In the latest twist on everyone’s favorite man in uniform:
The Pentagon relocates the G.I. Joe team to Governors Island in Upper New York Bay and, with their distinctive outfits and code names, they’ll have to deal with the general population, which could be good or bad, depending on the situation.
Maybe he’ll take one of my tours next summer, in disguise of course. Enjoy your weekend.
I am still waiting to hear about Hurricane Sandy’s effects on Governors Island. There hasn’t been much news, though from what I understand the island took on a considerable amount of water. One of the piers also seems to have been destroyed. When things settle down I intend to email some of the ranger staff to find out what I can. Ellis Island got hit pretty hard but there seems to have been no structural damage or harm to the museum. The immigration building is so strong it’s hard to imagine anything happening to it. The Statue of Liberty did get hit hard and, what’s worse, the hurricane came just a week after the reopening after extensive renovations. It’s still too early to tell. Castle Clinton in lower Manhattan took on considerable water.
When I do my tour at Governors Island I always take visitors to the spot just behind Castle Williams where one can see most of the harbor forts. From that spot one sees how each fort is part of a larger puzzle. It was our good friend Sami who talked me into transferring from Ellis to Governors Island last year. The logic was that it would allow me to concentrate on the Civil War Era, which for me spans the lifetime of the generation that fought the war. What is so fascinating about the harbor is that so many people who fought in the war spent at least some time there. Katie Lawhon of Gettysburg National Military Park had a similar experience when she was detailed to help get ready for the reopening of Statue of Liberty National Monument and got a taste of that history. Here’s hoping Lady Liberty opens soon.
General John Reynolds, depicted here by Alfred Waud as he fell and died at Gettysburg on 1 July 1863, was one of the many Civil War soldiers who spent parts of their career in New York Harbor. In the mid 1850s he was stationed at Fort Wood, now the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Today was my final day of the season at Governors Island. After tomorrow the park will not be open to the public again until next May. It was a fun and rewarding summer. The staff there is very hardworking and knowledgeable without taking themselves too seriously. It is really a privilege to work with them and with the public at one of our country’s great historical sites. Here are some photos from the final two Saturdays.
We headed down to the tip of Manhattan to catch the ferry at the Battery Maritime Building, slip #7 adjacent to the Staten Island ferry terminal. So far it all seemed very familiar, except for the absence of the Shore Patrol.
Jan Kelsey lived on Governors Island in the 1970s with her Coast Guard officer husband. Recently the two returned to see what had changed and what still remained. I never tire of hearing the stories of those who lived and worked on the island, just as I never tired of meeting people who had passed through Ellis during my time there. The best bits are in the details. As Hemingway said, tell them about the people and the places and how the weather was. Ms. Kelsey has certainly done that. This is the most lucid 1,500 word take on Governors Island I think I have read.
As she recommends, come check it out for yourself. There is another month to go in the season.And remember, the island is open Labor Day Monday.
Last week I mentioned the reunion of Coast Guard brats held this past weekend on Governors Island. I took the opportunity to talk to as many of these folks as I could and it was a priviledge. Many had not been back on the island since the 1960s and they were conspicuous on the ferry ride. They were the ones soaking it all in from the bow. Reunionites had come from as far as Portland and Seattle to be part of the weekend’s events,and without exception they were quite approachable and happy to share their stories.. I committed the faux pas of asking one if he and others were doing the “tourist thing” in the city. His answer was that he wasn’t a tourist, but coming home. A few told stories of having Girl Scout meetings in the casemates of Castle Williams, something I had read about but never heard discussed in the first person until last Saturday. I had always wondered what it was like attending a Boy Scout/Girl Scout meeting, teen dance, or Halloween party in a Second System fortification built just prior to the War of 1812. Did the participants find it strange? Unsettling? Mordant, but perhaps in a vaguely pleasurable way? The answer is that, even as young children living on the base with their military dads and families, they understood and appreciated the uniqueness of their situation. They understood how special it was even as it was going on, which is quite a gift. A brother and sister mentioned living with their family in one of the houses in Nolan Park back in the day. Another watched the original World Trade Center buildings rising across the harbor from her living room in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some were old enough to have attended the 1964-65 World’s Fair. It was everything you volunteer for. The New York Times was on hand.
Much of my mental energy this summer has been spent on my volunteer duties at Governors Island National Monument. I had always known that the island had a rich history. I feel that this summer I have come to understand some of that history in a deeper way than I had perviously. Other than the week the Hayfoot and I went to Gettysburg, I have not missed a Saturday. My favorite part of the island is a toss up between the general orientation tour and manning the gates–literally–at Castle Williams. The latter is especially rewarding because, standing at the entranceway to the old fortress greeting passersby, one eventually meets most visitors to the island. Some are in and out of the fort in minutes and some stay an hour or more reading every wayward sign. It’s all good.
At my day job we do not work on Fridays in July and most of August. So, today I went out to the island for a walk-through of the interpretive program I have been preparing for the upcoming Civil War Weekend. Essentially I spent the past few weeks researching and drafting an interpretive program about the island’s connection to the Civil War, and today a ranger and I walked the island where I performed it for him for advice and feedback. It is always beneficial to get some input before facing the public and I got a great deal of it today from a ranger who is especially knowledgable. It was lot of fun. I was about 90% there before the walk-through. After a few tweaks based on the input I received this morning I will be ready.
If you live in the New York area, I hope you are able to make it to Governors Island for Civil War Weekend, August 11 and 12. Details to come.
I am having my Sunday morning coffee and surfing the internet. Here is some amazing film footage of Governors Island from the 200th anniversary of the Coast Guard in 1990. Those who have been to the island will recognize many of the scenes. It is hard to believe that 1990 is now the “then” and no longer the “now.” Enjoy your Sunday.
I am getting organized again after being away for the past week. Earlier I went for a walk in Greenwood Cemetery, making sure to take advantage of the shade in these heat wave conditions. There is an interconnectedness between the two places; so many soldiers who fought at Gettysburg are now interred here in Brooklyn. You see it if you know what to look for. We really luck out at Gettysburg last week with the temperatures. When you are there all you want to do is get out and explore the nooks and crannies of the battlefield. Intense heat is not conducive such activity. The entire week we were there the temperature could not have gone above 80, and with low humidity. We left bright and early yesterday morning and it was almost ninety, and well over 100 by the end of the day. No, I don’t want that authentic of a battlefield experience, thank you very much.
Going through the hundreds of email waiting for me in my inbox was this piece from the Miami Herald about Governors Island. I am glad the island is getting the nationwide recognition it deserves. It is truly a must see for people visiting the Big Apple. There are layers and layers of history to explore, along with great recreational opportunities. The cat is already out of the bag among New Yorkers. Attendance has increased year-by-year since opening to the public several years ago. You have three full months left to make it part of your summer.
(image/Manhattan skyline from atop Castle Williams)
This past Saturday I was walking back to the office at Governors Island to get my lunch when I came across the ballgame being played by the New York Gothams, a group of enthusiasts who play the National Pastime according to mid-nineteenth century rules. The New York Times has more here, including some cool pics. Note the Manhattan skyline in the background. And yes, the day really was that beautiful. Make Governors Island part of your summer.