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Thread: Memorials Proliferate in Crowded Downtown

  1. #1

    Default Memorials Proliferate in Crowded Downtown

    January 25, 2002

    Downtown, a Necropolis Is Flourishing


    Is there a Lycian syndrome developing in Lower Manhattan?

    This is an awkward question for several reasons, starting with the fact that most New Yorkers are unacquainted with the glory that was Lycia. Its entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica doesn't take up much room. Lycia is described as a district along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey inhabited in the first millennium B.C. by people about whom relatively little is known, although they are noted for their "distinctive type of funerary architecture."

    Lycia is called "the land of tombs" because its ruins consist mainly of hillsides covered with elaborate sarcophagi and funeral chambers sculptured from stone and carved into cliffs. The workmanship can be exquisite, but by the time you visit your fifth Lycian necropolis and contemplate your 200th tomb, you may suspect that there's a simple explanation for the Lycians' obscurity. While their Greek neighbors were creating art and literature, the Lycians were building memorials to the dead.

    Even before Sept. 11, the proliferation of memorials in Lower Manhattan was causing some people to wonder if the neighborhood was becoming too necropolitan. Already there were memorials to fallen police officers and victims of the Holocaust, and a memorial was being built to victims of the Irish potato famine. Now Rudolph W. Giuliani and some relatives of the Sept. 11 victims have proposed turning the entire 16-acre site of the World Trade Center into a memorial.

    Some of the relatives consider any commercial development a desecration of hallowed ground. Their feelings are understandable, and no politician wants to argue with a grieving widow. But there are many other widows of other crimes and accidents who are getting no monetary compensation or memorial of any kind. If the relatives of the 40,000 people killed in car accidents each year made similar demands, the country's road system would be shut down.

    That's not to say that Sept. 11 was the equivalent of 3,000 traffic accidents. It was a singular tragedy that deserves a singular memorial. But a lovely memorial, like the towers of light under consideration, could be built without turning the whole site into a funerary park. Preserving the footprints of the towers would be enough.

    Turning the whole site into a memorial would leave downtown looking less like New York than like the Mall in Washington an open space that's occasionally useful for public events but more often feels empty and dreary. The proposed 16-acre memorial would actually be big even by the standards of Washington, which is honoring the veterans of World War II with a memorial on the Mall less than half that size (and even that has been criticized as too big).

    HUGE monuments to the dead belong in museum cities like Washington and Rome and Xanthus (the principal city of Lycia), not in a commercial hub. Lower Manhattan attracted the victims of Sept. 11, like millions of immigrants before, because it was so crowded and active and changeable the tip of an island that kept adding shoreline to accommodate new people and new businesses. They came here from old cities with grand memorials and ancient cemeteries because the streets of New York offered so many opportunities to the living.

    Some of the victims' families will never be reconciled to seeing new commerce on the site, but there are some who see no sacrilege in it. "We need a memorial, but I'm not one of those who thinks it has to take up the whole site," said Patricia Perry, who lost her son John W. Perry, a police officer, on Sept. 11. "We have to rise above the tragedy and rebuild. We have to go on with life."

    Whatever size the memorial turns out to be, it could do more than mourn the victims of Sept. 11. A depiction of firemen raising a flag over the rubble (which created a controversy over the race and ethnicity of the men) would be inadequate no matter what the men looked like, because it would be a copy of the Iwo Jima memorial without the power of the original. The raising of the flag at Iwo Jima was a celebration of heroism and victory by soldiers who had conquered that island. Why mimic that image for an act of mourning at a place of defeat?

    There was heroism at the World Trade Center, but it was embodied most clearly by the firefighters who rushed up into the burning buildings on Sept. 11, not by the ones who stood afterward on top of the rubble. A memorial showing firefighters going into the towers, or helping people escape, would be a better tribute than a flag flying over their remains. Leave the funerary monuments to the Lycians.

    March 13, 2003

    Memorials Proliferate in Crowded Downtown


    On Monday in Lower Manhattan a lone figure, hooded against March winds, stood at the glass-block wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, warmed by the reflected sun and a cigarette.

    Several blocks to the north and west, there was no one at the Irish Hunger Memorial to hear the lilting Irish voices emanating from a recording beneath its imported sod roof. At Battery Park, however, a dozen people lingered by the Koenig Sphere, a sculpture recovered from the World Trade Center Plaza that, along with an eternal flame, is as temporary memorial to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    It takes only a lunchtime stroll to pass these and dozens of other monuments that, with increasing frequency, are finding homes in Lower Manhattan. The Museum of Jewish Heritage, at the southern edge of Battery Park City, is adding a wing and a memorial made of gigantic granite boulders sprouting trees. In late February officials at the African Burial Ground, at Duane Street and Broadway, announced that five finalists were competing to design a memorial to be completed next year.

    And of course the early stages of planning a significant memorial at the World Trade Center site are getting under way. All this has prompted discussions among residents, urban planners and historians about the potential effect of so many monuments to death and loss on a living neighborhood, as well as concerns about the influx of roughly five million tourists once the memorial is built. Today the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is expected to release its mission statement for the World Trade Center memorial.

    "All the issues about memorial mania come together in Lower Manhattan," said Michele Bogart, an art historian and vice president of the Art Commission, a New York City agency that reviews and approves all artwork, architecture, landscaping and street furniture proposed for city property.

    These issues are sometimes contradictory, concerning the need for spaces that are commemorative of tragic events but also optimistic, respectfully apart as well as integrated into the community. In one camp are those who welcome the traffic and business that tourists would bring. They say memorials are an honored subset of the larger cultural enrichment of a neighborhood. Fears that accumulating memorials will turn the neighborhood into an institutionalized Washington Mall of the North are exaggerated, they add.

    But others are less welcoming, and it is not just neighborhood residents, who take a no-memorials-in-my-backyard stand. Planners and architects caution that emotionally freighted memorials can create urban spaces that residents do not want to use.

    "That's part of the challenge of downtown," said Wendy Evans Joseph, president of the Architectural League of New York, who has designed several Holocaust memorials. "How much can an area sustain that's not part of the city fabric?"

    After the opening of the Irish Hunger Memorial in July, the columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote in Newsday that while uptown had a Museum Mile, downtown had the Misery Mile. Downtown residents have since become increasingly adamant about keeping their neighborhood free of additional memorials.

    "They're taking up every last bit of open land," said Helene Zucker Seeman, a founder of Battery Park City United, a residents' group. She complained that the abundance of memorials was uninviting to families with children, who want more space devoted to recreation. "While everyone's crying out for open space, we're building memorials and parks just for the elderly to walk through," she said. When the Koenig Sphere was about to be relocated from the World Trade Center site to the end of a cherry-tree-lined circular park on Liberty Street, Ms. Seeman joined other residents in threatening acts of civil disobedience if it was placed in any residential neighborhood downtown. The sphere was moved instead to the Battery, which was already home to more than 20 other memorials, which honor people from the explorer Giovanni da Verrazano (1909) to American merchant mariners (1991). These memorials are soon to be reorganized (some will be moved) to create a Heroes Walk and a bicycle path along the waterfront.

    Adrian Benepe, the parks and recreation commissioner, whose city department oversees the Battery, is mindful that this tranquil setting, so ideal for monuments and meditating, could become overloaded. "The city is conscious of not wanting to overwhelm Lower Manhattan with memorials," Mr. Benepe said, noting that 9/11 memorials are being distributed throughout the five boroughs.

    In January the Parks Department and the Battery Conservancy announced that the Battery would be the location for a 10,000-square-foot perennial Gardens of Remembrance, designed by Piet Oudolf, a Dutch landscape artist. "But that is not a traditional memorial," Mr. Benepe said. "It will create a contemplative space and four seasons of beauty."

    Another 9/11 memorial, the Battery Labyrinth, 1,148 granite blocks shaped into seven rings that was dedicated on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, is between the Korean War Memorial and West Street.

    Downtown is where Manhattan began, and the narrowing point of the island makes its maritime past feel pungent and alive. The 23-acre Battery and Battery Park City, though densely designed, add a bucolic sweep of green on the west side with inspiring views of the Hudson River. Affording views of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Castle Clinton, "downtown is a national triangle of sorts and a magnet for other memorials," said James E. Young, the author of "The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning" and a historian of memorial architecture and planning.

    By the 19th century Lower Manhattan was consciously reserved for memorials celebrating the Dutch-British relationship as well as American explorers and inventors, immigrants and soldiers. To safeguard Central Park, long the other ideal site for memorials, the landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted stipulated that most memorials be tucked away to make sure that those erected by special-interest groups did not overrun the park.

    Over time the plaques, statues and fountains commemorating historic figures and events downtown have faded into the fabric of the city, that assimilation being the hallmark of a successful urban monument, according to residents and planners.

    "I love the Police Memorial," David Stanke, a member of the World Trade Center Residents Committee, said of the fountain in Battery Park City dedicated in 1997 to officers killed on the job. "It's peaceful. I walk by it every day. Some days I think about it. Some days I don't. That's how a memorial design needs to be, integrated in a way that keeps the city alive, without creating any blockages."

    Mr. Stanke is one of many residents who worry that if the World Trade Center memorial includes the remains of victims, as some families want, then it will be too much like a cemetery to ever become part of the daily rounds of neighborhood life.

    Anita Contini, a vice president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation who is overseeing the competition for the trade center memorial, said that incorporating unidentified remains would be part of the plan, but that there would be no room for individual remains.

    The development corporation recently hired a team of architects and landscape designers to re-evaluate all public spaces, including memorials, to clarify their relationships to one another through design, signs and landscaping.

    Noting the paradox that most memorials become invisible within 20 years, Mr. Young said: "Compulsive memorializing doesn't fit in with the American personality. And even if we now have a tragedy to look back on, we're still mostly a forward-looking society."

    Copyright 2003*The New York Times Company

  2. #2

    Default Memorials Proliferate in Crowded Downtown

    The Police Memorial, as judged by it's integration into a residential neighborhood, is a very successful design.

  3. #3

    Default Memorials Proliferate in Crowded Downtown

    May 7, 2003

    Memorial to Irish Fortitude Comes Undone in New York


    When the Irish Hunger Memorial opened last July in Battery Park City, the sheer antiquity of the materials commanded awe in downtown Manhattan. The pedestal was made from Kilkenny limestone, age 300 million years. The fieldstone cottage meant to represent the dwellings where, if they were not evicted onto the roads, the Irish peasantry starved during the 19th-century potato famine had stood since the 1820's, until it was cut into pieces and reassembled in New York last year.

    Even though most of the memorial had shouldered up against centuries of Atlantic gales and the long drizzle of western Ireland winters, it was shut down in late April for emergency repairs that are expected to continue until the end of June, officials said yesterday.

    The culprit was not the ancient ruins. The modern materials used to reassemble them did not last through the first harsh New York winter, said Timothy Carey, the president and chief executive of the Battery Park City Authority.

    The new elements of the memorial, which was assembled at a cost of $5 million, were essentially melting away in the rain, or blowing away in the wind, Mr. Carey said. Rainwater and melting snow spilled over the north and south sides of the memorial, unchecked by dozens of plants from the Irish countryside. Visitors trampled over unpaved ground, creating paths where none had been planned. The fallow potato furrows were spoiled.

    Mr. Carey was particularly incensed by a composite material used on the main pathways that was meant to simulate an old Irish lane. He called it "poly-pavement."

    "It performed miserably," he said. "It was this claylike substance. It got slippery when wet."

    It got wet pretty often over the last six blustery months, and the slipping problem was compounded by poor drainage on the site. That was something of a surprise since the base of the entire memorial about a quarter-acre is tilted off the ground, making the approach to the cottage feel like a climb along a hilly country lane, and seeming to confer natural drainage qualities that would not be available on a flat site. However, the drainage system also relied on a selection of young Irish plants that apparently were not able to hold the water until it could sluice into the proper channels, Mr. Carey said.

    Brian G. Tolle, the artist who designed the memorial, had a different view of the construction. He said the memorial was opened before all the waterproofing work was finished. "It's not corrective work," he said. "It's unfinished work."

    The memorial is a striking presence in Lower Manhattan, set on the Hudson River about two blocks west of the World Trade Center site. When it opened, it received a glowing review in The New York Times from Roberta Smith, an arts critic, who suggested it might be the New York City equivalent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. She wrote that it was "an unconventional work of public art that strikes a deep emotional chord, sums up its artistic moment for a broad audience and expands the understanding of what a public memorial can be."

    The project had been a personal interest of Gov. George E. Pataki, whose maternal grandmother emigrated from Ireland and who has successfully crusaded for lessons on the Irish potato famine of the late 1840's in the state elementary school curriculum.

    The Battery Park City Authority is controlled by the governor. Mr. Carey accompanied Mr. Pataki on a visit to Ireland, where they discussed the memorial site.

    The president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, spoke at a dinner on July 15 to mark its opening, and took note of the memorial's proximity to the "absent shadow" of the trade center. "There can be no better next-door neighbor for the new memorial, for this is now an area where a bustling noisy city, silently but powerfully, holds its most sacred memories," President McAleese said.

    For some, it is not a surprise that even such a well-received public monument would, less than a year after its opening, become a site for orange construction fencing and emergency repairs.

    As the weekly Irish Voice reports in an issue published today, concerns about drainage and safety had been raised on the day the memorial opened by Dennis Smith, the author and retired firefighter. In an e-mail message to officials at Battery Park City, Mr. Smith suggested that water from the irrigation system would unsettle the concrete and create a problem on the pitched pathway. Mr. Carey said he did not recall Mr. Smith's note.

    Mr. Carey said that while he expects construction to continue until the end of June, visitors may be able to return before then. A new pathway will be put down that will be more like concrete, and less prone to becoming slippery.

    A number of times, Mr. Carey made the point that it was not surprising that a season's worth of visitors would reveal some structural problems. The cost of remedying them, Mr. Carey said, would be $250,000.

    "This was not built as a building, but as a piece of living art," he said.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

    It started leaking before it opened.

  4. #4

    Default Memorials Proliferate in Crowded Downtown

    August 31, 2003


    Honoring the Dead in the City That Never Weeps


    Early plans for New York show the city's priorities: quick traffic flow.

    The Statue of Liberty embodies New York's aversion to memorials: the city's greatest monument sits in the harbor and was created by the French.

    FROM the very start of serious planning, it was clear that the Sept. 11 memorial at ground zero would face a host of obvious and largely unprecedented challenges. As the design effort has proceeded, however, a less obvious challenge has begun to make itself felt. It arises from the fact that the commemorative ground sits right in the heart of Lower Manhattan, amid the busy streets and soaring towers of the downtown business district. It is the challenge of creating a memorial in a city that, for most of its history, has abhorred the very idea of memorials.

    This aversion to memorials and in a larger sense to monuments of any kind is an instinct so deep-seated and pervasive that it is built into the city's structure. The instinct can be traced to the origins of the modern city and to a pair of decisions, made two centuries ago, that helped determine the essential shape and character of New York.

    The first came toward the end of a long and momentous dinner at Thomas Jefferson's house on Maiden Lane on June 20, 1790. Over a glass of Madeira (at least according to legend), Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton struck a historic political deal. Linking the resolution of the nation's outstanding war debts to the location of its capital, the three men worked out a swap. To Hamilton's satisfaction, they federalized the states' debt, thereby setting America on a course of fiscal stability and vigorous economic growth. And to Jefferson and Madison's joy, they removed the United States government from Manhattan (where it had begun operations a year earlier) and sent it southward, first to Philadelphia and ultimately to a new city to be built on the banks of the Potomac.

    At the time, many regarded the government's departure as an immeasurable loss for New York. But later historians came to appreciate it as a liberation of sorts, which freed the city to pursue its true vocation to become America's commercial, financial and cultural center without need for the ponderous ceremonial trappings of an official capital. Unlike the new federal city, the bustling metropolis on the Hudson could follow its own destiny without external encumberment, free always to look forward, not back.

    The spatial consequences of this historic schism grew clearer two decades later, when a trio of state-appointed surveyors published their sweeping proposal for the development of Manhattan Island. The Commissioners' Plan of 1811 gave enduring expression not only to New York's remarkable ambition its expansive grid of streets providing room for a million people, 10 times that of the existing city but even more so to its intense commercial focus. Two thousand rectangular blocks (the most economical and easiest kind to build on, the commissioners noted) would be linked by 12 arrow-straight avenues and 155 parallel streets, speeding the flow of traffic up and down the island and between the rivers. The commissioners deliberately chose not to set aside any special blocks for public buildings or monuments, nor to provide any ceremonial boulevards, grand axes or focal points that might lend themselves to commemorative purposes. In their eyes, nothing should be allowed to interrupt the commercial bustle of the city, the purposeful sweep of vehicles and pedestrians along its streets and sidewalks.

    Needless to say, the 1811 plan could not have been more different from the classical grandeur of Europe's capitals, with their imposing array of public edifices. Closer to home and more to the point the plan stood in the sharpest possible contrast to Pierre Charles L'Enfant's grandiose Baroque layout for Washington, a scheme that carried the instinct for the monumental to extremes, filling the capital city with scores of radial avenues, ceremonial circles, landscaped malls and countless other sites for monuments and memorials of every sort.

    In the years to come, the civic character of Washington would come to be defined, to a great degree, by its collection of marble and granite monuments, fountains and sarcophagi. Their dignified, somber presence wonderfully successful in creating a revered national shrine tended (in the opinion of many) to smother or dilute the urban vitality and excitement of the city itself. Its neighbor to the north, by contrast, never paused for reflection. Far from memorializing the past, New Yorkers seemed intent on erasing every trace of it, ruthlessly destroying their most treasured mementos if they happened to get in the way of progress.

    In the early 1810's, Federal Hall the very building in which George Washington had taken the first presidential oath of office and the federal government had set up shop turned out to be placed a bit too far into the path of Wall Street's traffic. It was dismantled and sold for scrap. A few decades later, Columbia College decided that its original building on Park Place which dated to the institution's earliest years before the Revolutionary War and had managed to survive the terrible conflict sat on land too valuable to be reserved for academic use. The trustees sold off the venerable structure, moved uptown and called in the wreckers. And so it went, throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. No touchstone of the past was so precious, so poignant, so meaningful, that it wouldn't be promptly eliminated if it stood in the way of "the future," the city's commercial expansion.

    As it came into maturity, to be sure, New York became one of the most monumental cities in the world, especially in terms of its scale. But it was a city whose monumental structures were almost invariably functional in nature: not hollow memorial obelisks like the one in the center of Washington, but towering steel-frame skyscrapers crammed with office workers; not symbolic triumphal arches like that in Paris but soaring suspension bridges carrying floods of traffic and linking the city's boroughs. In New York, as nowhere else, the monumental instinct was put to work and made to pay and thus seamlessly integrated with the commercial energy and vitality of the rest of the city.

    Of monuments and memorials in the traditional sense, though, very little was erected in New York. What little space was available tended to be a result of a single variation in the Commissioners' Plan: a pre-existing path was preserved, as Broadway, and allowed to meander northward, producing a series of triangular "squares" where the diagonal street intersected the rectilinear grid. These plots, too small to be developed, were often turned over to commemorative purposes, from the tomb of the Mexican War hero Gen. William J. Worth at 25th Street, to the figure of Father Duffy presiding over Times Square, to the statue of Christopher Columbus perched atop Columbus Circle. Respectable artworks, in some cases, but hardly defining elements of the metropolis.

    It was revealing that the only New York environments that did become popular for monuments were, in a sense, not in the city at all: the parks. Their original recreational purpose was soon overlaid (to the deep dismay of park designers like Frederick Law Olmsted) with a secondary function as repositories of civic memory, from Grant's Tomb towering over Riverside Park to the modest tablet in Tompkins Square Park recalling the victims of the General Slocum disaster, from the superb Saint-Gaudens figure of Admiral Farragut in Madison Square to countless lesser statues sprinkled through Central, Bryant and Battery Parks.

    In a similar manner, New York's greatest monument, a towering iron-and-copper structure of entirely symbolic purpose (created, significantly, not by New Yorkers but by the French, whose instinct for the grand allegorical gesture remains unmatched) was placed in the middle of the harbor, where its classical countenance and figure, rising atop a massive, tomblike Egyptian-style base, would always remain isolated from the ordinary flow of city life. Whether intentionally or not, the greenery of the parks and the waters of the harbor both served to buffer these precincts of memory from the intense, day-to-day energies of the city and, along the way, helped preserve the integrity of each.

    Indeed, by the start of the 21st century, after 200 years of urban growth, the division in New York between sacred places of memory and the flow of daily life remained as sharp as ever. A number of memorial pavilions and sculptures (for Irish who died in the famine, Jews who died in the Holocaust, policemen who died in the line of duty) had been added to the new blocks of Battery Park City. But the older blocks of the city still offered few, if any, places where a major site of commemoration directly abutted the bustling streets except perhaps Trinity graveyard on lower Broadway, which existed only because the burial ground predated the financial district that rose around it.

    And then came Sept. 11 a disaster so immense, so searing and so unspeakably tragic that the city's instinctual aversion to the funereal would have to be overcome, and one, furthermore, that would obviously have to be commemorated in situ. Yet as the location and boundaries of the proposed memorial were announced, questions began to be raised with the deepest possible respect about how the isolated seven-acre site would affect efforts to restore the urban vitality of the area. In particular, how would it affect the attempt to establish a dense and lively network of streets, to reweave the surrounding communities to each other and to Battery Park City?

    Beyond these immediate issues could be heard the echoes of a deep and ancient antipathy. Its resolution if indeed it is resolved will represent a significant step in the evolution of the city, as New York, for so long dedicated to life and energy and worldly pursuits, at last accepts and even embraces the mortal, the otherworldly, and the eternal.

    James Sanders is an architect and the writer, with Ric Burns, of the PBS documentary series ``New York.'' The final episode, on the history of the World Trade Center, will be broadcast Sept. 8.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  5. #5


    February 9, 2004


    The Streets Where History Lives


    Acre for acre, Lower Manhattan may be the most historic piece of real estate in America. Here the Sons of Liberty plotted revolution, the Stamp Act Congress met to defy taxation without representation, colonists exchanged fire with British ships in the harbor, and General Washington and his officers celebrated their victory. The first president was inaugurated here, and Congress, meeting at Federal Hall, wrote the Bill of Rights. In one remarkable moment in time, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton all lived and worked in these narrow streets. For two centuries, this tiny quadrant was New York and the gateway to America for millions of immigrants.

    It was also, of course, the site of the World Trade Center. Both the building of the twin towers and their destruction flow from that deep history, for the events that occurred here contributed not only to the nation's growth but to the rise in might of New York as global capital and lower-case world trade center.

    It would seem natural, then, to connect the site to its past. But neither the winning design for the World Trade Center memorial nor any of the public conversation or press attention surrounding it have attempted to do so. A sense of history has been absent from the whole process.

    Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. The fact is, Lower Manhattan which after all is America's financial capital, and has business to do has never had the reflective, carefully tended atmosphere of Boston's historic center, Philadelphia's Independence Hall, or the memorials in Washington. Monuments that anywhere else would serve as a city's cherished heart are lost in the Wall Street shuffle. Many historic events that took place here don't even rate a plaque. Over the past three years, while working on a book about Manhattan's founding, I spent a lot of time in and around the historic sites of Lower Manhattan, and routinely encountered clusters of tourists zigzagging haphazardly through the area, guidebooks in hand, knowing that they were walking streets redolent of the past but having a hard time sniffing it out.

    The reason for the city's offhand approach to its most elemental history goes all the way back to the beginning, and has to do with New York's unique development. While the colonies to the north and south were English, the population of New York, dating from its beginnings as the Dutch city of New Amsterdam, was mixed, "foreign." For all New York's power, the Brahmins in Boston and the planters of Virginia kept it at arm's length. New York's image of itself has always reflected this. From early on, the city ceded patriotic sentiment to others and put its energy into the present. New York, the feeling goes, is too big, too chaotic, too jazzed and hustling and busy to turn itself into a museum.

    Fair enough, but the new World Trade Center memorial deserves context, and if some of the energy devoted to it were extended beyond the footprint of the site it could also help correct a long tradition of neglect. So here's a thought. In Boston, a simple red brick path runs for 2.5 miles through the heart of the city, connecting 16 of its Revolutionary sites, ending at Bunker Hill. This Freedom Trail, with plaques along the way, is trod by an estimated three million people per year. This humble linking device is the spine of the city's tourism industry, and it does what every book, museum or memorial should do: frames and makes meaningful.

    Imagine a similar path (maybe paved in the sort of yellow bricks out of which New Amsterdam was built) that starts at Battery Park. It might begin with a plaque directing the viewer to the harbor into which Henry Hudson's little wooden ship first sailed in 1609 (oddly enough, the date was Sept. 11), setting everything in motion. Visitors' attention would then be directed straight ahead, to Governors Island, New York's Plymouth Rock, the initial site of European settlement (until Peter Minuit, in one of history's shrewder judgment calls, shifted the operation to Manhattan). If this island represents the latent promise of the New World, the other two visible islands Liberty and Ellis represent its fulfillment.

    The path could then head northward along Pearl Street, plunging into a warren of streets that are now mostly devoid of historical markers. Nonetheless, this street pattern is a nearly perfectly preserved artifact of the city of New Amsterdam. Here, all but forgotten, the Dutch forged America's first melting pot society, based on tolerance and free trade, laying the foundation for the great city that was to come. As the path continued from here, a smart selection from among the dozens of sites in the area would have to be made. Certainly Federal Hall, the New York Stock Exchange, Fraunces Tavern and Trinity Church would be on the list. And what about a marker for the Wickquasgeck Trail, the Indian path that ran the length of the island, which the Dutch made into their main highway and the English renamed Broadway? Or the site of the mansion where Captain Kidd made his home, to represent Wall Street's more literally piratical days? For that matter, the location of the famed buttonwood tree on Wall Street under which, in 1791, men of business first met to trade shares of stock surely merits a spot on the tour as well.

    Some of these sites have markers now, but the area cries out for definition, and a guiding hand. Boston's historic trail has its own foundation, which tends the trail and the history it presents. The Downtown Alliance has the makings of something similar in the network of walking tours it offers; what's needed is a unifying principle. What if this marked route told a story, so that, in the course of an hour or two, a visitor would get a chance to live vicariously the saga of the place, to envision the rolling casts of characters Rembrandtesque chapeaux giving way to powdered wigs, Union Army blues, Jazz Age spats who made a new society flourish and made the tall buildings grow.

    It could all culminate at the World Trade Center memorial, with a final marker poised between the two reflecting pools that will occupy the spots where the towers once stood. One of the most striking things about the design selected for the memorial is its name Reflecting Absence which at present has an unintended meaning. With so much attention being devoted to a memorial to loss and absence, many things of historical substance that occurred here go overlooked. As the enormous interest in the site itself suggests, history doesn't exist only in the books in which it is recorded but in the places where it was lived. Connecting the World Trade Center memorial to the past would add to its emotional power, helping us to see those who died there as players in a long, continuing saga. That would truly be reflecting something.

    Russell Shorto is the author of "The Island at the Center of the World," a forthcoming narrative history of Manhattan's founding.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  6. #6


    It's true that there's history in lower Manhattan streets.

    In a Dutch Nieu Amsterdam household, daughters were responsible for doing the laundry. This was done in a brook north of the colony that ran from Broadway to the East River. The path that these young women made along the brook is Maiden Lane.

  7. #7


    February 16, 2004

    A Path Leading to New York's Past (4 Letters)

    To the Editor:

    In "The Streets Where History Lives" (Op-Ed, Feb. 9), Russell Shorto says Lower Manhattan's past provides important context for the World Trade Center memorial site. He calls for making history more legible within this crowded urban setting by linking the 9/11 memorial, "Reflecting Absence," to a linear sequence of historic sites.

    But Mr. Shorto skirts the challenge of his approach: any "smart selection" of must-see sites will hide more than it reveals.

    No single narrative "saga" can encompass the layers of meaning embedded in Lower Manhattan. Likewise, no single iconic image can represent our collective experience of Sept. 11 (hence the power of "Reflecting Absence").

    Part of the story is always missing. That is another absence to reflect on at ground zero, as we look beyond the empty frame.

    New York, Feb. 10, 2004
    The writer is a historic preservation consultant.

    To the Editor:

    In "The Streets Where History Lives" (Op-Ed, Feb. 9), Russell Shorto suggests a yellow brick trail, or some similar device, for a walking tour of Lower Manhattan. If the Downtown Alliance does not follow through on Mr. Shorto's plan, he might wish to organize a new association to carry it out.

    I lived in New York for 78 of my 80 years and know almost every site that Mr. Shorto mentioned. But if I went back to take a nostalgic walk downtown, having it guided by a colored-brick trail and enhanced by interesting and informative plaques would be a real attraction for me, and I am sure that it would also be helpful to less experienced tourists.

    Chevy Chase, Md., Feb. 9, 2004

    To the Editor:

    In "The Streets Where History Lives" (Op-Ed, Feb. 9), Russell Shorto makes a common mistake in looking at the rebuilding of downtown as a Manhattan thing, when it involves the entire metropolitan area.

    Yes, talk of the New Amsterdam melting pot warms my heart as an 11th-generation New Yorker, and I am in favor of codifying the accomplishments of the early Dutch settlers. But why restrict a path to the present to the island of Manhattan?

    Brooklyn, the Bronx (let's not forget the Danish settlers), Queens, Staten Island, Westchester and that little piece of land to the west (New Jersey) are where the bulk of the Sept. 11 victims were from. New York has never been just Manhattan. Let's reflect that as we move forward.

    New York, Feb. 10, 2004

    To the Editor:

    Russell Shorto outlines a wonderful plan to guide visitors to important Lower Manhattan historical sites (Op-Ed, Feb. 9). With numbered markers, perhaps plaques or kiosks, visitors would indeed be able to better learn about the significance of downtown.

    Boston has its immensely popular Freedom Trail, and we could have the Liberty Link or Patriot Path. Thousands of visitors would be able to explore downtown's maze of streets without the confusion and frustration that they often experience now.

    New York, Feb. 10, 2004

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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