One of the things I like about volunteering at Governors Island on Sunday as opposed to Saturday is that the morning commute is quiet and easy. There are so few people around and one usually has the sidewalks to oneself. It is not unusual to see film crews out-and-about taking advantage of the quiet to shoot commercials, tv segments, and movies. The rest of the week it is usually just not possible. The film industry is a big part of the local economy and I don’t just mean the actors. Carpenters, craft service persons, and others are all necessary to make it happen. I have seen it so many times over the years now that I hardly think of it. This morning at 8:30 however, I could not help but pause when I saw this just south of Wall Street.
Last week I posted an image of the plaque dedicated to James C. Andes on Governors Island. Yesterday I strolled down the southern part of the parade ground to take this image of the monument to Ewin V. Evans. This is just north of the Chapel of St. Cornelius. It is so quiet on the island before that first public ferry boat, and with the Manhattan skyline standing there looking like a cardboard cutout on a bright day the moment is sublime.
Like Andes, Evans was a 2nd lieutenant in the 16th Infantry Regiment. Evans was killed the day after Andrews during the Battle of Soissons. At least with the 16th, what the Army did was place a tablet on a boulder and name the facing road after said individual. It’s something that most–as in virtually all–visitors to the island walk past without realizing. From what I understand someone I know is contemplating a larger project with the various 16th Infantry and other tablets spread out across Governors Island. I do hope comes to pass. Over the rest of the summer, leading up to our World War 1 day scheduled for September 17, I am going to take a photo of as many as I can an post them here.
I was all Gettysburg and Vicksburg at Governors Island yesterday. Hancock, the Grants, Pemberton. So many of them spent time, often significant time, on the island in the years before and after the war. Many of the visitors to the island are casual visitors who know little of the place’s history. Most perk up when you help them make a connection, especially of 4th of July Weekend. I stopped in front of the Andes plaque and took these photos of the tablet dedicated to the doughboy from the 16th regiment who was killed at Soissons in July 1918. Eventually I am going to dig deeper into this one and send it off to Mark Levitch at the WW1 Memorial Inventory Project. The 16th had strong ties to Governors Island in the decades after the Great War. They were housed in Liggett Hall and left their legacy all over the place. It was the 16th that marched through Paris on the 4th of July 1917 to Picpus Cemetery in honor the Lafayette. I did also manage to squeeze the marquis in yesterday during my tour of Castle Williams, pointing across the harbor to Castle Clinton to show the group where Lafayette was fêted by enthusiastic New Yorkers in 1824.
At the beginning of the summer I added my chapter from The Wonder of It All into Academic Works with the help of a colleague at work. She recommended to me and others that we post our efforts on social media, etc. And so I figured I would link here to “What a Day with a Park Volunteer Can Do.” Essentially it is the story of how I came to Governors Island 5-6 years back. They asked us not to use names in our submissions. Here though I can say that the volunteer in the title is the great Sami Steigmann. Sami if you are reading this: we will do that interview sometime over the summer.
There is a unique and thought-provoking art installation going on at Governors Island right now called Treetones. Governors Island is a fitting place for a show using trees. Native Americans called the island Pagannack, which was a reference to the abundant chestnut trees that then covered the island. The artist of Treetones is Jenna Spevack, who generously sat down and answered a few questions.
The Strawfoot: What is Treetones?
Jenna Spevack: Treetones, is a site-specific installation on Governors Island. Hand-sewn fabric wraps, made from tree rubbings, are tied to 12 different trees on the Island. Visitors are guided by a self-directed tour map to locate and identify the trees. They may also collect bark rubbings from each stop on the tour. Highlighted species include American Elm, Red Oak, Norway Maple, Horse Chestnut and London Plane.
I started my residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space on Governors Island in March, before the trees started to leaf out. I had visited the Island before, in the summer, but hadn’t really noticed the trees. The lack of leaves accentuated the impressive size and distinctive shapes of the tree trunks and branches. I kept coming back to older trees, in awe of the age and the variations in bark; much of it deeply fissured and rough. It struck in me a sense of mortality, of the history of the Island, of my own life. The project was a way of bringing awareness to the trees and recognizing their endurance and strength.
I spent a lot of time at the start of my residency walking and biking the island, because I was doing research for another project, Overtones. I created maps of my walks and rides- identifying interesting routes and areas. I was drawn to the larger, older trees and was fascinated by bark. I started by making bark rubbings and discovered that subtle and not so subtle differences appeared in the rubbings. I then looked up the descriptions of the bark in tree identification books and loved the poetic descriptions, many reflecting on how the age of the tree changed or enhanced the appearance of the bark. For me, the character and attitude of the tree was defined by these visual and physical textures. In the end, I chose the trees for the project for their bark and for their locations around the Island.
What was the process of making the wraps?
I experimented with several different types of fabric and forms. I started with very simple muslin fabric wraps and then tried much louder sequined fabric flags. In the end I found something in the middle. I created bark rubbings on strips taffeta-type fabric using gravestone rubbing wax and then sewed them into bright orange sashes to draw attention to the trees. I created small pockets in each sash to hold the paper “give-away” rubbings. These tokens include a rubbing of that particular tree, the name of the tree and a short description of the bark.
Part of the experience of making the wraps was figuring out how to create a participatory installation for the visitors. The addition of the rubbings came about somewhat by accident while experimenting sewing. I like it when the act of making informs the final conceptual aspect of the project.
Have you done similar installations in the past. or is this a new direction for you?
Yes, I have completed similar public art and participatory installations.
“Birds of Brooklyn,” is an on-going, community-based audio artwork that brings the sounds of Brooklyn’s endangered and bygone birds to sites around the Borough to reconnect city dwellers with the natural sounds of the area and raise awareness about declining bird populations in urban environments. It was exhibited as a special project installation at the Pulse Miami / Art Basel art fair and is currently installed in locations in Brooklyn. [ BirdsOfBrooklyn.org ]
“Inside Out House,” a binaural audio installation embedded with sounds recorded in woodland and quiet agricultural landscapes. Using simulated blindness to enhance the aural sense, the project aims to mimic the restorative experience of being outside in nature using auditory stimuli. Viewers are invited to enter into the darkened structure and visualize their experience by contributing a drawing to the installation. It was exhibited at the BRIC Biennial and at CR10 Gallery in Hudson, NY. jennaspevack.com/insideout
Other participatory and public art projects can be viewed on jennspevack.com.
What is you next project?
I’m working on a public audio installation, Overtones, that aims to create aural connections to natural environments through the harmonic tones generated by wind harps discreetly installed in trees and abandoned buildings. I started research for this project while at my residency on Governors Island. More information: jennaspevack.com/overtones
When and how can people see Treetones?
Treetones is installed on Governors Island until June 30th.
For more information: govisland.com/exhibitions/treetones
Hey all, it’s shaping up for what should be a beautiful weekend. I’ll by doing my first Interp of the year at Governors Island this Sunday. I thought I would share this picture I took last Saturday of people queuing up to get in the Jazz lawn party. To tell you the truth it’s a city-sponsored event about which I have always felt ambivalent. It seems dangerously close to mimicry and cosplaying. But then if others enjoy it then who am I to judge? Most of the party goers are probably unaware of it, and then why shouldn’t they be, but in many ways it was the Great War that made the Jazz Age as we know it possible. The iconography of the 1920s–prohibition, the gangster and flapper girl–all stem from the political and moral failings of the years directly proceeding. It’s something to think about while watching Boardwalk Empire Enough of that though. Just enjoy the weekend.
I am sitting in a coffee shop in Downtown Brooklyn as I type this. It’s clear and bright outside. I was back on Governors Island yesterday. It was good seeing old faces along with some new ones. I can already tell it’s going to be a special summer. We had our orientation, part of which included a special behind-the-scenes look at the restoration of the eagle atop Fort Jay. The sculpture is one of the oldest built-structures in New York City, tracing back to the construction of the fort in the 1790s. Over the centuries that Army and then the Coast Guard did what they could to preserve the sandstone figure; still, because historic preservation falls outside the bounds of their missions, their efforts were helpful but sometimes haphazard. Time, salt air and harbor winds took their toll, and Superstorm Sandy damaged the statue even further. The current renovation work has been progressing with all the accouterments of modern preservation techniques. As it turns out Governors Island National Monument is in the running with nineteen other NPS sites in a competition for funding to further the work. Learn more–and vote–here if you are so inclined. One can vote once a day through July 5.
Find your park.
As I mentioned the other day I could not make it out to Governors Island this weekend because I have some things I must catch up on. I’m sure they’re having way too much fun out there. I thought I would do the next best thing and mark Memorial Day by recognizing one of the great men to have passed through the island: Charles P. Summerall. I wrote about his frequent visits to the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace two years ago. The top photograph was taken on September 22, 1937 at a reunion of the Society of the First Division. The 16th Infantry Regiment re-enacted the 1918 Battle of Fleville that afternoon, and later that evening there was a banquet at the Hotel Pennsylvania overseen by Colonel Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt. The images of his headstone were taken in Arlington Cemetery last month.
I am out the door in a few minutes to get some things done. Whatever you do today, stop and remember this Memorial Day.
top image/A Seventeen-gun salute was accorded General Charles P. Summerall, retired (center, hat on chest), when he returned to Governor Island to see the re-enactment of the Battle of Fleville today. General Summerall was a war-time commander of the First Division. (Photo by Anthony Calvacca / (c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
This coming week in New York is the World Stamp Show, an event I first heard was coming to the Big Apple in 2011. It was one of those things where you hear about it and say to yourself, “Yeah, but 2016 is five years away.” A friend and I have been talking about it eagerly since January and plan to attend to take it all in. An interesting thing came through my in box yesterday about aviator Victor Carlstrom, who I had not heard of until reading the article. Governors Island has a rich aviation history and it turns out that Carlstrom ran airmail for the Post Office in a plane called “The New York Times” that landed on the island in fall 1916. Carlstrom’s Chicago-to-New York run took two days and was hampered by a fuel leak that forced him to touch down a little more than half way. Apparently this one-time thing was something of a promotional stunt for both the Post Office and the Times.
And this was a fairly big event. Carlstrom landed at Governors Island, where Leonard Wood was on hand to greet the pilot. The article has a great photograph of the two men. Presumably he landed on the island because of the Army base’s proximity to Manhattan and the resulting ease to transport the mail haul across the harbor by ferry. Even more touching is that Carlstrom was a Swedish immigrant who had come through Ellis Island a little more than a decade previously. From his plane he would have seen the Immigration station, whose traffic had slowed considerably since the start of the Great War.
Carlstrom set all kinds of aviator records but did not have much longer to live. When the United States entered the war the following spring he trained America’s soon-to-be flying aces. As this headline from the 9 May 1917 Brooklyn Daily Eagle shows, Carlstrom was killed in a training accident in Virginia.
(top image, NYPL; bottom, Brooklyn Daily Eagle)
I was home working today. I was writing about the creation of the New York State Republican Party, which formed in Saratoga Springs in August 1854 as a response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Young Chester Arthur was one of the delegates. In September 1904 during the heat of the presidential race between Theodore Roosevelt and Alton B. Parker–two New Yorkers–the Republicans held a 50th reunion in Saratoga Springs. TR’s running mate, Charles W. Fairbanks, was one of the speakers in Saratoga at that 50th celebration. Members of John C. Frémont’s family were on hand as well, including his son Major Francis P. Fremont who five years later would be court-martialed for a third time in the waning months of the Roosevelt administration.
What caught my eye when reading the 50th anniversary Proceedings was this photograph of the aging Frederick W. Seward. Frederick was of course the son of William H. Seward. He graduated from Union College a year after Chester Arthur and he too would be at the Saratoga Convention in August 1854. Frederick later worked as Assistant Secretary of State for his father in the Lincoln and Johnson Administrations and served in the same capacity for William Evarts for a time during the Hayes’s years, eventually succeeded by John Hay. Seward thwarted the Booth conspirator who tried to assassinate his father and a half a century later was still around to tell the tale. He helped run the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in 1909, a forgotten event today but which among other things involved Wilbur Wright flying from Governors Island, around the Statue of Liberty, and back.Even more incredibly an article in the Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine informs us that passengers aboard the Lusitania witnessed that feat.
Seward died in April 1915, fifty years after the Civil War’s end and two years prior to American involvement in the First World War.