New York City Day #2 - Independence Day!
I woke up nice and early this morning to a great sunrise, and ran down south down the Hudson River. The run was beautiful; I ran along the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Hudson River, in Manhattan, looking the entire time at New Jersey. Talk about awesome geography!
We had quite a day today...and after my run, we had breakfast and a mini-lecture, refreshing our teacher brains about what happened in the American Revolution, particularly in New York City.
We took the subway downtown (really south, but on a map, it is "down," so it is called "downtown.") to the southernmost tip of Manhattan, called Battery Park. Why is it called Battery Park? No, they do not dump wasted Energizer and Duracell batteries here...but are named for the batteries of ammunition that was stored here by both King George III and later George Washington. If you take a look to the map at the right, you will see the island of Manhattan. This is considered "downtown" New York City.
Imagine it is 1775. The Battles of Concord and Lexington were just fought in New England. Britain is mad; King George III wants to squash any ideas the silly patriots have of uprising against their throne. What does the King George III do? He asks two of his most able officers, General Howe and Admiral Howe (brothers, one in the British army, one in the British navy) to invade New York City. He figures if the British can take care of the troublemaking Patriots (those who wanted independence from Britain), he is more likely to keep the American Colonies under control. The Howe Brothers decide to send 1,000 ships into New York Harbor. The picture to the right was taken from the southernmost tip of Manhattan, Battery Park, looking into New York Harbor. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is just to the west (right side of picture), and Governor's Island is immediately to the east (left side of picture). In the distance, you can see the channel to the Atlantic Ocean between Brooklyn and Staten Island. Imagine 1,000 ships with 3 or 4 masts a piece arriving into the harbor. What a scene that must have been!
A few days later, the Americans, with the leadership of George Washington, decide to fortify (or secure) the Brooklyn Heights. Why secure a high spot? It is easier to defend oneself against an enemy. The American Patriots were ready to fight the British for the Brooklyn Heights, which overlooked and secured downtown Manhattan. What happened, you ask? The British were able to find a passage between some wooded hills that was not protected by the Americans. The Americans were surprise attacked, and George Washington had to retreat, leave the Heights, and under the safety of night, retreat across the East River to Mahattan. Brooklyn had been lost to the British.
A few months later, a document called the Declaration of Independence is written. It does what? It declares our intentions to be independent from England. New Yorkers are so excited with the reading of the Declaration of Independence that they take a lead statue of King George III and boil it down to make bullets for Patriot guns in the American Revolution. The statue stood in Bowling Green (picture to left) where the fountain is today. The Bowling Green is adjacent to the NY Custom House (we have a Custom House in Boston, too - it is the really tall clock tower downtown).
Believe it or not, New York City was originally founded not by the English, but the Dutch - as New Amsterdam in 1624. At the northernmost edge of the settlement of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island was a huge fortification or blockade that was built to keep out the Native Americans, English, French, and Spanish. Although that wall no longer exists, a street that was at its place does, and is called "Wall Street." You probably have heard of it; it is the financial capital of New York City (and some would say the world). Just a few blocks north of Battery Park, the Custom House, Bowling Green, and 2 blocks east of Ground Zero is NYC's Financial District. You will see, to the right, a picture of the NYSE at the corner of Wall Street (heading east-west) at New Street.
As you can imagine, all this walking was making us hungry, so we had lunch at the Faunces Tavern. This is an important site in Manhattan, because it was been standing for over 200 years. It is rumored that many Patriot spies, working for the Americans, were headquartered here. More importantly, however, it was here that George Washington gave his farewell to being the military leader of our newly formed nation. In addition to this history, they make a killer chicken sandwich and fries at the Faunces Tavern.
After seeing downtown lower Manhattan, we headed over to Brooklyn across the Manhattan Bridge (or we could have taken the Brooklyn Bridge) to see the site of the Battle of Long Island (Brooklyn Heights). To the left, you will see a picture of The Old Stone House. This house still remains as a place where 250 Marylanders delayed the British attack long enough to allow most of the American Continental Army to escape to safety in Manhattan. What price did they pay? Only 9 Marylanders from that commission survived. As a result, if you look closely, you will see the Maryland state flag flying from the front of the Old Stone House.
A bit later, we headed to the famous Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, which basically exists underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. In the picture to the right, you will see yours truly on the dock of the East River at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Company, with the Empire State Building (on Manhattan Island) in the background, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge. It was across the Brooklyn Bridge that many people left on September 11th to escape the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
Later, we ate dinner in Greenwich Village, then headed to Roosevelt Island, an island in the middle of the East River, between Manhattan and Queens for fireworks. They were great. To be honest, however, the fireworks in Boston are better -- plus, we have the Boston Pops! It was a great time, even though it took us 3 hours to get home, because of all the thousands of people trying to use one single subway stop. The good part? We got to walk through Times Square (no, I did not see the MTV studios). We had to wait for about a half an hour for our subway car to come, stuck underground. Man, was it hot.
And so remember....extraordinary history has happened all around us, in the most ordinary of places sometimes! Until next time....