The irony of the Manhattan skyline is that you can’t see it when you’re in Manhattan: you have to be in New Jersey, Brooklyn, or Queens. It’s a striking view that many short-term visitors to the city don’t get.
On the Brooklyn side, one of your options for a prime skyline view is East River State Park, in northern Williamsburg. It bumps up against the slightly more northerly and deceptively-named Bushwick Inlet Park, which includes an athletic facility; by contrast, East River State Park is an empty expanse of lawn dotted with picnic tables and playground equipment… unless you’re there in the summer, in which case it’s home to the bustling food truck market Smorgasburg.
Not to get too Carrie Bradshaw on you, but sometimes in New York, you get presented with some really great opportunities. I was lucky enough to be in the first audience for the newly reopened Hudson Theatre, on 44th St., and it was a true privilege. The current production, Sunday in the Park with George, is a lovely one, but the theater itself is outright beautiful.
The main character of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn isFrancie Nolan, a daughter of Irish and Austrian immigrants who grows in poverty in early 20th-century Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Obviously, Francie’s Williamsburg looks quite different from today’s: birthplace of the hipster and now home to luxury high-rise condos. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn ends in 1918, when Francie is 17 years old — almost a century ago.
Strikingly, many of the names of places and streets have stayed the same through the years, even as the structures around and along them have changed. But you can still find a few remainders of that era, from the church Francie would have attended to the subway station (then the “El”) where she would have boarded the train to Manhattan.
There’s an area of Brooklyn and Queens that, by my count, contains at least ten distinct, contiguous cemeteries and at least two public parks. I’m not sure of their origin, except that several seem to have been established around the same time. Were they originally more distant then merged together as their boundaries grew? Or was this simply viewed as a good spot for a cemetery?
At any rate, I saw only two of them on my visit — my first visit, that is; if nothing else, I want to return to see Harry Houdini’s grave in nearby Machpelah Cemetery! And I suspect the others have hidden historical gems as well.
First on my itinerary was Cypress Hills Cemetery, where I had a vague notion of attempting to find three notable gravesites: those of artist Piet Mondrian and of the “spiritualist” sisters Margaret and Kate Fox. I failed in both attempts, since the cemetery map I found online was not very detailed and signs on the lots didn’t seem to line up with it. After a while, I gave up and just wandered.
There are any number of fascinating cemeteries in New York City, but Trinity Church’s three cemeteries may have the highest proportion of familiar names — and if you’re a Revolutionary War buff or a Hamilton fan, the original, downtown cemetery easily takes the cake. (The uptown Cemetery & Mausoleum has some very interesting people as well… but that’s a subject for another post.)
The Trinity Church you can see today is the third on this spot; the original building was built in 1696 but, unfortunately, burned to the ground in 1776. However, the nearby St. Paul’s Chapel is part of the parish of Trinity Church, and may be the second oldest surviving building in Manhattan, after Fraunces Tavern. (It, too, is the subject for another post.) The current Trinity Church was completed in 1846, making it still quite distinguished in age.
This weekend, a friend with a car and I were planning to cruise around Brooklyn and hit a few of the destinations on my to-visit list that are difficult and/or time consuming to get to via public transportation. The forecast dissuaded us, however, and indeed as I look out the window over my laptop screen I can see pretty heavy snow falling.
So instead I got up early, procured a to-go tea, and set out on foot, hoping to complete a 10-mile loop before any precipitation showed up (I succeeded). The destination I picked: Canarsie Pier, on the shore of Jamaica Bay.
Possibly the oldest surviving building in Manhattan, 54 Pearl Street was constructed in 1719 as the home of Stephen Delancey (Delancey Street was named after his son James), converted to the Queen’s Head Tavern in 1762, and later renamed Fraunces Tavern.
The Tavern is inextricably tied up in New York’s history; besides the connection to the Delanceys, it was the site of George Washington’s farewell dinner for his troops, and briefly housed government offices, before the capital of the United States moved to Philadelphia.