Spring’s Fleeting Beauty, Eternal Truth

May 29th, 2015 · Beyond Gotham

In the face-chilling, hand-freezing, blustery cold of a January night, who could have pictured these blossoms and flowers? In winter, many do not notice the gnarly branches of a crabapple or pear tree or the twisting limbs of a lilac bush, though they possess their own character and loveliness. Yet, there they are, strong, upright, swaying in a stiff wind or covered under snow.

Then the day comes, one we cannot time or set an alarm for by our human clocks. The tiny deep blossoms of a crabapple tree in the city park or on a campus shoot forth, seemingly appearing overnight, or the orchard of a local apple grower suddenly has rows and rows of white, tender, and glorious blossoms flowing in a warm breeze.

Apple Orchard Beauty

Apple blossoms

The springtime blossoming and flowering are of untold, exquisite, and often short-lived beauty. (Part 1 focused on their exquisiteness.) The apple and cherry blossoms, gracing a landscape with white and pink that just a month earlier was winter-worn, bloom one to two weeks or so. The longer-lasting visits from flowering trees, such as the deep reddish purple of an Eastern redbud, can last a few weeks before giving way fully to green.

In each blossom and flower lies the principle of fleeting beauty and eternal truth. In the blossoms and flowers lay deeper verities, whether lush magnolia blossom, tiny woodland violet, or delicate dogwood flower, about life’s cycles of dormancy and rebirth, endings and beginnings, stillness and motion, dark and light, bold hues after subdued color. “If spring were in the teaching business, which it isn’t, we would now be hearing a basic lecture on philosophy,” wrote naturalist and author Hal Borland. “All the elements are there, spring after spring, and all we have to do is supply the words and attend their meaning.” [Read more →]

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The Insights That Blossoms Teach

April 30th, 2015 · Beyond Gotham

About a month ago mounds of hardened snow still covered parts of the landscape and the bare tree branches shivered in a much colder wind. The Northeast United States waited and waited. Even for a professed winter lover, spring’s warmth and expected bursting forth felt long overdue. Some signs were there, in lengthening daylight, the return of some migrants outside my window with their birdsong before dawn, and the quickening ice melt

But this past two weeks the breakthrough finally arrived in this part of the Northeast. On a landscape dominated by late winter brown and gray, plumes of bright color — light green, bright yellow, and creamy white — appeared, so welcome. Finally, the buds had opened, and the blossoms and flowers of the new season arrived, the yearly miracle before our eyes.

Like others in the natural world, we are a species of rituals, of many types. Some fast to honor particular holy days each year or hold festivals to mark a natural occurrence. Some are sure to see the Rockettes or the Rockefeller Center tree each Christmas season in New York. Others venture to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania annually to view the hawks during their autumn migration. The time of buds bursting and blossoms appearing is my Christmastime. It’s one of rituals, including walks along certain pathways and visits to particular trees each year. I have a date with them, only they hold the timing. [Read more →]

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Cleveland’s Streamline Station Survivor

March 6th, 2015 · Beyond Gotham, Columns and Features

Let’s play word association: Think of the word “Greyhound.” Chances are, the terms “sleek,” “aerodynamic,” and “futuristic” are not likely to jump to mind. Decades ago, however, they may well have. Not too long after the automobile and road travel gained wider public acceptance, Greyhound was one of the forward-looking companies seeking to captivate those who wanted to go far distances on America’s roads and to make such travel accessible for all. The best of smooth, fast, and sleek long-distance highway trips didn’t have to be reserved for the well-to-do.

From the Post-Depression 1930s to after World War II into the 1950s, Greyhound aggressively promoted an image of speedy, convenient, and exciting travel through its buses and various stations that the company built in cities and towns. These days, it may be hard for some to consider such stations and buses as anything more than an afterthought when bus trips too often conjure images of interstate fast-food, vending machine donuts, and stations with the charm of drive-in banks. Not so that time period, however. During this ambitious expansion, many Greyhound buses and stations were in the Streamline Moderne design, a single, unified symbol of sleek movement and modernity.

The Greyhound station on a winter night

This history is likely unknown to many, and one that I literally rode into just after the Christmas holidays when I arrived at the Cleveland Greyhound bus station, just on the eastern edge of downtown. The station, which the transport company opened in 1948, is in the Streamline Moderne style. It’s a still-busy terminal that Greyhound’s go-to architect of the period, William S. Arrasmith, designed. Cleveland’s was the most ambitious the company constructed for this purpose following World War II, and it was the last for which Arrasmith employed the Streamline Moderne style, according to Docomomo International, a key organization for the preservation of modernist architecture. [Read more →]

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A Message in a Lobby

January 26th, 2015 · Columns and Features, Explore New York

It was just before Christmas, and thousands were in the mad rush and jostling along Fifth Avenue, with their cameras and shopping bags, to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The shoppers lined up at the boutiques and gift shops in Midtown Manhattan. Just south, however, is a building that doesn’t make a list of must-see places during the holidays. It’s on mine, however, in my annual holiday rituals of walking along the avenue: the lobby of the Fred F. French Building, at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 45th Street. Jewel-like only begins to capture the feeling of quiet elegance of its ground floor during the holidays, with decorated trees of bright twinkling lights and glistening bulbs, the shiny bronze entrances and elevator doors, and the radiant gold, deep blue, and dark green of the Art Deco ceiling.

The French Building lobby, I remind myself, is never to be taken for granted. This is all the more so considering what The Guardian newspaper recently called the “supersizing” of Manhattan, especially the construction of luxury residential housing towers, and the vast changes to various neighborhoods occurring at a rapid pace elsewhere around the city. Looking at the French Building or other places of architectural distinction or beauty prompts even more gratitude when juxtaposed with the fate of others that are falling to the wrecking ball. [Read more →]

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Autumn’s Cure for Nature Deprivation

November 20th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

Nature is grand both in big spaces, such as mountain cliffs and ocean horizons, and in small patches, as in one leaf, a square foot of roadside, or a plant curled around a building column. Nature rewards the attentive. From the time he was a boy, Richard Louv has known this as much as anyone on the planet. For years, Louv has been saying that, individually and collectively, too many of us are tuning out nature and teaching our children to grow up with this deprivation as well.

On an evening in late October, Louv brought his message about “nature-deficit disorder” and the solutions to it to a packed lecture hall at SUNY New Paltz. The author of eight books, Louv coined this term to capture the malady and the consequences of living with no direct connection to nature. In myriad ways, too many adults have forged the kind of world where children learn about saving the rainforest in their online lessons, but they do not play outside in the schoolyard. Too often, children and adults have their eyes glued to screens, but they fail to look out windows. “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” Paul, then a fourth-grader in San Diego, told Louv, according to a passage in his book Last Child in the Woods, which examines the lack of nature in children’s lives, its link to illnesses and societal problems, and the ways to address this harmful trend.

Freeing Kids, Not Scaring Them

The consequences of living a life unconnected to nature are toxic to children and destructive to society and the Earth. However, Louv’s voice is not one of pessimism, and he has formed a social movement out of his concerns. “We have to remind ourselves that we can be hopeful,” he told the SUNY audience on Oct. 21. In fact, he said, the emphasis on climate change and environmental degradation has left too many children overwhelmed by a sense that they can do little to change the fates and heal the world from the ill effects. Instead, Louv exhorted, “we need to go to a place of irrationality” and believe we can solve these problems. [Read more →]

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A Sweet Statement of Deco in Newburgh

October 1st, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

Buildings have a way of speaking to people. Such expression can come through their design, materials, condition, or decorative elements – and ultimately in their presence. In the middle of the long, wide expanse of Broadway in Newburgh, 121-123 Broadway is a forgotten but beautiful small building. Its Art Deco elements and design suddenly draw one’s eye and convey that it was once a bustling, welcoming business on the thoroughfare.

The three-story 1930 building is now shuttered, but the sandstone structure once housed a well-known local furniture store. “Kreisel’s” is in a semi-circle in big letters in the middle of an Art Deco copper-trim decoration above the entrance. The copper could use a cleaning and polishing, and yet it’s still graceful, expressive, and eye-catching, with large rays over the door and geometric and scalloped accents under large horizontal windows. The sun-rays motif makes the building stand out in the row along Broadway.

The Kreisel Furniture Co. building in Newburgh, in the Hudson Valley [Read more →]

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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 · 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 · 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 · 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, Columns and Features

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 · 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, 2013, 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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