An Overdue Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge

When the Brooklyn Bridge opened 130 years ago, it was a technological marvel – the longest suspension bridge in the world! – and people didn’t know if they could trust it. A few days after the bridge opened in May 1883, a rumor that the structure would collapse caused a stampede that killed 12 people. P.T. Barnum, ever the master showman, saw an opportunity to promote his circus, and renewed an offer –  already once turned down – to stage a spectacle on the bridge. This time, with the recent deaths and persistent mistrust of the bridge at top of mind, officials allowed him to. The following May, he marched 21 elephants, including that gentle giant, Jumbo the fucking elephant, across the Brooklyn Bridge.

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Look, I go to a lot of zoos, and that is one seriously huge elephant.
(Image from the collection of the Barnum Museum)

Obviously the Bridge is still standing, so we felt it safe to join the throngs crossing it by foot one beautiful spring day a month or so ago. Somehow, despite living here for the past few years, visiting the city many times before living here, and having worked in lower Manhattan several times each, neither of us had ever walked across the bridge. It was time to make like Jumbo the elephant.

A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is just over a mile long, with a pedestrian walkway and bike lanes suspended above the car traffic. The views are lovely – the soaring towers of lower Manhattan on one side, Brooklyn looming straight ahead, and my favorite harbor bridge, the Manhattan Bridge (it’s true!), off to one side.

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Attached to many surfaces were Love Locks, or padlocks that couples attach to bridges while making a wish for everlasting love, and then throwing the key into the river. This is another reason not to eat anything anyone catches in New York City’s rivers: it probably has a key in its belly from one of these clowns.

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When we made it over to Brooklyn, we waited in line for half an hour to eat Grimaldi’s pizza (I hate waiting in line for things, but I will admit that this was absolutely worth the wait! There was a pizza-shaped hole in my heart, and Grimaldi’s filled it.) and then wandered into Brooklyn Bridge Park, where E and our friend D played catch on a tiny patch of unoccupied lawn.

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We wandered through Smorgasburg in the Tobacco Warehouse, and then headed back to the subway. This was, in all honesty, probably one of the most lamely touristy excursions we’ve ever made in the city (and I hope I’ve made it clear that I love doing touristy shit), but I admit it was fun. It’s always good to get a new perspective on your city, and a slow journey across a very large bridge is a really excellent way to do so.

I still feel like we maintained a bit of our insider cred, though. We stayed on the downtown 6 train after its last stop at the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station and looped on through the abandoned City Hall subway station to show our friend D. And the lights were on. So, I mean, that must count for something, no?

We Do New York: City Hall Subway Station Tour

Visiting the abandoned City Hall Subway Station has been high on the list of New York Things to do since E and I moved here. This year, days before E’s birthday, I discovered that tickets for a tour were about to go on sale. E usually blows me out of the water with birthday/holiday gifts, so I was excited to finally have an awesome gift in the works. The City Hall subway station was designed to be the crown jewel of the NYC subway, and it had vaulted ceilings and skylights, lovely mosaics and an ornate wooden ticket booth.  It was abandoned in 1945, when changes in the design of trains made continuing to use the short, curved platform unsafe and impractical. Nowadays, subway riders can catch a glimpse of the station as the downtown 6 train loops through it when turning around to go uptown, or you can go on a tour of the station with the New York Transit Museum (which, incidentally, is one of my favorite museums in New York! Vintage trains! That you get to hang out in!).

On Saturday, September 24, we gathered on the downtown 6 train platform at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station to wait for the tour to begin. It’s uncomfortably warm in the subway from April-October, so we were quickly annoyed by the heat and the grime and the noise down there, but what are you going to do. They gave us earpieces and radios so we could hear the tour guide on the platform.

And we waited. And waited and waited and waited. The tour was supposed to begin at noon, but the tour guide was late. At 12:15, they sent somebody above ground to call the guide. At 12:30, they said we could go to the abandoned City Hall station with the facilitator from the Transit Museum, which most of the group elected to do. She imparted what she knew about the station, but we didn’t have a formal tour — mostly we just hung out on the platform and took photographs.

It was disappointing to not get the full tour experience, especially given how pricey the tickets were (and, since the tour was only open to museum members, I had to buy a family membership as well), but the museum has said they’ll try to accommodate folks on their December tours. And, at the very least, the staff of the museum are to be commended for their flexibility and customer service. It wasn’t their fault that the tour guide, who I believe was independent of the museum, did not show up. Hopefully we’ll be able to attend the December tour and give a review of the tour content beyond just OMG THE STATION IS SUPER COOOOOOL. Which, if I haven’t said it yet, it was.

I don’t pretend that I am anything of a photographer (for some perspective, my camera is so old and crappy that my iPhone takes better pictures than it, like 90% of the time), but here are a couple snaps:

A view of the curved platform. Check out the chandeliers and skylights!

Skylight above the stairs to the ticket booth area. Instagram'ed, of course.

One of the reasons the station fell out of use: the huge gap between the car and the platform! When the station was first built, the trains only had entrances at the front and back of each car, but now there are doors in the center. We used a ramp to get from the train to the platform.

 

Friday Anticipation: Trains, Rain, and Automobiles

Today I wore some crazy bright red galoshes to work. I felt a little silly traipsing around in red rubber boots this morning when it was bone dry outside (not counting humidity, of course, which is still through the roof), but when I put them on before I dashed out to get taquitos for lunch, I let go of any regret that remained. Rain boots are AWESOME, guys! And it looks like I’ll be getting a lot of use out of them this weekend, since the forecast in New York is calling for rain through Wednesday.

Even still, I am excited for this weekend! I’ve been feeling the interior re-decorating bug lately, so tonight I am trying to muster the motivation to make a quick run to Ikea for a new rug for our entryway and possibly some fabric panels to fill the wall behind our brass bed.

Tomorrow we are heading into Manhattan for a tour of the abandoned City Hall subway station with the New York Transit Museum. E and I have been dying to explore the station since we learned of its existence a few years ago, and I finally bought tickets (and the required NYTM membership) for his birthday this year. I am frustrated all the time by New York’s tendency to bulldoze and pave over many of its historical sites, but the city still holds some of its secrets beneath its surface.

The station's been abandoned since 1945. Photo from the Huffington Post.

Then, E’s brother, N, is coming into the city to enjoy an evening at the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, New York’s oldest standing beer garden and one of our favorite places in the city. Luckily, it’s also on our block, so we spend a whole lot of time there when the weather’s good. They have a tent set up now that it’s cooling down, so we’re hoping to still enjoy the garden despite the weather.

On Sunday, I have the privilege of attending a baby “sprinkle” for a good friend of mine. She’s having her second child, a boy, in November, and the ladies in her life decided to take the opportunity to gather and celebrate in a low-key way – hence the “sprinkle” rather than a “shower.” I’m excited to see folks and enjoy the day, and to love on the mama-to-be. I also always like an opportunity to head up the highway into New England in the early Fall for some foliage, since the leaves in New York usually just stay green forever and then drop off the trees.

Here’s to a wonderful weekend!

We Do New York: Stillspotting NYC

One of my priorities as I enter my third and possibly last year of living in New York City is to experience as much of the city as possible, as cheaply and meaningfully as I can. This means about a million things, from taking advantage of free admission days at local museums, to using the heck out of our museum memberships, to prioritizing those activities that are worth paying for that allow me to see the city in a new way.

One activity that fell into the lattermost category (but that I didn’t have to pay for myself since I went on a field trip with work, score!) was the To a Great City tour, part of the Guggenheim’s Stillspotting NYC, a series of installations around Lower Manhattan.

The staging of five recorded works by Pärt gradually transports visitors from the hustle and bustle of the streetscape to an elevated urban experience that makes them newly aware of their sense of hearing. Visitors can experience this confluence of music and architecture at five separate locations downtown that quietly celebrate the city, ten years after the September 11 attacks. Traveling through sites along the periphery of Ground Zero, participants encounter a green labyrinth created by the Battery Conservancy, reflect in an underground chamber at Governors Island National Monument, and enter otherwise inaccessible spaces in landmark skyscrapers. The stillness and seclusion of these spaces heightens awareness and recalibrates the senses. Over the course of a day, participants may visit each space multiple times at their leisure to understand how their perception changes based on circumstances such as time, stress, appetite, and sleep. Listeners become increasingly sensitized as they are drawn in and ideally are transformed to a focused and tranquil state.

We were able to hit 3 of the 5 sites (the other 2 located on Governors Island had to be skipped because we missed the last ferry of the day, boo), and so we got to walk a labyrinth in Battery Park, check out the view from the 46th floor of 7 World Trade Center, and hang out in the Woolworth Building. In each location, music helped to quiet the world around you and focus your attention.

I’d say, overall, the project wasn’t super successful. The coolest thing about it was getting access to non- or semi-public areas, and most often the music felt rather forced and awkward. I would have liked to have seen more spaces that New Yorkers take for granted (the labyrinth in Battery Park, for example) given a soundtrack for download and personal use. How cool would it be to be hanging out in Battery Park and see a few people walking the labyrinth with headphones on, participating in something you don’t know about yet, but want to find out about?  As it was executed, it felt rather stiff and formal.

That said, I was glad to have done it, and would have paid the $10 ticket fee myself. The inside of the neo-Gothic Woolworth Building was insanely detailed and beautiful (This photo hardly does it justice), and the views of the newly opened 9/11 Memorial from 7 WTC were lovely. I only wish we’d been able to see the sites on Governors Island to round out the experience – that might have changed my impressions of the tour overall.

Tours for To a Great City run from Thursdays to Sundays, September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011. Hours of operation are 11 am–7 pm, with the last ticket pick-up at 4 pm (but try not to miss the last Governors Island ferry!). Information available here.