The Battery is a small park of some 20 acres at the southern end of Manhattan Island (which is about 13 miles long) and derives its name from a battery of 92 guns mounted there in 1693 when it was rumored that a French expedition was coming to take New York for Louis XIV. When the Dutch purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians in 1624 for blankets and trinkets worth about $24, the island did not extend quite so far south as where, today, South Ferry is, with its boats plying between the Battery and Staten Island and Brooklyn; much of Battery Park is made land. When Fort Amsterdam stood where the Custom House now is, there was a rocky ledge just beyond the island’s southernmost tip, which the Dutch called Schreyers’ Hook, after the Schreyers’ Toren in Amsterdam, it being the last point from which `schreyers’ (weepers) could watch vessels departing for the Old World, which was their world of home. I think you will like to recall this when you stand in Battery Park and watch the many, many ships go sailing out past Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty to sea to the seven seas. Will Irwin reminds us that the Battery was again Weepers’ Hook in 1918, when `all day long crowds stood at the Battery sea-wall watching the transports with their harlequin camouflage vanish into the mists of distance and tragic uncertainty.’
Another great interest of the Battery is that there, during the years of heavy immigration, were landed vast hordes of European peasants (nearly 8,000,000 of them) coming to make history in this New World. For the fort-shaped building,
erected in 1807 and now housing the Aquarium, ceased to be a fort in 1833 and became Castle Garden Opera House where Jenny Lind had her historic triumph under P. T. Barnum’s management, in 1850. (Previous to that, in 1824, it was the scene of Lafayette’s tumultuous reception.) And in 1855 Castle Garden became the landing-place for immigrants, which it continued to be during forty years. In 1917, when General Joffre came to America, he landed at Castle Garden and made his triumphal way up through New York. Plans for an entirely new type of Aquarium have been submitted. Perhaps when you get there they will have been carried out.
From the United States Barge Office at the southeastern tip of Battery Park, there is a boat every hour for Bedloe Island whereon stands Bartholdi’s statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, presented to the people of the United States by the people of France. One hundred and sixty-seven stairs inside the statue permit those who don’t miDd stair-climbing to ascend to the statue’s head. Other steamers (ferryboats) leave the Barge Office for Ellis Island at a quarter before each hour. And every 10 minutes there is a ferry for Staten Island, a ride of 20 minutes. There are things worth seeing on Staten Island, but few visitors to New York take time for them.
Most visitors to the Battery enjoy seeing the Aquarium, which is open, free, every day. And many like to see the flag-staff which was once a mast on the Constitution and stands close to where the flagpole stood from which, on November 25, 1783 (Evacuation Day), young Van Arsdale tore down the British flag and raised the American flag to float for the first time over Manhattan Island.
The heroic bust of Giovanni da Verrazzano, in Battery Park, commemorates the Italian navigator, sailing in the interests of Francis I of France, who came into this magnificent harbor in 1524; but by the time news of his discovery reached France, the king was busy with other matters, and soon went into captivity in Spain, after the battle of Pavia. Had Francis not been so occupied, the history of Manhattan Island might have been very different.
Aristocratic residences used to surround Battery Park and enjoy that magnificent view, seaward, between the two stately rivers flowing on either side. But today few evidences of them remain. (East River is not actually a river, but an inlet of Long Island Sound.)
New York history begins with the coming, in 1609, of Henry Hudson, an English navigator in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, sailing a small ship, the Half Moon, with a crew of eighteen men.
We don’t know a great deal about Henry Hudson. This voyage on the Half Moon in 1609 was his third attempt to find that Northwest Passage which was the fervent desire of nearly all navigators for so many years. Submitting to his mutinous crew he abandoned his northward course and turned south to Virginia, following a plan sent him by his friend, Captain John Smith. On September 3 he entered the Bay of New York and sailed up the majestic river for about 150 miles, to about where Albany now is, seeking passage to the South Seas or to China.
When the Half Moon put in at Dartmouth, England, on October 4, it was seized and detained by the English Government. The following April, Hudson sailed from London the little ship Discovery, of 55 tons, and sailed along what we now call Hudson’s Strait, which is about 450 miles long with an average width of 100 miles, and into Hudson Bay, that great inland sea which is 1300 miles from south to north, and nearly 600 miles from east to west. Hudson spent three months exploring the eastern shore of the vast bay, and then went perforce into winter quarters. In the spring, his mutinous men abandoned him and eight others and sailed the Discovery back to England. Nothing further was ever heard of Hudson or of his eight companions. Of the mutineers who survived and were tried in England all were acquitted. See the National Geographic Magazine for April, 1939, with Frederick G. Vosburgh’s fine article, `Henry Hudson, Magnificent Failure.’
Hudson River, Bay, Strait, and Territory had all been repeatedly visited and even drawn on maps before he saw them; but he did what none of his predecessors had done to make them and their resources known to the world.
We don’t even know how old he was before the North swallowed him up in mystery, nor who waited in steadily shrinking hope for his return. New Yorkers and many others mention his name probably millions of times a day; yet how many of them ever give a thought to the indomitable man surrounded by sullen subordinates who first sailed up past the glorious Palisades in search of a route to China or to the South Seas?
The little oval park in Broadway, north of the Battery, is called Bowling Green. According to tradition, it was there that Peter Minuit, director-general of the West India Trading Company of Holland, who had come over with two shiploads of colonizers, bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for $24 worth of beads, bright-colored cloth, etc. That was in 1626. For sixteen years there had been Dutch vessels coming and going, engaged in the fur trade; and in 1613 one of those ships burned and a new one had to be built for the return voyage. To shelter himself and his crew while they were building the new ship, the captain, Adriaen Block, had four huts built; and these constituted the first settlement of white men on the island, the foundation of a trading post which was the fifth white settlement on the continent of which we have definite historical knowledge. St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565; then there was no other colonizing until the English came to Jamestown in 1607, and the Spanish settled in Santa F6 in 1609 a year after Champlain founded Quebec. Plymouth had been founded for six years when Peter Minuit made his purchase.
Those huts built by Adriaen Block’s crew are believed to have been situated about where 41 Broadway is now.
The Dutch market used to be held on the Green; and in the year of George Washington’s birth (1732) some resident of the city which had then been English for nearly seventy years, rented the Green for a private bowling green and enclosed it. In 1770 a lead statue of George III was erected there, and in the following year an iron fence was brought from England to dignify the enclosure. In July, 1776, after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, King George was pulled down by a furious mob and melted into bullets. In April, 1938, Bowling Green, restored as nearly as possible, was re-dedicated with picturesque ceremonies.
The Green stands between the Custom House, on the east, and Number 1 Broadway, on the west. At No. 1 Broadway there was built, in 1756, a fine house which, in 1776, was occupied by General Israel Putnam until the British drove Washing-ton and his army north to Harlem Heights; and then Howe and Clinton took possession of No. 1 Broadway. It was there that Washington called the council of war which decided to evacuate Manhattan. It was there that Major Andre wrote to Benedict Arnold the letters which led to Andre’s capture and death. In 1794 the mansion became the Washington Hotel where many noted persons stayed among them, Talleyrand.
Starting at No. 2 Broadway and running southeast is White-hall Street which led to Governor Peter Stuyvesant’s house.
Stuyvesant came to New Amsterdam (soon to be New York) as governor, in 1647 stumping on his wooden leg and spluttering about everything. In 1664, the Merry Monarch of England, Charles II, granted to his brother, the Duke of York (later James II), the territory between the Connecticut River and Delaware Bay, and sent a fleet of four ships, with 300 or 400 men, to take possession. Stuyvesant’s burghers refused to support him in defying the English, so he was compelled to surrender the town and fort. He returned to Holland for a couple of years. Then, in 1667 he was back again, and established his farm called the Bouwerie, where he died five years later.
If you are strolling in Lower New York, you ought to walk south on Whitehall Street, thinking of irascible old Peter shaking his wooden leg in fury at having to hand over New Amster-dam to the British. And when you come to Pearl Street, turn left to Broad Street, where, at the southeast corner of Pearl and Broad Streets, is Fraunces’ Tavern, housed in a building which is one of the oldest in the city.
Samuel Fraunces, a West Indian negro, established the Queen’s Head Tavern there in 1762, in what had been the mansion of a wealthy Huguenot. And there, on December 4, 1783, nine days after the British evacuation of New York, Washington took leave of his closest officers before starting south to Annapolis where he resigned his commission to the Continental Congress and received the thanks of the nation. Christmas Eve he was back at Mount Vernon, a private gentleman again.
If it is near lunch time, by all means lunch at Fraunces’ Tavern. And either before or after lunching visit the Long Room, the scene of Washington’s farewell; and the interesting museum of the American Revolution on the floor above.
After lunch, you might walk up Broad Street (which in Dutch days had a canal in the middle of it) to Wall Street and the site of Washington’s inauguration as first President of the United States, and the New York Stock Exchange; or you might go up Broad Street to Beaver and turn left to New Street, the first street laid out in New York under English rule, and continue one block more on Beaver Street to Bowling Green; then walk up Broadway to Wall Street.
Unless you’d like, while close to it, to see the Seaman’s Church Institute of New York, incorporated in 1844 for `the religious and temporal welfare of seamen and boatmen.’ Atop the beautiful 13-story building is a lighthouse tower erected by public subscription as a memorial to those who perished in the sinking of the Titanic. The building is at 25 South Street, which is the eastern waterfront of Lower New York; and to reach it you would turn to your right in Pearl Street, after leaving Fraunces’ TaverD, and walk east (right) in Coenties Slip for two blocks.
For nearly a century the Institute has done a grand work for sailors ashore.
The Cunard Building at 25 Broadway is well worth going into, to see the Great Hall which was inspired by the Baths of Caracalla at Rome.
Opposite, at 26 Broadway, is the Standard Oil Building which cost some thirty-five million dollars, and is by many persons considered one of the grandest architectural achievements among skyscrapers.
Will Irwin believes that `the most astonishing view of sky-scrapers in mass to be obtained from the soil of our island,’ is had on some morning when the sky is overcast and still, from Telegram Square under the elevated structure west of Broadway, with your back to the westward walls and your gaze uplifted to the tower of the Standard Oil BuildiDg which seems then, he says, `like the exalted altar of some strange rite; an altar beyond the conception of man raised by the gods to a greater god.’
Another recommendation of Mr. Irwin’s in regard to sky-scrapers is that on a winter afternoon between five and six, when it is dark but the offices are not yet closed, you take the Cortlandt Street Ferry from Jersey City back to Manhattan. `A primitive man,’ he says, `magicked onto the Cortlandt Street Ferry at this hour, would fall on his knees, believing that he saw the HeaveDly City.’
Or, still quoting Mr. Irwin, `late on any fine afternoon but especially in summer, go to the New Jersey heights across the river opposite Forty-Second Street, say. As the sun drops low, it glares into the windows of the skyscrapers all along the island, and they give back the light in a flare of rose. I know an artist who sometimes crosses the river just to revel in this effect. “It isn’t art perhaps,” he says, “but it is glory. It ought to be played with trumpets!”‘
Anyone can identify to you the towering buildings of down-town (and uptown!) New York. And you may give yourself, unaided, the thrill of contemplating their stupendous masses and conjecturing the life that goes on in their innumerable cubicles or cells. But if you ever get a chance to be down in the financial district with someone who knows a good deal about it and can tell tales of its fantastic episodes, don’t miss that chance! If Scheherazade had had such material for her Thousand-and-One Nights!