Friday, April 06, 2007

Tour De New York City - Part 1 (Lower Manhattan)

Since I have had my share of visits from friends and family in NYC, I have become a pro at sightseeing. Here is a tour of sights that Lower Manhattan has to offer. Note all of these are literally anywhere from a couple of blocks to a few steps from each other.

Statue of Liberty
**Tip: go on line or call Circle line cruises prior to your visit and order your ferry ticket and pass to enter the Statue of Liberty. The monument entrance passes are free, but they are only available ahead of time. Since it was spring break, there were a lot of school groups on the Ferry with us. It was sad to see them all arrive at the island only to be turned away from entering the monument because they didn’t pre order the pass.

The monument only housed an exhibit detailing the history of the Statue of Liberty. The interesting fact is that the sculptor modeled the face after his mom and the structural engineer who designed interior structure of the monument also designed the Eiffel tower. You are only allowed to the top of the stone base and can not travel up to the crown or torch. Honestly, without traveling up to the crown, the view was not that much better than from the ground. It is neat to see the statue up close, but the wait in the ferry line will likely be longer than your stay on the island. I give it a grade C.

Ellis Island
Ellis Island was the immigration place to be from 1892 to the mid 1950’s. The original buildings still stand on the island and their size is impressive. The island housed a main check-in building, a few dormitories, a very large hospital, an insane asylum, and numerous “quarantine” buildings. The only building open to the public is the main check-in building. I guess after the island closed in the 1950’s, they stopped taking care of the grounds and buildings. In the 1980’s they came in and found the plants and trees overgrown and the buildings in utter destruction. They renovated the grand hall first and are planning to finish off the entire island in the next 10-15 years. I was disappointed you couldn’t visit the quarantine and asylum buildings. Yeah, I’m disturbed like that.

Anyway, the check-in building is one giant museum. They had a cool exhibit where you can type in your ancestry and find out where the majority of population is living in the US. Being English and German, I found that both of these ancestries populated the west coast and great lake areas. Also they walk you through the steps an immigrant would have taken back in the day. It was cool to think that the rooms I walked in, benches I sat on, and places I stood where the same spots my ancestors could have been years ago.

**Tip: you can go online to the Ellis Island website and look up your relatives. Since there were around 5 million immigrants that went through Ellis Island, you can narrow your search by name, approximate age, and country of origin. I was able to track down my Great-grandfather who came over with his widowed mom in 1905. If your relatives came before 1892, you can search for them on the Castle Clinton website. When you know when your ancestors came through, it makes looking at actual photographs of the place even more interesting (ie see what they saw at the time).

I give it a grade A (we spent hours there).

The Bull of Wall Street
The Bull is a statue of a Bull that used to be across the street from the NYSE. They moved it to a park nearby (Bowling Green) that is really close to the Statue of Lib/Ellis Island ferry drop off. Behind the Bull is the US Custom house. From the look of the building, it looks like a museum. No review on it since we were on the move.

**Tip: People congregate around the Bull to take pictures. If you want a shot of it alone, you can just angry yell at the tourists to “wait a minute please!” They scatter like pigeons….well they did for me at least. Also, the bull has balls. If you go to the rear of the statue, you will see the pair all shined up from people touching and rubbing them. Boy does it have the life.

I give it a grade C just because it doesn’t offer anything but a picture.

World Trade Center / Ground Zero
Now my Mom said to me “I have a whole roll of film set aside for ground zero”. I warned her it was probably not what she expected. I was right. It is essentially one big construction site and hole in the ground. Now that sounds disrespectful, but I am being honest for all the people who think it is going to be a glorified monument or something. There entire site is surrounded with a tall and covered fence. There is one part of the covering open at the south end of the site. You can see how deep down the buildings were. If you look close, you can see a few vertical orange columns. These are new for new building under construction. If you look very close, the center one is painted white with the word “freedom” written vertically on it. This is the first column placed and they let victims families sign it before it was installed. Also near the open spot in the fence is a “wall memorial”. Friends, family, strangers, etc have posted pictures, stories, words of inspiration, etc on the wall as a tribute to the victims. I’ve seen different stuff both times, so they must periodically take the mementos down.

**Tip: There is an organization that offers free tours of the site at certain times and days. You can look online ahead of time and time your visit accordingly. I briefly listened in on one tour and I learned a lot of interesting information.

I give it a grade B+

St. Paul’s Church & Graveyard
Across the street from WTC is St. Paul’s Church. It is a church that has stood the test of time. It is one of the oldest in the city dating to the 1700’s. The graveyard and church are open to the public and surprisingly still offer services. The graveyard is full of old headstones dating to pre revolutionary war times. Inside, the church is baby pink and blue with grand crystal chandeliers. It resembles more of a nice parlor room or ballroom than a sanctuary.

On one side, the old pew of George Washington still remains. Back then, the capital of the USA was New York, so they pew was the official president’s spot. On the other side is the official governor of New York’s pew. The church is full of WTC memorabilia since it was the resting and restocking place for volunteers. Surprisingly, not a single plane of glass was broken during the catastrophe due to the surrounding trees.

I give it a grade B+

Trinity Church & Graveyard
For those movie buffs out there, they may know Trinity Church from the blockbuster National Treasure. It sits at the beginning of Wall Street. Like St. Paul’s, the cemetery is full of pre revolutionary war graves. The first treasurer of the US, Alexander Hamilton, was buried there after he was shot by Aaron Burr. The church and graveyard are open to the public, and still offer services. Unlike St. John’s, Trinity church looks like….well like a church. High vaulted ceilings, stain glass windows and intricate wood work details. Yep, very church like. The details are impressive and the shear fact of its age is astounding.

I give it a grade B-

New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)
Literally a block from Trinity church is the NYSE. The grand building is donned with a giant American flag. The white columns and cobblestone streets add charm, but if you are not into the stock market, it is just another cool old building.

I give it a grade C because my stocks are down and mortgage interest rates are up.

Federal Hall
When looking at the NYSE, you only need to do a 180 to view the historic Federal Hall. On the steps of this old Greek temple style building was where George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States. Afterwards he went to St. Paul’s church for a service because they didn’t have TV back then (poor bastards).

I give it a grade B only because it is historic….U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!


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