Category Archives: Governors Island

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


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One July day


I was going from point A to point B on Governors Island this morning when I noticed the blimp floating above. That is Fort Jay and the moat in the foreground. Yes, it really was that nice out.


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Sunday morning coffee

IMG_1035Yesterday someone received his National Park Service Volunteer Pass for going over 250 hours of service. I could have gotten the pass a long time ago had I been paying attention to the benefits that accrue with these milestones. When I began volunteering at the Roosevelt Birthplace last October I told myself I would vigilantly track these types of things. It is not about the money saved per se, but enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. I intend to put it to good use over the summer when I visit a few places.


One of the most enjoyable endeavors at the TRB this year was the opportunity to work on writing content for the installation in the lower gallery. The rangers did a great job putting the whole thing together, and it was a privilege to play a role. The two cases you see here were mine. Here are a few close ups.



Governors Island on the 4th of July was a wind and rain swept landscape. The weather kept people away but those who were there were in good spirits and enjoying the holiday atmosphere. The weather could have been better, but the island does have a fun feel in such circumstances.

For the second time this summer I met people at the Roosevelt Birthplace who were on Governors Island the day before. Usually such folks are out-of-towners who have an interest in historic sites. One of the most interesting things about Park Service sites in New York City is meeting such folks. This was especially true at Ellis Island where such a large percentage of the visitors are not New Yorkers.

The summer is on here in New York.

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The Governors Island YMCA

The onetime Governors Island YMCA

The onetime Governors Island YMCA

The Governors Island YMCA opened its doors in July 1900 and was an immediate success. The first floor contained a reading room open to all. Above members enjoyed a library, auditorium, and other amenities. In typical New York fashion the dedication was not held for another three months; then as now, those who could left the Big City when the temperatures began to rise. Instead, the Manhattan dignitaries showed up for a formal dedication in early October.

Detail above the doorway

Detail above the doorway

What you are looking at is not that building. So popular was the “The Y” that the old original building soon became obsolete. Thus in the mid-1920s the YMCA funded and built another structure, the one you see here in the photographs.

Colonel John Thomas Axton was the Army's first Chief of Chaplains. He is interred today at Arlington National Cemetery.

Colonel John Thomas Axton was the Army’s first Chief of Chaplains. He is interred today at Arlington National Cemetery.

The new building opened in April 1927 and when it did Colonel John T. Axton, the Army’s first Chief of Chaplains, delivered the dedication. Two days after Pearl Harbor Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, working with others, began planning a “Stars in Khaki” fundraiser for the Governors Island Y at the Pierre Hotel. Throughout the Second World War philanthropic groups used the auditorium and other facilities in the war effort. When peace came there would be reunions and tributes to such groups as the Veterans of the Seventh Regiment and the Association of Former Members of Squadron A. This was all in addition to the daily use of the building.

Sergeant Irving Berlin's paean to the YMCAs of the Great War

Sergeant Irving Berlin’s 1918 paean to the military YMCAs of the Great War

Uniformed service personnel stationed on Governors Island loved using their YMCA. Y officials even provided spiritual, leisure, and educational services to the prisoners in Castle Williams, of which there were usually several hundred at any given time. Despite its great work, the Governors Island Y had become redundant by the early 1960s. There were now more and better athletic facilities, and a full service library, operating on the base. The Governors Island YMCA closed in 1962.

(images/Axton, US Army; Berlin, Johns Hopkins University)

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Last Sunday in June

I was surprised today at the number of visitors who mentioned the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. A lady came through whose grandfather graduated from West Point in August 1917. I did not know until she told me that the Military Academy accelerated its classes to rush young officers off to France. It shouldn’t be a total surprise though because they of course did the same thing during other wars. It is lost on us how small our standing army was prior to most of our conflicts. The man whose granddaughter was on the island today fought at Saint Mihiel.

Here are two photos of Ranger Val dressed as a doughboy which I snapped earlier today.

Fort Jay glacis

Fort Jay glacis

Val leading a tour within Fort Jay

Val leading a tour within Fort Jay

Remember, Governors Island is open seven days a week this summer. I am so looking forward to being on the island for the Fourth of July this coming Friday.

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Sarajevo, 1914

Soldiers Capturing Assassin of Archduke Ferdinand

The Great War Centennial begins today with the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. As I have stated several times over the past few weeks I intend to do a fair amount of WW1 Interp and other work on this over the next several years. I am even boning up on my French to better help myself. I know from having attended the Centennial Commission trade who in DC two weeks ago that many museums and other institutions are gearing up for this. The publishers are too. Today I began Thomas Otte’s July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914. Like the Civil War, the Great War is so fascinating because it is both so close and so far away at the time. In ways we are still fighting both of them.

I am fortunate in that the two Park Service sites at which I volunteer, Governors Island National Monument and the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, offer numerous opportunities for such endeavors. The sites even offer opportunities for the Joseph Hawley and Theodore Roosevelt Senior books, which are proceeding apace. Over the summer I am going to share more here on the blog and Facebook page about my progress, something I have not done so much yet.

(image/the arrest of Gavrilo Prinzip after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, 28 June 1914)

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St. Cornelius: a very brief history

Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion

Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion

Early on Sunday morning I was taking some photos of Great War plaques on Governors Island when I came upon the Chapel of St. Cornelius the Centurion. It was one of those early summer mornings where the sky is bright blue and there is a hint in the air of the warm–but not too warm–day ahead. What made it all the better is that, because it was so early, the area was so quiet. The whole thing had the aura the military service personnel must have felt when they lived on the island. A few years ago a now retired veteran who returned to the island for a visit told me he was married here.

St. Cornelius is one of the island’s special spots and has a provenance few visitors to the island realize. Its architect was Charles Coolidge Haight, a veteran of the Union Army who later attended Columbia University and became one of the leading architect’s in the United States. The gothic influence was a trademark of Haight’s, which he mixed here to great effect with a military motif evident in the turrets seen on the upper right. The symbolism is fitting given that St. Cornelius was on a U.S. Army military base.

I could not take photos from inside because the doors were locked but St. Cornelius contains a beautiful stained glass window built in memorium to Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock commanded the Department of the East from Governors Island beginning in 1878. He ran for the White House against Garfield in 1880 from here as well. In summer 1885 Hancock organized Ulysses Grant’s funeral from the island. Hancock himself died on the island just seven months later. This was all years before the chapel seen above was built.

This is actually the second St. Cornelius; the first was a wooden structure that served its purpose for decades but eventually fell into disrepair. So, a second more permanent structure was commissioned. Enter Haight. An interesting part of the story is that not only was he a captain in the Union Army, he had served in Hancock’s Second Corps. I intend to write a piece about Haight’s chapel over the summer for the Governors Island website. One thing I am curious to know is if he won this commission for his service in Hancock’s corps, or if that was just a coincidence. If and when I find the answer I will share it.

Frederick Dent Grant, who himself commanded the Eastern Department, lay in state here when he died in 1912. President Taft was one of the thousands who came to pay his respects.


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Marking the Great War


I just got home from the Apple store in SOHO where I took an iPhoto workshop to brush up on my picture taking skills. I did this because at the World War I Centennial Commission trade show last weekend I agreed to participate in The World War I Memorial Inventory Project. The goal of project director Mark Levitch is to photograph and document 10,000 monuments to the Great War spread across the United States. Many are hiding in plain site.

As after the Civil War, the process of memorialization began almost immediately. Nations, states, and small towns around the globe built monuments in the 1920 and 1930s. What these all had in common is that every protagonist believed it had justice and righteousness on its side. This should not be surprising given the incredible human, financial, and material sacrifices they made. Who wants to think they sacrificed for nothing?

I intend to start off with the many World War I monuments on Governors Island. As I noted a few weeks ago there are many sprinkled across the island’s 172 acres. My goal is to do fifty, mostly in New York, over the next five years. I am not going to do the ones on New York City parks because the Parks Department has already done extensive documentation on these already. There are many in post offices, botanical gardens, and places like that. Often they are hiding in plain site.

I will not post the same images here on the Strawfoot that I submit to the inventory project, but occasionally I will take photos of the same subjects and share them here. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this.

(image/tablet for Lieutenant James Andes on Governors Island)

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June comes to Governors Island

The 2014 season at Governors Island began last weekend. Unfortunately I missed opening weekend because I was out of town. So I was out of the house at 7:00 am this morning eager to catch the two subways and a boat ride that is my commute the island. Here are a few pics from the day.

New York Harbor, 9:00 am

New York Harbor, 9:00 am

There was neither a cloud in the sky nor a ripple on the water all day. That is Castle Williams on the far left and the Statue of Liberty to the right of the boat.

Pulling in

Pulling in


The Park Service rotates the flag atop Fort Jay on a more or less weekly basis. The flag and the fort are the first thing you see when getting off the boat, but it is still easy to miss. I like to point the flag out to visitors.

If I am not mistaken this is the fifteen star.

Old street sign

Old street sign

This old street sign goes back decades to the period when there was still vehicular traffic on the island. This summer I intend to note and document remnants of the island as it once was. Most of the roads are named after soldiers who fought in France during the Great War. Andes was a 2nd lieutenant of the 16th Infantry killed in 1918.


When I come back to the island after the seven month hiatus I always check out what is different from the previous season. I was happy to see that the Commanding Officer’s House, located on the city-managed part of the island, is again open after its renovation. This was chain-linked off in 2013. Winfield Scott Hancock among other called this home. It was from the island that he coordinated Ulysses S. Grant’s funeral in 1885. Hancock died on the island in February 1886.

Fort Jay's dry moat

Fort Jay’s dry moat


Here I am doing my first Castle Williams tour of the year. Man, I forgot how much fun this is. The best thing is, the island will be open seven days a week this summer. You never know what you will see when you come to Governors Island.


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Summer’s almost here

Governors Island, summer 2013

Governors Island, summer 2012: Note the partially constructed Freedom Tower

I received a group email message from one of the supervisory rangers at Governors Island yesterday asking about volunteers’ summer availability and the like. The season begins in just four short weeks, on Memorial Day Weekend. One of the big changes at Governors Island this year is that the island will be open seven days a week. This is a change from the Saturday/Sunday operation of the past few years. Also, the city has re-opened thirty acres of the portion of the island managed locally. Governors Island is 172 acres, with 22 of that managed by the NPS. Last summer was fairly quiet because so much of the southern portion of the island was under repair due both to Superstorm Sandy and the longterm plans of the Trust for Governors Island. The re-opened thirty acres is new park land.

I myself will be splitting my time between Governors Island and the TRB, alternating back and forth each weekend. My first day is going to be June 1. There are many interpretive opportunities I will be pursuing with a great deal of overlap between the two sites. It really is going to be a great summer.

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