Archive for the ‘War memorials’ Category

A faded war memorial in Grand Central Terminal

May 26, 2014

GrandcentralwarplaqueForget the network of rail lines bringing thousands of visitors and commuters in and out of the city every day.

Even without them, Grand Central Terminal is a fascinating place.

Opened in 1913, its starry-ceiling, cavernous concourse, marble stairways, and lovely clocks make waiting for a train a more enchanting experience.

And in a lonely corner on the subway concourse is a faded, mostly forgotten bronze tablet that commemorates the men who fought in a war that is officially 100 years old this year.

“In Memory of the Known and Unknown Employees of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company Who Made the  Supreme Sacrifice in the World War” it reads.

Grandcentralwarplaque2

Thirty-six names are inscribed. We don’t know what these men did for a living, whether they dug tunnels or conducted trains, took tickets or worked in office jobs.

But we do know that their deaths overseas meant something to the long-defunct IRT.

Grand Central played a pivotal role during World War II; part of it was turned into a “Service Men’s Lounge” for soldiers coming and going.

The 1940s “poetry mender” of Greenwich Village

December 14, 2013

Artistspoetsgreenwichvillage19352Curious characters have always lead anonymous lives in New York. One of them was a Village man who dubbed himself the Poetry Mender.

Everything known about him comes from a small, touching article from 1948 in the New York Herald Tribune:

“The sign outside the door at 25 West Third Street, Greenwich Village, said ‘ring bell loudly or knock hard and wait.’ But no one tugged at the bellpull—a piece of baling wire with clothespin attached—or knocked on the faded green door last night.

“For the Saturday night soirees of Anton Romatka were over forever.”

Washsquaresouthsullivan19222Romatka, you see, had scratched out a meager living writing poetry, which he and other “versifiers” would tack “on the fences around Washington Square.”

The old man’s apartment “was the kind of place which non-Villagers think of when they speak of garrets of poets and artists in that romanticized section of lower Manhattan.”

Manuscripts cluttered the room; boxes of food hung from string attached to the ceiling to keep them from mice.

Westhirdstreet19352Romatka, a Bohemian in both senses of the word (he was born in Bohemia) also hosted Saturday night sessions, were poets sat around on chairs and soap boxes to read their work aloud and hear his criticism.

“He charged a few cents to criticize or edit poems; he wrote verses to order, from five to 15 cents a line.”

One Saturday night, his students got no answer when they pulled the wire. “They called police, who broke into the two-room cold-water flat on the third floor. There they found the 70-some-years poet dead of natural causes.”

Max Bodenheim Relaxing on a MattressAfter his death, his students—among them Max Bodenheim (at right, in the 1950s)—paid tribute to Romatka at the chapel at Bellevue Hospital and then by his grave in New Jersey.

“The people who were close to him in Greenwich Village said that Mr. Romatka, who never married, was widely known for his generosity and kindness—especially his chivalry toward women.

Washsquarepoetry2“It was for the latter quality, they said, that poets placed a picture of Our Lady of Fatima on his breast, beside the poems and a group of red roses, before his coffin was sealed on Tuesday.”

The four photos (from the NYPL) are of Romatka’s Village, Washington Square South and the vicinity in the 1920s and 1930s.

He was known to pace up and down the sidewalk, “his frayed brown hat pulled down over his brow, offering advice to fellow poets—or a piece of the apple pie some one had paid him for a verse.”

Whatever happened to Ponkiesberg, Brooklyn?

July 4, 2013

CourtandpacificstreetssignToday the corner of Court and Pacific Streets is squarely in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood.

If you were standing here in the 17th century, however, you’d be in an enclave Dutch settlers called Ponkiesberg.

Ponkiesberg? Also spelled with an h at the end, it actually translates into “cobble hill,” says The New York Times, which explains that the name stems from the steep cobblestone road once at this corner.

Articles from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives supply more info.

PonkiesbergplaquePonkiesberg was the name of a “conical hill which was situated from sixty to eighty feet above the present grade of the streets,” a story from 1896 tell us.

“[A] circular road led up to the strange looking elevation, which many persons thought was the work of clever colonists rather than nature.”

Ponkiesberg the hill gave patriots an edge in the Revolutionary War.

A plaque on the side of Trader Joe’s, which now occupies the corner, states that from the Ponkiesberg fortification built here, George Washington was able to observe the fighting at Gowanus during the Battle of Long Island in 1776.

Maybe we’ll see a real estate rebranding of the neighborhood?

The Vietnam vets outside a Bronx subway station

May 25, 2013

When I first saw it, I thought it was honoring fallen soldiers who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this mural, at the end of the line on the 4 train at the Bronx’s Woodlawn station, memorializes Vietnam War veterans.

Bronxveteransmural

It’s been there since 1985, enduring graffiti tags ever since.

Strolling through Riverside Park to Grant’s Tomb

April 24, 2013

A few solitary, turn-of-the-century New Yorkers took advantage of the quiet, lovely paths of the upper portion of Riverside Park in this vintage postcard.

Grant’s Tomb, opened to much fanfare in 1897, looms ahead.

Riversidedrivepostcard

The road beside the Hudson River looks more like the Henry Hudson Parkway, not Riverside Drive, no?

Up ahead, north of Grant’s Tomb, lies another little-known tomb of a child that still exists today.

The Financial District’s “hard-hat” riot of 1970

March 2, 2013

hardhatriot2New York has some ugly riots in its history.

One of the strangest is the Hard Hat Riot, a clash between construction workers and war protesters in May 1970.

The spark was the Kent State University shootings. After the deaths of four students at the hands of National Guardsmen there, antiwar protesters here announced a rally memorializing the dead at City Hall.

Early on May 8, hundreds of peace activists gathered at Wall and Broad Streets. After their numbers swelled to about a thousand, they marched to the steps of Federal Hall and demanded the U.S. get out of Vietnam.

That’s when about 200 workers, carrying American flags and pro-USA signs, approached the protesters. Police reportedly did nothing as the hard hats chased protesters and beat them with their helmets for an hour.

Hardhatrally

“The workers then stormed City Hall, cowing policemen and forcing officials to raise the American flag to full staff from half staff, where it had been placed in mourning for the four students killed at Kent State University on Monday,” wrote The New York Times.

An estimated 70 people were injured, and six were arrested. Mayor Lindsay slammed the police for not stopping the rioters.

This earned the wrath of union leaders, who said the riot was a spontaneous act by workers who were tired of antiwar activists criticizing their country . . . an explanation disputed by some witnesses, who claimed to see two men in suits directing the rioters with hand motions.

The “mountain” once on the Lower East Side

February 20, 2013

GrandpittstreetssignOkay, we’re not talking about mountain as in the Rockies.

It was more of a hill, a 60-foot incline called Mount Pitt about where Grand and Pitt Streets cross today.

For Manhattan at the time, this “mount” was a high point, affording incredible vistas New Yorkers would kill for now.

Let a book published in 1879 by a descendant of the man who made his home on the hill give the details (and then check out the country road–like view in the NYPL Digital Collection illustration:

Mountpittview1796

“Upon this fine site still, though graded down very much, the highest point of that part of the city, which then commanded a magnificent prospect, extending on the east beyond Hellgate, on the west over the city and the bay to the shores of Staten Island and New Jersey, and on the south over the East River and the heights of Long Island. . . .”

Grandandpitt2013In pre-Revolution days, it was the location of a town home and gardens built by Judge Thomas Jones, hence why Mount Pitt is also known as Jones Hill.

During the war, colonists constructed a large redoubt on Mount Pitt called Jones Hill Fort.

Leveled after the war, Mount Pitt still exists in a way: fieldstone taken from it in the 1820s was used to build St. Augustine’s Church, on Henry Street.

Here’s Grand and Pitt Streets today: flattened out and a bit dreary. The current highest point in Manhattan lies several miles north.

Where was Lower Manhattan’s Golden Hill?

December 17, 2012

JohnwilliamstreetsignThere’s an incline along William Street, in the Financial District, that peaks where it intersects with John Street. Could it be a remnant of the colonial-era enclave of Golden Hill?

This was once the highest point at the tip of Manhattan—a place of an “abundant crop of grain, which it said waved gracefully in response to the gentle breeze and looked, in truth, like a hill of gold,” states an 1898 New York Times article.

BattleofgoldenhillpaintingGolden Hill isn’t only remembered for its pretty view; it was also the site of a bloody rebellion that led to the Revolutionary War.

On January 19, 1770, tensions were high between many New York residents and British soldiers. Colonists had constructed several liberty poles, signs of defiance against the Redcoats.

After the British destroyed a liberty pole in City Hall park, a confrontation ensued between soldiers and citizens several days later at Golden Hill. There, the British charged citizens with bayonets, wounding several.

“This is the first blood spilled during the American Revolution, two month before the Boston Massacre,” reports Old World NYC. “The clash would roll back and forth finally leading to a standoff . . . but the war had begun.”

Check out these other pieces from New York’s Revolutionary War past.

[Right: Battle of Golden Hill by Charles MacKubin Lefferts]

A Riverside Drive mansion and monument

October 18, 2012

The gentle bend at Riverside Drive and 89th Street, seen here in an early 1900s postcard, is host to the majestic Soldiers and Sailors Monument—dedicated in 1902 to Union Army veterans.

On the opposite corner is something interesting: another view of the Isaac L. Rice mansion, built in 1903 by a wealthy lawyer when Riverside Drive was lined with grand free-standing homes and rivaled Fifth Avenue in luxury.

The Isaac L. Rice mansion is still there today, but maybe not for much longer unless it gets the maintenance it needs.

New York’s memorial street murals to 9/11

September 6, 2012

While the official 9/11 memorial is now open downtown, some unofficial street murals in neighborhoods across the city continue to commemorate the day in their own small ways.

These are some of the first memorials that went up, visceral responses to the city’s darkest hour. This one above, in Gravesend, is gathering grime under the F train tracks.

Graffiti just beneath it mars this commemorative mural on West Broadway.

I think this one is in the East Village, but I didn’t record the neighborhood correctly. Can anyone confirm? The Daily News has a slideshow of more street murals here.


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