Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hall of Fame for Great Americans

What is now known as Bronx Community College was once a part of the University Heights campus of New York University. Much of the original University was designed by architect Stanford White (in a Beaux Arts style), and constructed in 1900.
Upon the heights once occupied by the British army in the autumn of 1776 now stands the campus' library, which is a beautiful work of architecture - outside...

...and inside.

Just behind the building is the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

Considered the first "hall of fame" in the U.S., the open-air colonnade was built at the same time as the college, and was the idea of Chancellor of New York University, Dr. Henry Mitchell MacCracken, though donated by Helen Gould, and dedicated to her in May of 1901.
The sculpture gallery contains close to 100 portrait busts of famous Americans, and is split up into sections, such as authors, inventors, artists, soldiers and politicians.
Many of the Great Americans found in the hall truly deserve to be here (though shocked there is no bust for Samuel Clemens / Mark Twain). Some included are: 

Benjamin Franklin

Booker T. Washington

Edgar Allan Poe

George Washington Carver

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Susan B. Anthony

Now, there are a few statues a handful of modern historians wish were not on display, like Andrew Jackson...

...but there is one bust that baffles many more as to why it's here, especially since it was placed so soon after the Civil War: Robert E. Lee.

Due to financial troubles, the campus was sold to the City University of New York in 1973, and it became Bronx Community College. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans fell into disrepair years before the sale, and though new busts were elected to be included (Clara Barton, and Andrew Carnegie), no new ones had been added, besides Franklin D. Roosevelt - which looks much different than the other statues, possibly since it took nineteen years to raise the $25 grand for its commission).
NY state spent $3 million restoring the colonnade's foundation in 1978, with another $1 million in 2001 for restoration, and expansion.
While there is not much else to see in the immediate area, the outdoor hall is still a great location for quite reflection, philosophic thought, or just to catch some great views of the cliffs of New Jersey's Hudson River Palisades.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Old Calvary Cemetery

Queens has such an old, and large, cemetery, it stretches out over two neighborhoods (Maspeth and Woodside) in four sections. Established in 1848, after Old St. Patrick's Cathedral purchased the original 71 acres of land, Calvary Cemetery is now the resting place for three million Roman Catholics, on 365 acres.

The oldest section is known as First Calvary (or Old Calvary), which is sandwiched between the Long Island Expressway and Review Avenue in Maspeth. It is most famous for the views of Manhattan, as well as being able to photograph tombstones, with dramatic buildings in the background.

Esther Ennis, who was said to have died of a "broken heart", was the first to be buried there, on July 31 of 1848.  With interment only costing $7 (per adult), the graveyard was having close to fifty burials a day.
The site was once accessible by ferry from 23rd Street, but that stopped in the early 1900s, a little after moving it to 10th Street.
Noted graves here include that of Hall of Fame baseball player, Mickey Welch; the actress who played Aunt Jemima, Tess Gardella; composer, Joseph E. Howard; American Civil War officer and commander of the Irish Brigade, Richard Byrnes; NYC mayor, Hugh J. Grant; plus crime figures Ignatius "Lupo the Wolf" Lupo, and Benjamin "Lefty Two Guns" Ruggiero.
Within the cemetery is a small city park called Calvary Veterans Park, and it holds the Calvary Monument honoring the 69th Infantry Regiment of New York.
Movie buffs might like to scene-spot, when they find that Don Corleone's funeral in The Godfather was filmed in Old Calvary. So as not to seem highbrow, a scene in Zoolander was, too.
Though some may think me morbid, aside from the gravemarker/city photos one can take, I find a lot of this place to be rather photogenic.


Old Calvary was full by 1867, and the Archdiocese of New York soon expanded the cemetery, adding more sections. While still in use today, Calvary only accepts immediate inhumation, and does not sell plots to those looking towards the future, so look elsewhere in advance, or write it up in your will.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Cloisters

One of the lesser known museums in New York City can be found within the Hudson Heights' section of Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan. Known as The Cloisters, it is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and only holds medieval European works, which mostly belonged to American sculptor George Grey Barnard.
The original collection was purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., soon after he commissioned the planning of Ft. Tryon Park in 1917, though construction of the museum did not start until 1934.

Overseen by architect Charles Collens, parts of five French abbeys (Sant Miquel de Cuixà, Sant Guilhèm dau Desèrt, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigòrra, and Froville) were transported - brick by brick - and reconstructed to make up most of the museum, from 1934 to 1939.

By the time the museum was finished, Rockefeller donated the land to the city of New York, as well as a large portion of his medieval art in addition to the Barnard acquisitions, including the famous "Hunt of the Unicorn" tapestry of 1495.
While the five French abbeys (listed above) consist much of the architecture of The Cloisters, there are also a number of chapels within the building, such as the Gothic chapel of the church of Saint Leonhard (from Austria, Spain - dated 1340)... the Fuentidueña Apse (dated 1175), which was part of the San Martín church at Castile-León, Spain.

Besides the architecture, there are about five thousand works of art (from the 12th to 15th Centuries) to be found throughout the museum - including statues...

...stained glass, manuscripts, tapestries, paintings, religious items...

...and a number of tomb effigies.

The museum also has a library, which is only one of Metropolitan Museum's thirteen, and it holds 15,000 books, as well as the original museum glass lantern slides, dealer and scholars records, and plenty of old maps,
Though closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, The Cloisters is open daily, 10am until almost 5pm, and there is only a suggested donation, but do be generous.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Quester I (Calvert Vaux Park) and the Coney Island Parachute Jump

There isn't much to see in Calvert Vaux Park in Gravesend, Brooklyn, but if you happen to be in the area, do check out its shoreline. The park's ground was created out of sand, and rock, trenched from the construction of the Verazanno-Narrows Bridge, and while it holds a few baseball diamonds, and a soccer field, the real reason those who visit this blog would want to stop by would be to check out the remains of Quester I, an abandoned submarine.

In 1966, a Brooklyn Navy Yard ship worker named Jerry Bianco had the idea to build a small submarine to raise the wreck of the SS Andrea Doria, which shipwrecked off the coast of Nantucket Island on July 17, 1956.
After finding a handful of investors, he, and his two sons, began construction the following year, using mostly salvaged metal.

By 1970, he had finished his dream, and created a 40 ft (12 m), 83 ton (75 metric ton) submarine, painted with yellow zinc chromate. It passed Coast Guard and Navy inspections, and was ready to launch on October 19, 1970.
Sadly, when lowering it into Coney Island Creek, the crane operator did not listen to Bianco's instructions, and the sub tipped sideways making it unusable.

Then docked, Jerry worked on the submersible for another year or so, but investors - already weary from its poor launch - backed out, and, without funding, the Quester I just sat there for years.
A storm in 1981 loosened it from its posts, and it became lodged in the muddy banks of the creek, where it has sat since.
If you're into dystopian landscapes, or have a case of cacophilia, keep walking along the shore of the park, and you will see sights that will certainly delight you.

If you're on the Coney Island side of the creek, you can still see the Quester I submarine from Kaiser Park, though nowhere near as close as if you were on the Gravesend side.

Still, being on this side of Coney Island Creek does have its advantages, such as seeing the old Parachute Jump up close.

Originally constructed for the 1939 New York World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, the now-defunct ride was moved to Coney Island in 1941, as part Steeplechase Amusement Park. It is the only ride, and part, of that park still around today.
Built by the Life Savers candy company for $15,000, two passengers were strapped into one of twelve seats under a closed parachute, then lifted by a cable to the top. There, a latch system would open, dropping them, with their descent slowed by the chute. Each two-person seat took three people to manage, making the ride rather expensive to operate, though it cost adults only 40¢, and children 25¢.

Steeplechase Park bought the tower for $150,000, and the complete ride was disassembled, and moved to its current location.

While the park closed in 1964, the Parachute Jump was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and New York City recognized it as a landmark in 1989.

In 2004, Leni Schwendinger Light Projects was commissioned to create LED lighting for the Parachute Jump. Using 8,000 LED lights, the project debuted in July of 2006, with six computer-programmed animated lighting scenarios.
There were other parks in the area, such as Astroland (1962 - 2008), but, like Steeplechase Park, many of its rides were taken down a little after closing, though some stayed for much longer.

In 2013, the current funfair, Luna Park, was evacuated because one of the last remaining rides from Astroland, the Astrotower (aka Tower to the Stars), began swaying. Within days, the gyro-tower was gone, and Coney Island's scenery changed once again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Houdini's Grave

In Glendale, Queens there is a necropolis known as the "Cemetery Belt"; a large group of graveyards pushed there due to the need for space thanks to the Rural Cemeteries Act of 1847. Among them (not too far from the J train, walking north on Cypress Hill Street) sits a small a Jewish mortuary called Machpelah Cemetery.

Most of the memorial park is abandoned, and unkempt, with even the office buildings being empty - one of which was bulldozed in 2014. Walking around, one can see why this funerary ground has many dubbing it the creepiest grave site in the city.

There are few sights to see here, besides two graves of note, both of which are in the same family plot.

Here lies Eric Weiss, who - at 17 years of age - changed his name to Harry Houdini.

On Halloween of 1926, world famous magician, and escape-artist, Houdini died of peritonitis, due to a ruptured appendix, because two days before some idiot unexpectedly (and purposefully) punched him in the stomach several times, as he was reclining in recovery from a broken ankle.
In pain, Houdini went on to perform his last show at the Garrick Theater in Detroit, MI. After his death, his body was returned to New York, and buried on November 4th, with over 2,000 in attendance.
Though the crest of the Society of American Magicians adorns his family's plot...

...many locals were upset when a bust of his likeness was added the following year, because images of the dead are not allowed in Jewish cemeteries.

This has not stopped vandals from either destroying or stealing it, as it has been desecrated four times between 1975 and 1993. The Society of American Magicians gave up replacing it, and even stopped care of the grounds. In 2011, the Harry Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA, replaced the bust, and decided to pay for someone to take care of the grave site.

The other distinguished burial here is of Ferenc Dezső Weiss, who was Houdini's younger brother, and was also a magician and escape artists, billing under the name Theodore Hardeen.

Hardeen was the first to perform escape stunts in view of the audience, over hiding behind a curtain. He had also starred in a few movies, such as the Warner Bros short Medium Well Done, and the hilariously bizarre 1941 film Hellzapoppin'.
At 69 years old, he died of complications during surgery, only a year after he founded the Magician's Guild.
If you are thinking of visiting, I would suggest any day of the week, besides Saturdays when the gates are locked due to Shabbat, as well as Houdini's death anniversary of Halloween, because of the deluge of fans, and the curious, plus there tends to be a heavy police presence.