Washington Square’s Latest “Ghost”

5 11 2009

All this talk of ghost stories and history seems to be (pardon the pun) haunting me. After thinking, just two days ago, upon the literal layers of a historic house in New Hope, this morning I read in New York Magazine about the headstone unearthed last week in Washington Square Park. It’s no secret that the lively park has had many incarnations in its long history, one of which as a “potter’s field.” Last year, the first phase of a renovation project led to the discovery of intact skeletons.

The second phase is now under way, and last week a neighborhood resident reported seeing a crew dusting off a headstone. The stone dates back to 1799 and marked the grave of James Jackson, a grocer who died at the age of 28. Now the quest is on to figure out who James Jackson was. Given that the park was a Potter’s Field, there would not have been headstones in it, but there was also a church cemetery in the park at one time, or, as this blog suggests, some rare yellow fever victims did have tombstones.

Whatever the case, I will be following it, not only because it’s a fascinating sliver of New York history, but because, yet again, it underlines my vision of the city as palimpsest (which, it turns out, is not a vision unique to me), where life and stories are layered upon one another, like the paint covering John Pickett’s landscapes in New Hope or the park covering a former resting place for the city’s poor.

 

 

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Historic Haunts (and Hauntings)

2 11 2009

I did not dress up for Halloween this year. Not surprising given my dearth of creativity when it comes to costume ideas (and general dislike of the tradition as a result). What I did celebrate, however, was my favorite part of the holiday, the focus on ghosts and hauntings. While I’m not so much obsessed with ghosts, the whole historic aspect of it I find thrilling. Last Halloween, I did a pub crawl of some of New York’s favorite haunted hot spots.

This year, I’m thinking of some of the other haunted places to visit. Every major city, it seems, has its own host of ghosts, and every place worth its salt as a travel destination has a tour to explore them. I’ve been on ghost tours in San Francisco and Edinburgh and New Orleans, to name a few. They are often cheesy but always fun, and the beauty of them lies not so much in the scary factor (for me at least) but for the glimpses of history they provide.

Most recently, I visited New Hope, one of Pennsylvania’s oldest (and arguably quirkiest) towns, where they have their cadre of spooks and spirits who add a little local color to an already colorful place. On a ghost tour of the town we learned about Joseph Pickett, a painter who only received acclaim following his 1918 death, after his wife had auctioned off much of his work. The quirky Mr. Pickett is said to have shown those who made fun of his work but painting one of his landscapes on the outside of his home. While the building has been painted over today, his ghost is said to remain. This is the sort of local color I love, and the ideal ghost story, one that unearths a bit of a place’s history in relation to its sights.

For more fun “haunts” check out Budget Travel’s list of haunted walking tours.





Dia de Los Muertos Traditions – Experience Them

29 10 2009

I love the idea of learning about cultural traditions, but even better is actually experiencing them. Today Matador Travel had a great article on five places to experience Dia de los Muertos. Two of those, it turns out, happen to be in California. In San Francisco, the festivities abound, with, among others, a special San Francisco Symphony performance on Nov 1, and a Mission District procession on Nov 2.

Meanwhile, here in New York, we’ve got our own celebrations going on. The recently re-opened El Museo del Barrio will be celebrating all day Saturday with concerts, talks, food tastings and much more. This year New York, next year Pátzcuaro.





Book Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman

27 03 2009

I just realized that my book group book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, is due back at the library today, but I have to write about it before it goes back to the shelf. It is not the sort of book toward which I would ordinarily gravitate. And yet I’m obsessed with it.

It’s a horrifying and riveting true tale of an EHM, an “economic hitman” whose job it is to convince developing countries to take out massive loans that will leave them indebted to the United States, allowing the latter to then call upon these countries for their pound of flesh—money, oil, UN votes or sundry other benefits—whenever necessary. It’s a system author John Perkins describes as “the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever known.”

The book is well-written and truly thought-provoking. It also had me seething at many, many moments, especially reading about how much the government is tied up in private business and how many government decisions—such as the 1989 invasion of Panama (which President Bush called a way of ending Noriega‘s dictatorship and Perkins calls “an unprovoked attack on a civilian population”)—were based on business concerns (oil, disputes over who should control the Panama Canal,…). I know that I shouldn’t be surprised, and in many ways I’m not. I am horrified nonetheless. While there were points when I alternately felt sorry for Perkins because he felt trapped in this system and annoyed at his justifications of his own involvement, I realize that the good of his experience is that this book could come from it. And hopefully this book will enlighten and help to end the cycle.

On top of that, I must say that I loved it for the travel journalistic qualities it had about it. Perkins visited some fascinating places and describes them vividly, along with his interactions with real people there, and real glimpses into the cultures of these places. It was refreshing that, amid all the gloom and doom of discovering what a monster your country is, you get inside glimpses at the indigenous cultures of Ecuador or a puppet show (dalang) in a tiny town of Indonesia. It also made the U.S. actions all the more despicable.

For me, ultimately, the book is about memory. It’s about the writing of history, how we write it and also how we read it, and, most importantly, what is left out. By telling his story, Perkins helps to reclaim a little of that history, but the most important part of reclaiming history, it seems, is to learn from it.





Where Will You Be?

15 01 2009

The day we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived.

Bush gives his farewell address tonight! And a quick thumbs up to Gail Collins for her piece in the Times is titled He’s Leaving. Really. Perhaps the best Op-Ed title. Ever.

But, much awaited and welcome as this evening is, it is not (if for no other reason that it’s yet another George W. speech) the highly anticipated, wracked with joy event of which I speak. America has been a buzz of excitement these past few weeks, looking forward to Tuesday with all out fervor. For two months I’ve passed a familiar face in shop windows all over the city, vendors selling every type of  “Yes We Did” paraphernalia imaginable, and next week it will finally be official.

The festivities begin with an inaugural celebration on Sunday at Lincoln Memorial and will last through the Wednesday prayer service, and four million lambs are expected to flock to D.C. this weekend to be part of the historic and joyful inauguration of lucky number 44.

I, alas, will remain in New York. Though I am close to D.C., it does happen to be a work day (and we are having our own Harlem Children’s Zone inauguration celebration) and I happen to not like crowds all that much. However, for those who are braver than I, there is good news: if you’d like to go to D.C. but aren’t willing to promise your first born child for a much coveted hotel room, try staying with a local. Courtesy of Air Bed & Breakfast, local D.C. ers are offering rooms for rent, costing anywhere from $40-$100 a night. Easy to afford now that there’s a possibility of a tax credit. For more information on parties, getting to D.C., and even a Crash Kit, check out
www.crashtheinauguration.com
.

If you’re like me and can’t travel (or just fear being trampled) look local. Here in New York, where the streets danced on November 4, 2008, there will be no shortage of Obama celebrations, but local organizations around the country promise similar festivities. In California, Keith Carson, Alameda County Supervisor, has put together several days of interfaith/community service related events in honor of the new president and no doubt to get a head start on Obama’s Call to Service. Or if all else fails, plan your own party. Whatever you’re doing on January 20, though, it’s guaranteed to be one of those “I remember when…” moments.





Sweet, Sweet Victory

5 11 2008

I was a nervous wreck all day yesterday, and even well into 200 electoral votes, but not anymore! (My mother, also, is very excited, that I’m not moving to Bolivia.) I know this isn’t a political blog, but I just had to note my euphoria on just a grand, historic, and unbelievable day. I’m so excited I’m not even sure what to do with myself, and I’m so thrilled to have been a part of creating this new page of our US history books.

I am also, it turns out, again proud to be living in New York, where, until 3 am people were celebrating in the streets, literally.

Cab Celebration

The driver may not look too happy, but underneath that surly exterior, he is.

I didn’t stay out that long, but did manage to catch this party on First Ave, just two blocks from home, where the streets were so packed it took a bus two lights to get through. Ah, New York City. I am enamoured of you once again…

Yes, those are all heads.

Yes, those are all heads.





Haunted Haunts

31 10 2008

Halloween is here again. Every year it seems to sneak up on me, and every year it finds me with neither the costume nor the will to come up with one. Perhaps it stems from growing up, when my mother, who also never had the drive or passion for creating costumes, always “nudged” me toward costumes that were easy for her to create: the PG&E linesman (my father could get the hard hat from work), the cheerleader (my sister wasn’t wearing that uniform any more), and even Jane Fonda (yes. Jane Fonda). Somehow, save for the year I wreaked havoc on the house by insisting on being a pumpkin, I was amenable to her suggestions, however odd or non-age-appropriate (what other six year old was Jane Fonda?).

Anyhow, to this day my Halloween costumes typically involve minimal creativity and minimal effort, and I’m just fine with that. However, I do enjoy the holiday. Who wouldn’t love a holiday that’s based around candy? And here in New York, I love it even more for the ghostly aspect of it. Being obsessed with history as I am, I am fond of ghost stories and their ability to transmit our past and keep it alive in the future. And so, without further ado, a list of some of my favorite New York “haunts,” in no particular order:

  • Bridge Cafe. (279 Water St) The building itself dates back to 1794 and is said to have been home to Irish prostitutes. It’s been a bar since 1847, making it New York’s oldest continually running bar, haunted, they say, by pirates who frequented the place before the Brooklyn Bridge (in whose shadow it lies) was even a thought.
  • The Chelsea Hotel. (222 W. 23rd St.) Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was living at the hotel when accused of his girlfriend’s murder and overdosed before his trial ended. He can still sometimes be seen near the elevator doors.
  • Ear Inn. (326 Spring St.) This place has a long history, starting as the home of James Brown, aide to Washington in the Revolution. Since then it’s had various incarnations, from brewery to speakeasy, to boarding house and brothel. It is haunted by Mickey, a sailor who died out front.
  • White Horse Tavern. (567 Hudson St.) This place dates from the 19th Century but it’s more famous for being the place where bohemian writer Dylan Thomas drank himself to death (read: 18 beers) in 1953 and is still said to return from time to time.
  • Algonquin Hotel. (59 West 44th St.) This elegant hotel was the regular lunch spot where Dorothy Parker held court for the Round Table, her 1920s group of literati, who joined her for lunch and literature. Parker seems to come back for a visit from time to time…
  • St. Mark’s Church. (131 E 10th St.) The historic church was erected in 1799, and before that it was the private “Bouwerie Chapel” of early New York leader, Peter Stuyvesant. Though the church itself was built after Stuyvesant’s death, it is considered one of the most haunted places in the city, mainly by Peg-leg Peter, Stuyvesant’s ghost, whose distinct wooden leg footsteps can sometimes be heard wandering the grounds.