I go to school in Lower Manhattan. During the school year, I spend more time in Tribeca and Battery Park City than I do in my own neighborhood. So when I found out we would be taking a walking tour of the historical landmarks in this area that I thought I knew so well, I embarrassed myself by not being able to think of any places we might see besides “Umm… Trinity Church?”
What I saw and learned on the tour blew me away. Every day that I go to school, I walk over New Netherlands, over the birthplace of American capitalism, over our country’s first capital, over plots of sacred ground, and I never even realized. I thought I knew the city I inhabit, but as of today, I’ll never be able to look at certain things the same way:
This fence, the oldest in the city, surrounds Bowling Green, where New Yorkers tore down a statue of George III (we have both his horse’s tail and a painting of the scene on display at the Historical Society) and used to be decorated with lions and unicorns.
The statues at the front of this museum and former customs house were made by Daniel French, the same sculptor who made the statue of Lincoln in D.C., and depict (in a somewhat America-biased way) women as symbols of Asia, America, Europe, and Africa.
Fraunces Tavern, where Washington held his retirement lunch after the Revolution, stands on Pearl Street, which marks the original Manhattan coast and is so named because The Dutch threw oyster shells all over it.
George Washington was inaugurated on this spot, in what used to be City Hall; later, in the same building, James Madison proposed the Bill of Rights. The line to take tourist-y pictures was impressive.
Here is, yes, Trinity Church. Alexander Hamilton is buried in its cemetery. The Queen of England once accidentally visited on the anniversary of the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in New York.
This is St. Paul’s Chapel. It is the oldest church building in Manhattan, due to the fact that it is apparently impervious to fires (three freaking fires) and September 11th.
The Woolworth building is tied with the Chrysler Building for prettiest building in the city (that’s actually an official title that architects debate over).
This is the oldest Jewish burial ground in the city. New York, under Peter Stuyvesant, was also the first American colony to welcome (albeit grudgingly) Jews and let them worship.
This is the African Burial Grounds–or the part of it that white people didn’t cover with office buildings, anyway. The circle was beautiful: decorated with African spiritual symbols and the ages and genders of the unidentified dead. It was a gorgeous and melancholy place.
– Emily Hamilton