Why I Love New York!
As I write this, New York City and most our country are shut down under social isolation orders, a safety measure for the entire population. But I believe that we’ll bounce back again, stronger than ever, newly aware of one another and the importance of kindness and thinking of others. New York is a survivor city—we’ve already seen the magnificent resilience of our huge melting pot when NYC was struck in a different way years ago, when the World Trade Center towers went down.
And in the vein that we are survivors, strong, and giving—I’m going to talk about the wonders of the city I love so much.
First, there are the things everyone knows about: contemporary amazements. Some of the best museum in the world. My major was in theater and there is still little I love more than the talent to be found on Broadway. I’m not much of a shopper—unless it’s for crazy wigs or costumes—but whatever is needed, one can find it in the city. Restaurants! Name a cuisine, and you can eat it! Modern NYC is amazing in that you could live your entire life there and still not experience all the cultural, educational, gastronomical, and social experiences it has to offer.
One of my passions is history—especially creepy history—and NYC abounds with it.
A favorite area for me is downtown.
Downtown, two wonderful historic places remain, both churches. I love Trinity and St. Paul’s. They are both still active, and once upon a time, General George Washington attended services at Trinity. My publishing house happens to be down that way, and when I complained that I hadn’t been able to score tickets to see Hamilton, friends there liked to tease me. “Hey, you can see him right now!”
Hamilton’s tomb is in the graveyard at Trinity. You can look out the windows and see the church and churchyard.
I love the richness of all that history. I love walking where George Washington walked!
That’s just the beginning, of course. New York City has seen the arrival of wave after wave of immigrant populations. The potato famine in Ireland brought in a massive influx of people seeking life and a living. My youngest daughter saw The Gangs of New York when she was a freshman in high school. She was furious about the way “her people” had been treated. I had to tell her that “her people” only arrived with her grandmother, in the 1940s, so they weren’t personally subjected to that kind of prejudice.
One of my favorite things about New York is that I can walk a few blocks and hear about ten different languages. It can be hard on a newcomer, but in a city like New York, we can learn to love different cultures. It’s a place where we gain the amazing strength we have as Americans—we’re stronger for all we have welcomed to our shores!
My son lives in an apartment the size of a shoe box, but outside his door is the north end of Central Park, and when I’m there, I marvel that someone knew just how much that park would be needed, offering outdoor space and endless possibilities in the middle of such a big city.
I think I promised some creepy. So, here’s creepy. By 1822, burials at Trinity and several other houses of worship began to drive the living crazy—the stench from the graveyards was terrible. Two cemeteries were founded, the New York Marble Cemetery and the New York City Marble Cemetery. (Both still exist and are sometimes open to the public; check for times!) But that wasn’t enough; in 1851, a city ordinance forbade new burials south of 86th Street. Many graveyards were dug up and their occupants were moved out to the boroughs into the up-and-coming Victorian lawn-like cemeteries, planned for relaxing and peaceful settings. Hart Island, purchased in 1869, remains the city’s public burial ground. Nowadays, where the dead once lay, there’s a Whole Foods at what was once the Houston Street Burial Ground. Washington Square Park was once a potter’s field.
New York populations are massive, both the living and the dead!
The city itself—huge, sprawling, magnificent—has always provided me with stories. My mom was born in Dublin and she gave me my love for an Irish pub. The oldest bar is Fraunces Tavern, originally opened as the Queen’s Head Tavern, serving Washington and other patriots. It’s now a museum, restaurant and bar. It has, through the years, received extensive reconstruction, but it was George Washington’s hangout. For other such old establishments there are McSorley’s (a fun place!) The Ear Inn, and several more.
New York City has seen just about everything.
The good, the bad, and the ugly of history and humanity.
New York will survive. I love New York City, and I know I’ll get there when it’s safe not to social distance anymore. There are so many places I love—but people first! My son and daughter-in-law and Korbin and Zephyra and so many dear friends and colleagues!
Many people know and love the city. Many more will one day get to know it. If you live there, or if you get the chance to go, look to the wonder of the history and the people who created it.
And thanks so much for reading this!
And in case you wanted a bit more history . . .
The Native Americans who inhabited the area were the Lenape. They fished the waterways, hunted, farmed, and occasionally went to war. They created great paths through the land—one would become known as Broadway.
Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian gentleman a commanding a French ship, sailed the area in 1524. Over the next years, trappers and traders stopped by. In 1609, Henry Hudson, an Englishman working for the Dutch East India Company, sailed what is now the Hudson River, and reported back about the magnificent beaver population.
It would be the Dutch to first set up trading posts up in the area that is now Albany, but soon, in May of 1624, they’d land families at what is now Governor’s Island. Around 1625, construction of Fort Amsterdam began. Slaves were brought from Africa to help build a wall; directors came and went, there was a Native American massacre, the Algonquin tribes banded together, more fighting, more war, and then a peace treaty was signed in 1645. Peter Stuyvesant became director general in 1647, ruling as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. Self-government came in 1652, and New Amsterdam was incorporated at a city in 1653. The oldest recorded house still in existence dates from 1652—the Wyckoff House—and it’s in Brooklyn. It’s a museum. Closed now—but it will open again.
Enter the English! Four frigates arrived in 1664. They’d come to demand the surrender of New Amsterdam. They were acting on orders of James, Lord High Admiral, the Duke of York, and brother to King Charles II, provoking the second Anglo-Dutch War. After two weeks, Stuyvesant decided to concede, and while many Dutch names—and people—remained, New Amsterdam would become New York, after the Duke of York, of course. Moving forward rapidly, we come to the American Revolution.