived well into the 19th century in New York State. Furthermore, those behind the sculpture intend that it reminds others that children, as well as adults, remain enslaved in parts of the world today.

The goal of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee in Esopus “is to draw attention to her early life in Ulster County,” says Anne Gordon, the Ulster County historian who as head of the local committee has played the leading role in this initiative. “Three out of four people say to us, `We had no idea that she was born here.’ “ As the veiling comes off of the statue, so, too, will the covering fall further from a child’s life that unfolded in several Ulster County stone houses and along its lands and roads. As Gordon explains, “We want more of the story to be out, to be acknowledged, and to be correct.”

“I’m so thrilled that we accomplished this,” Gordon says.

The sculpture is the only statue to show a slave child at work, according to Gordon, who has done extensive research on the subject. As such, it will not only memorialize Sojourner Truth’s life but also educate those who see it. As Gordon notes, “Children will be able to see and know, `Yes, children were enslaved here.’ ”
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Roped In at Madison Square Park

August 12th, 2013 · Explore New York

You cannot miss Orly Genger’s Red, Yellow and Blue art installation this summer in Manhattan. If people say this statement, they may mean, “You have got to see this!” Or, they may mean, “You cannot escape seeing this!” when walking through Madison Square Park. During the late spring and summer, this 166-year-old gracious park has been home to a huge, wavy art installation that takes up three large, separate spaces of its handsome lawns. The Madison Square Park Conservancy commissioned the artist’s installation, which the group debuted on May 2. It will be in the square until Sept. 8, and will then be on view at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, in Lincoln, Mass., in October.

Like many New Yorkers and visitors, I have always prized Madison Square Park for its openness and winding walkways, the shade and respite of its old and graceful trees, and its views of the Flatiron Building, the Metropolitan Life Tower, and other places that speak of a cosmopolitan, historic city. Even with the park’s ultra-now Shake Shack and new playgrounds, its spacious feeling makes it a walker’s delight, like something out of the early 20th century.

Red, Yellow and Blue - Blue

Red, Yellow and Blue - Blue 2

Genger’s gigantic artwork produces another walking experience entirely, foremost because of its vast size and bright primary colors, amid the setting of a leafy, open park. For four months, the installation is taking over a very big portion of Madison Square Park, which influences how people use and enjoy the space. Don’t get me wrong – the initiative to make public art for all is praiseworthy. Many love these installations in cities and towns globally. Still, I wonder about one dominating large areas of a relatively compact urban park for many warm weather months, when people especially embrace their neighborhood square. Some may well appreciate Genger’s art. However, this installation and its bulky character feel in-your-face and so opposing to the square’s openness and views. [Read more →]

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New York’s Dark Days: The Draft Riots

July 18th, 2013 · Explore New York

On July 13, 1863, Chief Engineer John Decker of the New York City Volunteer Fire Department stood before a mob that had ransacked a building and were now intent on setting it afire. It was known as the Colored Orphan Asylum, a refuge for hundreds of black children located on Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets. As the rioters set fire to the first floor, Decker scattered the burning pieces and extinguished the flames. The second time the crowd started a blaze in three different places, and Decker and half a dozen others snuffed out the “incendiaries,” as Harper’s Weekly said in its account. The mob became even more incensed.

Still, Decker wouldn’t give up. Despite threats to his life, he pleaded with the angry crowd “to do nothing so disgraceful to humanity as to burn a benevolent institution,” recounted Harper’s Weekly. Those bent on destruction, however, didn’t stop and soon struck up fires that engulfed the entire asylum, burning it to the ground. The asylum’s matron and others led out some 233 children, who somehow escaped with their lives.

Hundreds of miles from the Civil War’s battlefields, with their bloody fighting and horrid scenes of death, New York City 150 years ago this week suffered days of violence, death, and destruction in its neighborhoods. The Draft Riots of July, 1863, first erupted as a protest of Union Army conscription but exploded and then encapsulated so much more – class division and warfare, racism, immigrant unrest, and workers’ grievances. Whatever had been seething for many years spilled over as crowds attacked other citizens, set fire to public buildings and houses, and made scapegoats especially of black residents and those who sought to end slavery. After four days of rioting from July 13-16, federal troops brought order to the terrorized city. When it was through, an estimated 119 people had died (though some put the toll much higher). The rioters lynched 11 black men. The unrest drove hundreds of thousands of black residents from the city and left many buildings destroyed.

Illustration: New York Draft Riots, 1863

This illustration shows a building on fire on New York’s Lexington Avenue. The drawing appeared in William J. Bradley’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Appomattox.
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An Iconic Carousel Is Now a Landmark

June 28th, 2013 · Explore New York

To call the Forest Park Carousel a rare work of art is understatement. In an age when we’re so often attached to complex 21st century electronic devices, a simple ride on a carousel still enchants its young and young-at-heart riders, just as it did those who rode carousels a century ago. In the Golden Age of carousels, between 1880 and around 1930, artists and park owners created some 4,000 carousels in the United States, according to the International Museum of Carousel Art. Of those thousands, only 150 are intact today. The Forest Park Carousel is one of those survivors.

It’s not only a rarity numbers-wise, but in beauty, exquisiteness, and handmade artistry. The carousel in Woodhaven, Queens is one of just two remaining carousels that Daniel C. Muller carved by hand out of wood in elaborate, expressive detail just over 100 years ago. Among a group of master carvers during the Golden Age, Muller stood out for his ability to create horses and other animals that have lifelike features, power, and intricacy. Muller and his brother, Alfred, created some 12 carousels through their small company, D.C. Muller and Brother Co. This carousel in Queens and one in Cedar Point, Ohio, are the only two surviving, according to the National Carousel Association.

Given the Forest Park Carousel’s distinction, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on Tuesday, June 25, designated it as a landmark. Capping an effort by fans, local groups, and Queens and neighborhood civic leaders, the landmark designation ensures the carousel’s preservation as a Woodhaven attraction for future generations. It is located just north of West Main Drive in this 538-acre park. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation owns the carousel. [Read more →]

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What Is the Future of Midtown East?

May 31st, 2013 · Be a Mindful Activist, Explore New York

One person’s “beautiful” is another person’s “dowdy,” and someone’s pronouncement of “architectural significance” is another’s “obsolescence.” These are the terms people are using in a clash over zoning and related plans that will likely shape a historic part of New York City for the future. Consider the character and skyline of Manhattan’s Midtown East, where New York icons such as Grand Central Terminal, the Chrysler Building, the Lever House, and the Look Building stand out among the mix of old and new buildings. Some say the area is falling behind and is a dead zone for new business development, but others cherish its character and say that quality is integral for its future success.

Now picture this area if developers construct many new, huge glass office towers, of the types we see in the Times Square vicinity and other city neighborhoods. What might the future look like in Midtown East? Would it remain a livable, walkable neighborhood for residents and others if it becomes home to a sea of humongous office towers? Would the changes kill the area’s uniqueness and what has made it one of the world’s most famous neighborhoods?

The makeup and quality of life in a 73-block area of Manhattan’s Midtown East are very much at stake as the Bloomberg Administration seeks major zoning changes before the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term this year. Most everyone involved, from the administration to civic leaders to real estate and construction interests, agree that Midtown East – an area roughly from East 39th Street to East 57th Street between Second and Fifth avenues – needs some dedicated investment and zoning changes. But some say a push for bigger and bigger office towers without significant consideration of the neighborhood’s historic landmarks, transit, public space, and livability is going to create a sterile, congested neighborhood and kill the qualities that made this neighborhood so rich in the first place. [Read more →]

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In Honor of My Mother

May 13th, 2013 · Beyond Gotham

Like so many, I woke up on Mother’s Day thinking about my mom. Maybe it’s because of various changes in my life this past year and because of reading so many poignant posts from a Motherless Daughters Facebook group this week, I felt Mother’s Day even more than usual. Our mom, Susie DeMark, was a beautiful soul, the very meaning of the word gentle.

She gave us so much, especially after my dad died and she had four daughters under the age of 15 to raise. As years go on, I am blown away that she was able to raise us as beautifully and bravely as she did. I love both the big and the little things I remember, like how she knew and enjoyed how to keep score in a baseball scorebook or how she trusted us to be clerks in our sporting goods store when I was 12 years old. The sporting goods store, in a narrow storefront in our town of Wampum, Pa., was a part-time business that my father, Charley, and Uncle Luke, brothers and both millworkers, owned. My mom took over DeMark Bros. Sporting Goods when my dad died of cancer, at age 45, and I felt so responsible working there.

What mattered came across more in actions than words. My mother was the first to buy history books for me. She encouraged my sisters and me to learn and explore, something best captured in the trips she planned to Canada, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. She knew beauty, in the flowers she raised, the wonderful meals she prepared, the music she loved. [Read more →]

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Boston: The Grief and Unrelenting Whys

April 20th, 2013 · Beyond Gotham

His face was unforgettable. Twenty-seven-year-old Jeff Bauman looked ashen and bewildered, appearing to be in shock, while three people directed and pushed Bauman in a wheelchair, as a New York Times photo showed. Moments before, he had been waiting to cheer his girlfriend when she would cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Then the bombs erupted, tearing apart Bauman’s limbs. Hours later, his father, Jeff Bauman Sr., confirmed that his son was horribly injured by seeing Jeff Jr.’s photo on Facebook, after being alerted by a family member, the Times article reported. In a hospital, the younger Bauman had both legs amputated. Now, he will have to learn to walk again.

Bauman is one of the many whose lives changed irrevocably, ripped apart in the seconds that the two bombs exploded on Monday, April 15, on Boston’s Boylston Street. In a short and horrific time, the violence killed 3 people and wounded some 175 others, many of whom were maimed and lost legs. Four days later, following a tense approximately 22-hour manhunt, valiant law enforcement officers arrested bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. His 26-year-old brother and the other suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was shot to death in a confrontation with police some 19 hours before, as CBS and WBZ radio reported. The arrest brought a break and enormous collective relief at one of the most difficult times this historic city has ever experienced.

Surely, the bringing to justice of suspects answers important needs of a civil society, as it restores some sense of order. Yet we are left with the deeper whys, the perplexing questions that remain and never quite go away even when authorities capture, charge, or kill perpetrators, and see that “justice is done.”

The suffering in Boston is immense. It’s devastating and heart-breaking, Vigils have honored the victims – Krystle Campbell, 29; Lu Lingzi, 23; and Martin Richard, 8. In one moment, the angelic-faced Richard – a boy from all reports who was full of spirit and loved to play sports and be outdoors – was watching the race with his family. Suddenly, following the bombings, he was dead. Martin’s younger sister, Jane, lost her leg, and his mother, Denise, underwent surgery for a brain injury, CBS News reported. How is the father, Bill Richard, able to stand up and go on? No one can be in his place and know exactly the weight of grief and loss in his heart. Many are reaching out in efforts to support him. [Read more →]

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