Dear London - a post of memories

Dear London,

Thanks to your theme, this week has been fascinating. No matter what city you live in, the chances are that you walk around completely oblivious to the unique stories surrounding you.

With this theme there were a couple of things for me to consider about New York:

  1.  The US is pretty much an infant compared to Old Blighty (in fact, if you slightly unfairly treat the average generation as 30 years, it's only existed in current form for 8 generations) and I wasn't entirely sure what I would find or where I would find it;
  2. While the Highline is a perfect example of New York celebrating history, this city is also known to obliterate the old and disused in order to build afresh. What is left of New York's history?

1885 - Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. This left over building is probably the least impressive structure on Columbia University's main campus, but it has the most checkered past by a long way. It stands next to the stunning structure of the Low Memorial Library, one of the most celebrated buildings in the Ivy League, and is often included in pictures of this majestic and admired building. 

New York (or New Amsterdam at the time) started huddled in the south of the island and anything that needed 'out of sight, out of mind' treatment was always thrown north of the city. However, as the city expanded, these taboos needed to be either moved or covered over. Unlike the pauper mass graves that now lie under some of New York's most prestigious parks (Washington Square park is built upon a mass grave of yellow fever victims), Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was moved in 1889. Now the single remaining building from the asylum, Buell Hall, is used to house Columbia's French programme. While it is the only remaining building, more history lurks beneath the surface of Columbia's Morningside campus, in the form of extensive (and "officially" off-limits) tunnels. Tunnels connect virtually all of the main campus's buildings, with the oldest dating from the time of the insane asylum, and beneath the pictured Buell Hall is a large crawl space connected to these secretive tunnels.

It turns out, that there is a lot of history tucked away in this city, and sometimes, much to my surprise, you can stumble upon it just blocks from your home.

On the block between Broadway and West End Avenue at 94th to 95th streets you can find a curious little Tudoresque walkway. Built in the 1920s, Pomander Walk is nestled amongst the typical buildings of the Upper West Side, but is in no way considered to be typical itself. It boasts a Hollywood beginning, being named for the romantic comedy Pomander Walk, set in our homeland of England and imitating the history that you and I grew up with, though they certainly land on the Disney end of the authenticity spectrum. In fact, in Disney style, it was originally built as more of an attraction by Thomas J. Healy, in order to drum up some cash while waiting for financing for a hotel on the location after a few years, but fortunately for us/unfortunately for him, he passed away before taking the opportunity, and so here we are 95 years later, with a Disney-esque, Tudor style walk, mid-block on the Upper West Side. Interesting (possible) fact - the Hollywood theme may have continued later on, as lots of sites have claimed this was the chosen Manhattan residence of Humphrey Bogart for some time, though I can't find any actual proof of this. We couldn't get in (it's a gated community), but for a peek the other side of the gates check out Scouting NY's blog on the walk.

A piece of history from twenty years later and forty blocks south looms over the Hudson Greenway: USS Intrepid. Its name has been bandied around so much that when Ed told me about the cool museum created within the Intrepid, the name was ringing bells and I knew that I had encountered it at some point. I had no idea that it boasted such an impressive set of achievements, not least surviving two kamikaze hits in WWII. I'm not going to give a history lesson, it'd take too long and I'm sure you'd end up with some pretty flimsy 'facts', but I will talk about the photograph. I wanted to capture how impressive this ship is, but I didn't want to regurgitate the typical, square, front on image that you find if you google 'The Intrepid'. It is an imposing addition to the Hudson and is in no way dwarfed by the skyscrapers that the city boasts. It is certainly on my 'NYC To Do' list.

My theme this week has stemmed from the excitement of getting a new tripod allowing me to try night time long exposure shots, but it sits happily beside your theme of a little bit of history. Although, I start with a stunning view towards New Jersey from our roof terrace I want to focus on the second view from our roof towards midtown, which highlights the benefits of using a tripod in comparison to the first image.

On September 11th 2001, a disastrous piece of history was made and it was witnessed all around the world. Being in this city on this date is a sobering experience. Whilst walking around the city you become acutely aware that the people who surround you may well have been here on that day.

However, in true New York fashion, the city responds with meaningful and powerful solidarity. On September 11th every year, two lights beam into the night near where the Twin Towers once stood. They are seen from all around and cannot be ignored.

This week's theme is Memorial.

With love,

New York