Monthly Archives: July 2014

Federal Hall, Where Washington Became President

NYC-Federal Hall (2014-07-24 131)Also last Friday, Caroline and I wandered over to Federal Hall, which is the site where George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States. By site, I mean that this is NOT the building. The building, the one that was City Hall and then became Federal Hall, where Washington was actually sworn in, was torn down in 1812.

Basically, you have a really cool-looking building housing a museum to several things: Washington and the embryonic federal government; the Peter Zenger trial; and the building as a customs house and sub-treasury. Of course my interest was on Washington and Zenger.

The Bill of Rights was also written in Federal Hall. All the branches of government met in this building until the capital was moved to Philadelphia in 1790.

The Peter Zenger trial is probably one of the most interesting–and relevant–court cases in American history. It deals with freedom of the press.

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Waistcoat buttons belonging to Washington

Peter Zenger was a German immigrant who was a printer and publisher. He published the New-York Daily Journal, a newspaper which was critical of the policies of then-governor William Crosby. Zenger was so successful that Crosby had him arrested in 1734 on a charge of seditious libel. He was held in the City Hall jail for eight months before his trial.

Lawyer Andrew Hamilton (no relation to Alexander) rode up from Philadelphia to defend Zenger. Zenger’s wife continued to turn out the Daily Journal–and successfully reminded New Yorkers that her husband was still in prison. The royal judges were hostile to Hamilton, so he presented his case to the jury. Basically, Hamilton argued that if something were true, it could not be libelous. The royal judges urged finding Zenger guilty. The jury acquitted Zenger, and he was set free.

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Martha Washington’s mourning ring, worn after George’s death

One of those judges was Frederick Philipse, the great-grandson of Frederick Philipse and Margaret Hardenbroeck, two people who built a vast trading empire and the vast land holdings above Manhattan that became known as Philipsburg Manor. Popular opinion criticized the judges. This was a wake-up call for the Philipses, but they did not heed the warning.

Federal Hall was pretty busy, but the exhibits weren’t packed, and most people were scattered all over the building. It really is a lovely, marble building, with a grand entrance hall. I could see the Greco-Roman decorations here and there. As I commented to Caroline, I could comfortably live in such a building–not that it’s ever going to happen.

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New York City’s Smithsonian: the National Museum of the American Indian

New York City has a part of the Smithsonian Institute. It’s called the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). This is part of the museum of the same name in Washington, D.C.

Last Friday, I traveled with my friend and colleague Caroline down into the old part of Manhattan, the part that was once New Amsterdam. We started with the old Customs House–the Alexander Hamilton Customs House, which is where the NMAI is located. The Old and New Worlds are represented by the four female, colossal statues in front of the building.

The first statue represents Asia, which is a young woman sitting straight-back and in deep contemplation. She holds a Buddha in her lap. A tiger sits on her left, and three figures representing oppression are on the right. To the immediate left of the stairs, the Americas is a young woman holding the torch of liberty. She has a Native American peeking over her shoulder and the naked figure of Industry at her side. To the immediate right of the stairs, Europe is a crowned, mature woman, representing civilization. She has an open book, representing law, which rests on a globe, and–like the other statues–is pregnant with symbolism. Africa, to the right of Europe, is a semi-nude young woman, who is slumbering. She represents the unknown and the mysterious. Her arms rest on a damaged Sphinx and a lion’s head.

Caroline, who really likes Native American art, was impressed with the collection. She wasn’t too sure how well this museum would be compared to the one in DC, but she was pleasantly surprised. Once again though, we were inundated with camp children, screaming and clogging the exhibits. We were able to patiently wait them out and finally, peace restored, we were able to look around the two wings of exhibits that were open.

One was a contemporary Native American artist who did not want photographs taken of his works, so I have none. His art was interesting. He was taking traditional elements from his tribe’s art and mixing them with different, modern ideas. However, we did spend much more time in the other exhibit hall.

Caroline loves storyteller figures, so she collects them. Her son-in-law is part Taíno, so we examined their artifacts. (I loved the vomiting spatula.) The outfits were fantastic. I loved the Kwakwaka’wakw mask. This is only the front of it; the back of the mask goes for two or three feet.

We spent quite some time in the museum, and the gift shop was quite nice. They have handmade ceramics that are beautiful. I nearly bought a nice-sized one, but I had no where to put it.


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Dinosaur Mummy at the American Museum of Natural History

The grand, imperial statue of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the AMNH

The grand, imperial statue of Teddy Roosevelt in front of the AMNH

The real reason I went to the American Museum of Natural History last week was to see the dinosaur mummy.

J.W. Ocher mentioned the Edmontosaurus on his OTIS (Odd Things I’ve Seen) blog. I was intrigued, so I had to go and take a look.

The place was a zoo, far worse than the Met. My friend Caroline and I were surrounded by people, mostly kids from summer camps. You could hardly get close to any of the exhibits. Still, I was on a mission, so we wandered all over the building, finally finding the fourth floor and going room to room.

Ocher’s right: the dinosaur isn’t in a special area. The signage is ordinary or, as Ocher says, “whoever designed it didn’t really understand the awesomeness of what they were labeling.” The museum certainly hasn’t promoted it. It is, after all, a rare type of dinosaur “mummy.”

These dinosaur remains are akin to the Egyptian mummies that litter our museums across the world. Those human mummies are fascinating, as they are more than just bones but dried skin and tissue, with features that we can recognize. Though there are no dessicated tissues left (see the description), there’s more here than the usual bones. This is why the Edmontosaurus is exceptional, but the AMNH doesn’t seem to think so.

The mummy came up on Ocher’s entry because he was comparing it to another natural dinosaur “mummy” in Indianapolis that is named Leonardo. That museum really knows how to promote it’s unique dinosaur. Of course it’s a much newer museum, with dinosaurs “breaking” through a wall of the museum and out into the sunshine.

The AMNH should hold a naming contest for the Edmontosaurus. How about one of those nifty, stuffed dinosaurs made in the Edmontosaurus’ likeness? (The gift shop has some great stuffed dinosaurs.) This would be a great way to generate interest (and cash) in the AMNH.

By the way, this is the J.W. Ocher who wrote The New England Grimpendium, which I have in my library. (Yes, that 25 cents in royalties came from me.) The book is as fascinating as it is macabre.

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American Museum of Natural History

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The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), with an entrance from the B subway line at 81st Street, is the counterpart of, and complementary to, the Metropolitan Museum. By counterpart I mean that it is the history of nature, not culture. By complementary, I mean that my last sentence is not quite true, at least by our modern standards. More on that in a minute.

On Friday, I met my friend and colleague Caroline at the main entrance to the museum. Like the Met, there was already a long line, so we walked across the street and sat in the shade of the trees in Central Park. Central Park separates the Met and the AMNH, which are almost directly across from each other. After our visit, we walked across the park, passed the Met, and went to lunch on the East Side.

The Met and the AMNH are linked whether or not they want to admit it or not. You see, the AMNH contains the not only natural history but also materials from the cultures of the Native Americans, the Africans and the Asians–basically anyone who did not descend from Europeans. There are glass cases where the “costumes” of these different groups are put on manikins made up to look like the races they represent. Caroline has always had an affinity for anything Native American, so I jokingly asked her if she wanted to walk through the cultural galleries. She was horrified and told me no. I had no interest in it, either, so we skipped them.

A digression. Thursday night, I had drinks and dinner with Jerry, my friend and colleague from New York University. I was talking to him about the AMNH’s galleries on the cultural histories of Asia, Africa and the Native Americans and he pointed out that ethnology, the study of races, came out of natural history. Ethnology  is a branch of anthropology, and this is a division in the AMNH.

From my perspective, anthropology is a social science, not a natural science. However, I’m sure that there are people who would debate this. (I also consider history a social science.) From  my–and Caroline’s–way of thinking, these artifacts are cultural rather than natural, so they belong in the Met, which deals with cultural history. Besides, the Met has “curatorial departments” that deal with anthropological/ethnological materials as well, of which a good deal of their collection is made-up.

The AMNH would never give up the cultural artifacts that they have in their collection. One reason is because the AMNH and the Met are two entirely separate institutions. (Would the Met even have the room to store and display these artifacts? I doubt it.) Another reason is that a substantial part of the AMNH’s gift shop for adults is given over to cultural objects from the peoples represented in the collection. Actually, the AMNH gift shop is much nicer than the Met’s, probably because at least half the Met’s gift shop is given over to books; it’s more an art book/gift shop. The AMNH gift shop has a warm feeling to it that the Met’s doesn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a pic of the gift shop.

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My favorite dinosaur, Triceratops

The collection of dinosaurs is what I really wanted to see, but we walked around some, starting with the mammals and moving into the dinosaurs.

The AMNH is quite a big museum. The dinosaurs are on the top floor, and the place was a zoo. There were a lot of kids from the different summer camps. Caroline thinks that coming to this museum late in the afternoon, like around 3, would be best because all the children would have left to go back to their camps.

As I said, we walked across town and ate at Beyoglu, a Turkish restaurant on Third Avenue. Follow the link to the reviews. The one stand-out criticism is the service, and the reviewers are right. The food is wonderful, but the service leaves something to be desired. We only drank water and for the longest time we had nothing to drink; our waiter never came back to ask us if everything was okay. Caroline, who had a view of the floor, told me to look around at the water glasses on every table; they were empty. The waiter was good-looking; I wondered if he was another unemployed actor (most are). And when we finally got water, the waiter would bring over new glasses instead of bringing over the pitcher, so there were six glasses on the table by the time we left.

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Seinfeld’s Restaurant

(2014-06-25 002)I was looking at gift books for the library in an apartment on the Upper West Side, after which I went looking for a place to eat. Walking a few blocks, I spotted a place across Broadway, at the corner of 112th Street, the iconic restaurant that used to be on the Seinfeld television show. My interest was peaked, so this is where I ate.

The name of the restaurant, Tom’s, never appears in the series. One wall is dedicated to the cast of Seinfeld, with Kramer’s portrait taking up quite a bit of space. Other than the wall, the place looked like an ordinary Greek diner. (Yes, Greek. I’ve found that many diners are owned by Greeks, so the diner routine that  John Belushi used to do on Saturday Night Live rings true.)

The food was fine. I had a veggie burger and french fries. The U.S. flag was hanging over the entrance to the kitchen with the Greek and (I believe) the Mexican flags. (They were small.) All the staff were into the World Cup, which was on the television.

If you were a fan of the show, you might want to stop by the place sometime.

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Back to the Cloisters

(2014-07-11 068)Last year around this time, my friend Caroline and I headed up to the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park at the tip of Manhattan. This time we picked a really nice, although humid, day to visit. The Cloisters is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it is faraway from Uptown; the A stop for Fort Tryon is 191st Street.

The paths into the park are lined with beautiful plants. The views of the Hudson are spectacular, and you can see the George Washington Bridge from right inside the park entrance.

I just love the look of the Cloisters. It’s hard to believe that this museum was cobbled together from the ruins of churches, nunneries and monasteries from World War I. The Rockefellers had the ruins transported to New York where they brought together all the different parts into one beautiful building. When you go up the steps, you are in a courtyard. Turn to the left, and the double doors at the entrance are wide open in welcome. Friendly museum staff are there to assist you, like the guy above who, Caroline assured me, had been here last year when we visited. (She has a terrific memory.) As a schoolteacher, Caroline used to bring her 6th grade class to the Cloisters, and the staff did wonderful presentations and were very nice to the students. After our visit, we ate lunch at the New Leaf Restaurant in the park.

Enough babbling. Following are images of objects in (and parts of) the Cloisters.

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Sleepy Hollow Fireworks

(2014-07-04 006I was out for the majority of the afternoon and early evening on the 4th of July. However, I was able to get home before Sleepy Hollow began the fireworks that celebrated the 238th birthday of the United States.

Sitting out on my porch, which faces towards the Hudson (though I cannot see the river), it was rather cool. Matter of fact, the entire day was cool, even cold. It rained for most of the day, but in the late evening the clouds cleared and I drove home from a friend’s cookout for the fireworks.

This is the way to enjoy fireworks. Sitting on your back porch, in your chair, and watching the fireworks above the trees. I didn’t have a stiff neck or anything when the display ended.

The photos were taken with my Sony, which doesn’t do so good in almost complete darkness. Still, some of the photos aren’t bad. Enjoy!


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Art or Not–You Decide

Brownstein (2014-06-24 005)Two weeks ago, I was walking by Madison Square Park and I noticed some new art installations, so I detoured through the park to see what they were.

This art is by Rachel Feinstein. It’s called Folly. And what is a folly? “A folly is an edifice built without function or purpose, or a structure identified by its foolheartiness and the primacy of its appearance.”  The three pieces fit the name; each piece also had its own name.

Though each looks as if it was cut from paper, the medium is aluminum.

There were quite a few people sitting on the grass around the Cliff House.  When I visited the Rococo Hut,  someone had just put his head through the opening and had his picture taken. The Flying Ship was in the shade, so no one was around it. These lawns had previously been closed for seeding.

The installation will be in the park until September 7th if you are interested.

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