Category Archives: Governors Island

The Grants’ Governors Island

Many of America’s leading military figures spend at least part of their careers on Governors Island. Three generations of Grants served here.

The Block House

The Block House

Of all the Grants, Ulysses S. spent the least amount of time on the island. Captain Grant was here for all of a few weeks in the summer of 1852 just before he and the 4th Infantry went to the Pacific. A very pregnant Julia returned to Ohio while her husband lived briefly here in the Block House, which was officers’ housing in 1852. Grant visited Washington DC for a tried period and his trip to the capital coincidentally coincided with the death of Henry Clay. It was out West, far from his family, that he got into his drinking trouble.

Commanding officer's house

Commanding officer’s house

His son Frederick Dent Grant spent the most time here. He did two stints commanding the Department of the East in the 1900s and 1910s. As commander, he lived in this house. The plaque is a who’s who of the late 19th and early 20th century Army. IMG_1410 Here are a few interior shots. The city did a great job rehabbing this structure over the past year. This is also where Reagan met Gorbachev in the late 1980s. IMG_1413 IMG_1414Here is Major General Frederick Dent Grant at a garden party. We know that this image was taken in 1907 or later because the younger lady standing up is identified as Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant III. This was Frederick’s daughter-in-law. Her maiden name was Edith Root and she was the daughter of powerbroker Elihu Root. As Secretary of War in the Roosevelt Administration, Elihu Root returned Fort Columbus to its original name, Fort Jay. We know the photo is from 1907 or thereafter because Edith married Ulysses S. Grant III that year in a big Washington ceremony. 09434r Look closely at the image and you see that it was taken in front of the commanding officer’s house. This is evident because they are situated next to one of the canons, which you can see in the image of the house I took last week. Grant died the same week the Titanic went down in 1912. After he passed on in Manhattan, he was lay in state here in St. Cornelius. His good friend President Taft came to pay his respects.

the Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion

the Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion

10388r And here is his funeral. This is 26 April 1912. I did not know until discussing it with one of the rangers at Governors Island this summer that Frederick had a large funeral procession much the way his father had. Frederick Dent Grant is buried at West Point.

Ulysses S. Grand III as a young officer

Ulysses S. Grand III as a young officer

Last but not least there is Ulysses S. Grant III, grandson of the Civil War general and son of Major General Frederick D. Grant. Grant was a young officer during the Great War, holding many positions of responsibility at a very tender age. In the 1930s he was part of the II Corps stationed here in Pershing Hall.

Pershing Hall, rear

Pershing Hall, rear view

Pershing Hall, front view

Pershing Hall, front view

This was a difficult time for the American military. Officers such as Grant, Marshall, and Eisenhower toiled away in the 1920s and 1930s for the war that many knew would come. Having been so close to the negotiations at Versailles, Grant III knew that better than anyone. It is interesting to note that he and Edith’s daughter died in March 2014. It’s a good reminder that we are not talking ancient history here.

(the two Frederick Dent Grant images, Library of Congress; US Grant III portrait, Archive of U.S. War Department)

Comments Off

Filed under Governors Island, Ulysses S. Grant

Sunday morning coffee

It is Labor Day Weekend and here I am with a rare two days off in a row. In the spirit of a relaxing three day weekend I thought I would share the photos I took last week at the Volkswagen show on Governors Island. I don’t know much about cars and so am submitting these pics without comment. Remember, Governors Island is open seven days a week this season. What’s more, there will be Park Service activities for Holiday Monday tomorrow. Get out to the island while you still can this season. Enjoy your weekend.









1 Comment

Filed under Governors Island

Sunday eve

The Colonial Era Grand Union flying over Fort Jay today.  Look closely at the canton and you will see the Union Jack.

The Grand Union flying over Ft Jay today. Note the Union Jack in the canton.

It was a fun and exhausting day on Governors Island. There was a lot going on, which I will talk more about as the week progresses. You never know who or what you will see. Today there was an old Coast Guard member who had served on the island for twenty years. He was even there on 9/11 as part of the skeleton crew left over after the closing of the base in the late 90s. That would have put him just half a mile rom the Trade Center. One of my favorite things about the island is seeing which flag the Park Service has decided to fly over Fort Jay. It varies depending on the occasion and/or the mood of the personnel doing the hoisting. It is one of those neat little things I like to point out to visitors. Some thought has always gone into it. This week it is the Grand Union flag in recognition for the Battle of Brooklyn, the anniversary of which is in a few days.

I was in Boston earlier in the week visiting relatives and we went to Concord and Lexington. I had never been there before and feel I now have a sense of the Shot Heard Round the World that I did not have previously. As with Civil War sites, one must visit and walk the battle grounds of the Revolutionary War to get a sense of the action. I had a good talk with Park personnel about the hows and whys of the construction of the visitor center in the early Seventies in preparation for the Bicentennial. Over the past few day I have been reading the Cultural Landscape Report for Minute Man National Historic Park. The evolution of historic sites is fascinating in and of itself. I read an article a few years ago, for the life of me I cannot remember where, in which the author argued that New York State lags behind Massachusetts and Virginia in the Revolutionary War tourism industry because the Empire State was late to the game at the turn of the 20th century. It certainly sounds feasible and would explain why New York’s role in the Revolution is under-appreciated. That is why I was glad to see the Grand Union flying today.


Comments Off

Filed under Governors Island, Heritage tourism

The world’s crookedest golf course

Bunkers of another kind: remnants of the old Governors Island gold course

Bunkers of another kind: remnants of the old Governors Island gold course

Comedian George Burns liked to say that golf is a good walk spoiled. This adage comes to mind when looking at the remnants of what was once the Governors Island nine-hole course. It was a short executive style set-up laid out on the glacis to the south and west of Fort Jay. The course measured about 1,900 years and played to a par thirty. It is easily recognizable today if one knows what to look for. The sand traps, putting greens, and tee boxes look almost like archaeological ruins. These are now choice spots for picnickers and sunbathers. Note how close the golf course is to both Fort Jay and the neighboring residential houses and apartments. Army officers stationed on the island liked their golf course and played frequently. Still, golf being what it is, even the best of them sometimes had their off days. According to one account it was on the links here at Governors Island that “young West Pointers were taught to swear.”

The course dated back to 1903 and was in use through the Coast Guard years in the 1990s. It was the only golf course in Manhattan’s jurisdiction, as the island is technically part of that borough. The course received considerable use. The 1920s seemed to have been a particularly busy time; with the Great War over and the army downsizing to pre-1917 levels there was more time for leisure. The course was sometimes called “the world’s crookedest” because it was shoe-horned into such a small area with lots of twists and turns.

When General Robert Lee Bullard commanded the Department of the East from Governors Island he received a serious eye injury when his shot ricocheted off Fort Jay, bounced back, and struck him in the eye. He had survived Cantigny and Chateau-Thierry unscathed, but the bunkers on Governors Island proved too much. In 1927 Gene Sarazen, Francis Ouimet, Walter Hagen, and Jess Sweetster played a fundraiser here to raise funds for the Army Relief Society.

A postage stamp green: with land at such a premium on the island such small greens were the norm

A postage stamp green: with land at such a premium on the island such small greens were the norm

Bullard was injured when he attempted to bounce a shot off the walls of Fort Jay. Speaking of Bullard, note that his full name was Robert Lee Bullard. He was an Alabamian born in January 1861.

Bullard was injured when he attempted to bounce a shot off the walls of Fort Jay. Speaking of the general, note that his full name was Robert Lee Bullard. He was an Alabamian born in January 1861. Robert E. Lee was not yet a universal household name, but one cannot help but wonder if Bullard was named after that military leader.

Tee boxes: again note the closeness to residential housing

Tee boxes: again note the closeness to residential housing

Another bunker: that is Fort Jay directly behind and the new World Trade Center off in the distance

Another bunker: that is Fort Jay directly behind and the new World Trade Center off in the distance

Gene Sarazen as he was in the late 1920 around the time he came to Governors Island for an Army Relief Society fundraiser. With the Great War over for almost a decade, the Roaring Twenties were on.

Gene Sarazen as he was in the late 1920s around the time he came to Governors Island for an Army Relief Society fundraiser. With the Great War over for almost a decade the Roaring Twenties were on. Sarazen is one of only five golfers to win the modern Grand Slam.

Uniformed service persons stationed on Governors Island were proud of their gold course. As this 1930s post card shows, they even put it on stationary.

Uniformed service persons stationed on Governors Island were proud of their golf course. As this 1930s postcard shows, they even put it on stationary. Here too one can see the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

(images/Sarazen and postcard from Digital NYPL)

1 Comment

Filed under Governors Island

Sunday Morning Coffee

the living history encampment of the First Minnesota on Governors Island, Saturday 9 August 2014

the living history encampment of the First Minnesota on Governors Island, Saturday 9 August 2014

It is 6:30 and I am sitting here in the dark having a cup of coffee before heading out the door. Civil War Weekend at Governors Island is in full swing. Yesterday was a wonderful day with beautiful August weather and good crowds. Today should be the same. If you live in New York City and are looking for something to do I can’t think of anything better. Yours truly will be doing tours at 11:30 and 1:30 on the history of Civil War officers who once served on the island. It is a deep and fascinating story. We start at the top of Soissons Landing right where one gets off the Manhattan ferry.


Filed under Governors Island

Textiles and the Civil War

Yesterday a friend and I visited the New-York Historical Society to see the exhibit about textiles and the Civil War. Textiles, in this case cotton, obviously were a major cause of the secession crisis and the war. The exhibit though went beyond cotton’s role in the conflict. Included were quilts, flags, housewives (hand stitched sewing kits), clothes, and other items. Among the most touching artifacts were swatches from the Jordan Marsh catalog in various textures and shades of black from which to make mourning clothes. Jordan Marsh is yet one more thing from my past that no longer exists but that is another story.

I do not know if this is true or not, but the exhibit states that there were no hidden messages within quilts for fugitives on the Underground Railroad. It’s funny how these types of stories get propagated and then never entirely go away. More than once I myself have readjusted what I say in tours and public talks after discovering a long-held assumption is false. One that comes to mind off the top of my head was that there was once a tax on having closets in one’s home.

It is an extraordinarily thoughtful show and runs through August 24.

One thing that caught my eye was this little Zouave uniform made for a little boy. The reason it stuck out, besides the fact that it is beautiful is because little Theodore Roosevelt had one that was similar. (See it here.)

similar Zouave uniform on display at the New-York Historical Society

a girl’s dress and little boy’s Zouave uniform on display at the New-York Historical Society

Speaking of the New-York Historical Society keep in mind that the museum has an exhibit about New York City and the Civil War running through September 28 in Building 18 on Governors Island. I still have yet to check this out. There is still two months to go in the Governors Island season.




Filed under Governors Island, Museums, Theodore Roosevelt Jr (President)

Framing New York

Framing New York

Framing New York

This past Friday I was leaving Castle Williams after doing a tour when I noticed an art installation to the immediate left. It turned out to be “Framing New York.” After a few minutes enjoying the view of the Harbor and Lower Manhattan, I struck up a conversation with the artist, D. Chase Angier. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

The Strawfoot: Where did you get the inspiration for “Framing New York?”

D. Chase Angier: From New York itself – the rapid rate in which it changes, its history, beauty, art, and stories. I have a deep love for this city as many of us do who have either grown up here, transplanted here, or even just visit.

Inspiration for this project came from my complicated love for New York City coupled with my deepening concern for our future. What is New York City today and how does that reflect who we are and where we are headed?

One of the elements that makes New York City unique is the unusually rapid rate at which it is changing. The rate of change coupled with the extreme density of buildings and people living in New York, creates an intense energy that is distinctive. “Framing New York” asks the audience to pay attention together to one select place in New York City at a particular time.

How would you describe your approach to your art?

I have many different approaches to art but if I need to reduce it down to one thing, I am a site specific choreographer.

Artist D. Chase Angier in front of her creation. The orange boat is the Staten Island Ferry sailing by.

D. Chase Angier in front of her creation. The orange boat is the Staten Island Ferry.

Tell us a little bit about your background?

I received my BA in Dance from UCLA and my MFA in Choreography from The Ohio State University. Basically, I am an interdisciplinary artist who specializes is site specific choreography. I am a dance professor and director of the dance program at Alfred University. I also create and perform site-specific performances, performance installations, dance-theater, and walking performances. My works have been performed internationally in Japan, the Czech Republic, Germany, Mexico, the United Kingdom and throughout the different regions of the United States.

What other “Framing” projects, if any, have you done in the past?

I framed Edgewood Farms, owned by Harold and Beverly Snyder in Alfred, New York. That was different in that it was a one time 2.5 hour event. The audience watched him hay his field. I placed ten matching white Adirondack chairs in front of the white frame for the small invited audience. The audience had to remain small and invited, in fact, because they were put on call to view this work. Certain weather conditions had to work together (wind, temp, humidity) to make it possible to hay on a particular day.

The frame captured the shapes of the tall grass contrasting the cut hay, the tubular windrows, and the spiral “floor” patterns on the field. The lighting for the work was the sometimes indirect sunlight that filtered through the clouds creating interesting moving shadows, and the sometimes direct sunlight that not only brought out the gold color and the smell of the hay but also created the heat which added to the sensory experience. All of this activity happened against the beauty of the subtly changing landscape – the clouds, birds, cows, and hills.

Framing Edgewood Farms was the first in a series:

Had you spent time on Governors Island previously?

Yes. I have been going almost every summer since it reopened. My favorite experience was the three day New Island Festival in 2009 with the Dutch. I enjoyed the art work, lectures, parties. It was three days of incredible madness.

Two visitors take in the view

Two visitors take in the view from the installation

You mentioned in our conversation that the New York skyline changes depending on the weather, time of day, and other circumstances. Explain.

Every day is dramatically different. The clouds, light, temperature, water traffic, people walking/biking by. The shadows crawling up the buildings – or no shadows at all on a cloudy day. How the light and sky reflect on the mirrored buildings, making some of them look as it they are disappearing. The dramatic dark thunder clouds versus a hazy hot light day. The color of many of the buildings change. The events change – Obama coming to NYC and landing close to Pier 11 as his military helicopters through the frame; the fireboat shooting out water the next day; the lack of people in the frame during the week on a rainy day, versus the crazy amount of people on the weekends.

In addition to the light, color and sky –  I have been fascinated by the choreography of the harbor. The different shapes, tempos, directions, rhythms, colors, size, levels, of all of the various boats. Tall ships, clipper ships, kayaks, repetitive orange staten island ferry, circle line, garbage boats, tug boats, oil tankers, jet skies, shark motor boats, cruise ships, etc.

It is a participatory artwork in which people can sit in the chairs and watch the harbor and skyline.

What has the public’s reaction been?

So far extremely positive. My favorite part about New Yorkers is that they like to talk to strangers (me) and they like to tell stories. I had heard a lot of stories about 9/11 as they look and no longer see the twin towers. Firemen, construction workers, lawyers, financial analysts etc. Tourists have been moved as they are seeing the city live from a great perspective (across the water) that they have only seen in movies and photos. Skeptics, teenagers, and people not exposed to a lot of art have used the word “actually” a lot, as in “I actually like this”, “This is actually cool”, etc.

For how long can visitors see “Framing New York?”

Through July 27th


Filed under Governors Island, Interviews, New York City