Archive for the ‘War memorials’ Category

A 1951 stamp explains the Battle of Brooklyn

May 25, 2015

This image of George Washington evacuating his troops illustrates the dramatic escape made by Patriot forces to Manhattan after the bruising Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776.

Stampbattleofbrooklyn

The stamp was issued in Brooklyn in 1951, commemorating the battle’s 175th anniversary. This is Brooklyn Heights 239 years ago; the Fulton Ferry house is at right. Here’s the historical recap:

“On August 27, the Red Coats marched against the Patriot position at Brooklyn Heights, overcoming the Americans at Gowanus Pass and then outflanking the entire Continental Army,” states history.com.

“Howe failed to follow the advice of his subordinates and storm the redoubts at Brooklyn Heights, and on August 29 General Washington ordered a brilliant retreat to Manhattan by boat, thus saving the Continental Army from capture. At the Battle of Brooklyn, the Americans suffered 1,000 casualties to the British loss of only 400 men. On September 15, the British captured New York City.”

A bit of the London Blitz adorns a downtown gate

April 6, 2015

CherubgateThe front entrance to Trinity Church (and its 17th century burial ground) faces Broadway.

It’s a fascinating, haunting place to lose yourself in early New York history and read the faded gravestones of city founders.

But it’s on a lonely gate at the back of the churchyard (at left), on Trinity Place, where a curious relic—a stone cherub head—can be found.

What’s it doing there?

The head comes from St. Mary-le-Bow church in London’s East End, founded in 1080 and built in 1680 by Christopher Wren.

CherubgatecloseupDuring the Blitz in May 1941, St. Mary-le-Bow, along with thousands of other homes and buildings in London, was leveled by German air raids.

After the war, Trinity Church, a sister church to St. Mary-le-Bow (below, in the 1890s) since Trinity was founded in 1697, pledged $50,000 to help the parish rebuild.

Found in the rubble during construction, the cherub head was gifted to Trinity Church by the people of St. Mary-le-Bow in 1964 as a thank you.

Stmarylebow1890sThe strangely undamaged cherub head now adorns what Trinity has renamed “Cherub Gate” on Trinity Place.

It’s not the only bit of the Blitz to make it to New York City. The landfill used to create the FDR Drive contains pieces of bombed out buildings from Bristol.

And many New Yorkers, including Mayor La Guardia, feared the arrival of German bombers on our side of the Atlantic, so much so that they commissioned this public service poster to alert residents of what to do if a devastating attack on the city actually happened.

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A chilling holocaust memorial at Madison Square

January 5, 2015

For such a stark yet provocative memorial, it’s easy to miss.

Appellatecourt25thstreetwikiBut if you head to 25th Street and Madison Avenue, on the facade of the circa-1900 marble Appellate Division Courthouse facing Madison Square Park, you’ll see it at eye level: a bas relief of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

It’s a grim and affecting aerial view of the camp. Buildings are arranged inside a high walls. “Torture Chamber” and “Commandant’s House” are inscribed beside two separate structures.

 “Execution Wall” and “Gas Chamber and Crematorium I” are chillingly noted as well.

Holocaustmemorialaerialview

A small plaque next to it lets us know that this is a “Memorial to All Victims of the Holocaust,” completed in 1990 by Harriet Feigenbaum, who used a photo as her guide.

Holocaustmemorial25thstreet“Feigenbaum’s choice of source material is used to question the moral character of the Allies, who, by the taking the photo itself, exhibit their awareness of the camp existence, and their simultaneous indifference to addressing that very existence,” wrote Nasha Virita at Untapped Cities.

“By doing so, she demonstrates the terrors that arise when law and justice are left by the wayside.”

The smokestack-like column that tops the memorial mimics the columns of the rest of the building. Note the flames carved on the side, above the words “indifference to justice is the gate to hell.”

New York’s postwar-planned Holocaust memorial in Riverside Park remains unbuilt.

[Top photo: Wikipedia]

Where in colonial Manhattan was Inclenberg?

November 24, 2014

InclenbergmansionThe only thing marking it is a bronze plaque discreetly affixed to an apartment building on Park Avenue and 35th Street in today’s Murray Hill.

But in the 1750s, with New York City concentrated far downtown, this was the center of a 29-acre hilltop estate known as Belmont or Inclenberg, the latter also lending its name to the surrounding area.

Aaccording to this account, Inclenberg was absolutely lovely.

Inclenbergplaquewiki“A magnificent place altogether was Inclenberg . . . approached by an avenue of magnolias, elms, spruce and Lombardy poplars . . . the spacious, two-story mansion had a broad veranda extending around three sides, and . . . front windows commanding a view of Kip’s Bay and the East River.”

It was the home of prosperous businessman Robert Murray and his wife, Mary Lindley Murray, who entertained the city’s elite there, including George Washington.

InclenbergteapartyHosting Washington wasn’t Inclenberg’s only brush with Revolutionary War–era notoriety.

Legend has it that in 1776, Mary Lindley Murray—who, unlike her secret Loyalist husband, was a fierce supporter of American freedom—supposedly used tea, cake, and female charm to helped the Patriots escape the British army.

“When Gen. William Howe crossed the East River from Long Island in 1776, pursuing Washington’s troops and attacking New York City, Mrs. Murray and her daughters invited General Howe and his officers to tea,” states a 1999 New York Times article.

“They accepted and were detained long enough to allow Washington and his troops to escape.”

Inclenberg19thcentury

The Murrays died by the turn of the 19th century; their mansion burned down in 1835. The neighborhood and its once-formidable hill carry their name—while Inclenberg has been almost forgotten.

[Top image: Inclenberg, the mansion, from murrayhillnyc.org; second: the plaque, Wikipedia; third: Mrs. Murray’s tea, NYPL Digital Gallery; fourth: another sketch of the mansion, NYPL Digital Gallery]

The beautiful fortress near Gramercy Park

September 15, 2014

When plans were being drawn up for the new armory for New York’s fabled 69th Regiment in 1901, architects Richard and Joseph Hunt (sons of Richard Morris Hunt, who designed the great hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) rejected the Medieval style of most city armories of the era.

Instead, they created something new, commanding, and beautiful.

69th armory postcard

This Beaux-Arts fortress, spanning Park and Lexington Avenues at 25th Street, still had a military feel, with its massive drill hall and gun bays along the Lexington Avenue side.

Twin plaques on the facade list the Civil War battlegrounds where the “fighting 69th” earned their nickname from Robert E. Lee.

It’s a solid, beautiful armory, one of a small group in Manhattan that still remains—used for shows, fairs, and of course, the famous 1913 Armory Show, where modern art made its startling New York City debut.

The fading 9/11 Memorial under Union Square

September 8, 2014

Unionsquare9:11memorialhallwayInside the Union Square subway station, just past the small transit police precinct, is a long, sparsely populated corridor. At about the halfway mark is an understated wall of remembrance to the thousands of victims of the September 11 attacks.

It’s right out there in public along a wall of white tiles. As visible as it is, it’s also one of the quietest and most unassuming 9/11 memorials in the entire city.

Office-like paper labels have been affixed to the tiles, each with the typed name and hometown of one of the dead.

Unionsquare9:11memorialwall

There’s no bronze plaque, no poetry, no pomp, no statues. Just names on tiles, some marked by poignant handwritten notes from loved ones.

Unionsquarememorialfisher

It’s been up since 2002. “Erected this month by the Manhattan-based nonprofit group ArtAid, the memorial’s missives grow daily,” states a Daily News article from March 30 of that year, which noted that the MTA had no plans to take it down.

Unionsquarememorialdavid

Time has taken its toll on the wall. Some of the labels have fallen off or otherwise disappeared, while others are fading out and hard to read.

Still, if you like your public memorials to be uncrowded and inconspicuous, or you remember how Union Square become kind of a gathering place for New Yorkers in the days after the towers fell, this is the place to be on September 11.

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.


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