I love stories about noconformists. They make life interesting. Unlike anarchists, they do obey the law, often to their detriment, but they are usually still able to get their point across.
Such a man was David Hess, who owned a 5-story apartment building in the West Village in Lower Manhattan. From 1913 to 1916, New York City was exercising imminent domain to extend Seventh Avenue for eleven more blocks. Even though Hess fought the demolition of his building, it was eventually razed.
But the Hess family learned that the surveyors had screwed up and left a tiny triangle of land that by rights still belonged to them. They took it to court and won. The city actually had the nerve to ask them to donate the triangle to them as it was encroaching on the public sidewalk.
The family not only refused, but they installed the tilework pictured below. It says “property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes”. It’s a little nose thumbing at the municipality, and that mosaic is still to be found in the sidewalk to this very day.
The Hess family eventually sold the triangle to a cigar shop to the tune of $1,000. It has been sold several times since then, but it still is private property, and taxes are dutifully paid. If you would like to see the Hess Triangle, go to the corner of Christopher and Seventh Avenue, and the triangle is right in front of the cigar shop’s door. It’s nearly impossible not to trespass on this property when you enter or exit the store.
A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’m calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!
After my little project to get books to needy children, a friend (Hi, Sam!) told me about LINC, or LiteracyINC, which is an organization in New York City which does the same thing on a much, much larger scale. I decided to look into this program. What I see on their website is very impressive.
As they so aptly describe it, “LINC provides a scaffolding of support that increases both children’s and parents’ access to literacy-building opportunities, raises expectations, generates an understanding of grade-level literacy skills, and provides simple reading strategies to support parents in helping their children, regardless of their own ability to read or speak English.”
These are concepts near and dear to my heart. And I’m even more impressed by the many different programs they operate. They hold workshops for parents to teach them “literacy strategies to use at home and to make literacy a part of a family’s daily routine.” They have another workshop to prepare parents to be classroom volunteers.
They also have several school programs. In one, they pair older students with K-2nd grade students. They become reading buddies. That is awesome. They also build strong parent/teacher collaborations. In addition, they go into senior centers and link them with second grade students. That’s called the Great Grandreader Program. What’s not to love?
LINC also holds street fairs and celebrations at local libraries and they hold book drives. They partner with local and corporate businesses, PTAs, NGOs and community centers.
Truly, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this wonderful organization does. You’ll find much more on their website. I hope you’ll join me in supporting them! When our children become successful readers, we all thrive.
I have mixed emotions about museums. I absolutely adore them, and I think they are unparalleled as places of enlightenment. But on the other hand, let’s face it, in many cases a lot of the things contained therein were either stolen or obtained under shady circumstances. So I feel guilty for my love.
For example, I once had the opportunity to visit the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and oh, what a treat that was. But while gazing in awe at the largest of all the meteorites housed therein, I had no idea how sad the story was behind it. If I had known, I may have looked at it quite differently. My awe would still have been there, but it would have been mixed with sorrow.
According to an article entitled “Minik and the Meteor”, The meteorite in question, called the Cape York meteorite, was part of a 4.5 billion year old asteroid, weighing 200 tons, that struck the earth about 10,000 years ago. It landed in what is now Greenland. Fast forward to the 1800’s, and explorers in the area found out that the local inuit were making iron tools, and that iron was coming from some mysterious distant “mountain”.
It took explorers nearly another 100 years to actually get the inuit to reveal this mountain’s location, and they probably only did so because with so many explorers showing up and trading with them, the rare source of iron wasn’t quite as valuable to them as it once was. (Little did they know, those visits would eventually all but dry up, so they should have held on to this important resource.)
So when Robert Peary launched his 1894 expedition, in an effort to reach the North Pole, little did he know that his focus would shift. In exchange for a gun, an inuit man led him right to the source. It took 11 days.
Without asking any kind of permission, Peary took two of the smaller meteorites on that expedition. He returned in 1896 to obtain the largest one, which was 11 feet across. It was dragged onto Peary’s ship and christened Anighito, the middle name of Peary’s daughter. It weighed 36.5 tons.
He was also asked by the museum to obtain something else: One living inuit for “study”. Peary decided to bring back six. The more the merrier. In addition, he brought back a bunch of bones of their ancestors , also obtained without permission, and removed under great protest.
He talked these poor people into coming with him by promising them “nice warm houses in the sunshine land, and guns and knives and needles and many other things.” They also expected to be brought back after a year. One of the Inuit in question was a little boy named Minik, who accompanied his father.
According to later interviews with Minik, Peary was nice enough when they were still in Greenland, making many promises and reassurances. But the minute they were on board, they were packed in the hold like dogs and virtually ignored.
After arriving in New York, they were quartered in a damp cellar in the bowels of the museum. Within weeks they were all sick. Four of the six, including Minik’s father, were dead within 4 months. That left Minik and one adult male alive. That man promptly returned to Greenland, leaving Minik alone.
The dead Inuit were dissected by medical students, and their cleaned bones were stored in the museum, as part of their collection. Minik was adopted by an employee of the museum, and raised in a loving family in the Bronx, but he always felt like a freak. His whole life, he tried and failed to get his father’s remains back.
In 1909, a very bitter and defeated Minik returned to Greenland at about the age of 18. He had forgotten the language. He didn’t know how to hunt. He learned quickly, but he missed city life. He returned to New York in 1916. He tried one last time to retrieve his father’s bones. Once again, the museum wasn’t having it.
He then moved to New Hampshire, became a lumberjack, and lived on a farm with a friend. And then, as the final insult, he died in 1918 in the Spanish Flu epidemic. He was only about 28 years old.
Minik’s father was finally laid to rest in Greenland in a church cemetery in 1993. Minik still rests in New Hampshire. Aside from headstones, there are no monuments to either of these ill-used and tragic men, unless you count the meteorite itself, which museum visitors can happily visit without ever knowing its whole story.
At 12:01 pm on September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded in the financial district of Manhattan in New York City. 30 people died instantly with 8 more deaths to follow. 143 additional people were injured. It was the deadliest terror attack on American soil up to that point.
According to Wikipedia, this crime was never solved, but it is suspected that it was carried out by Italian anarchists. It had to do with postwar social unrest, labor struggles, and anti-capitalist agitation. (Sound familiar?)
The bomb rolled up on a horse drawn carriage, times being what they were. It consisted of 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of shrapnel. Given that there was a timer, you’d think the terrorist would have had the decency to save the horse, but no. The driver escaped, though. Of course.
The explosion mostly took out young, lower level employees; messengers, clerks and the like. That hardly seems fair. But of course none of this was fair.
It also caused 2 million dollars in property damage, which would be worth nearly 26 million today. It was no accident that this happened at lunch hour at the busiest intersection of Wall Street. You can still see remnants of the damage to this day.
Needless to say, trading on the New York Stock Exchange was suspended immediately. James Saul, aged 17, took a car and spent a good deal of time transporting 30 people to hospital. I bet he turned out to be an amazing person. Unfortunately, that information seems to be lost to history.
So anxious were they to get back to business as usual that they cleaned the area up that night, destroying a lot of evidence. But flyers were found that said, “ Free the political prisoners, or it will be sure death for all of you. American Anarchist Fighters.” It is now assumed that the political prisoners referred to were Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who were erroneously arrested (and later electrocuted) for murdering two people.
So there you have it. A bit of history to enjoy while eating your corn flakes this morning. You’re welcome.
It’s hard to imagine, but the area around Central Park in New York City used to be very rural. It was sparsely populated, with enough trees that the residents could gather their own firewood. They also obtained fish from the river.
One settlement, called Pigtown, had to relocate up there because their pigs were stinky enough to cause the residents in town (which was all below 14th street at the time) to complain. There were also a few bone-boiling plants around the area that is now home to Tavern on the Green, as well as a Hessian encampment from the revolutionary war, and an old fortification from the War of 1812 that still stands.
But by far the largest settlement, all but forgotten until recently, was Seneca Village. This was not some transient squatters camp full of criminals, or some shantytown full of illegal bars, as the media in the 1850’s would have you believe. This place fell victim to the propaganda perpetuated by those who really, really wanted that park.
No, this was a middle class, mostly African American community of long-established homes. The settlement had been founded in 1825, and most of the residents had lived there that entire time. There were 3 churches. There were schools. Of the 91 African American males with enough property to be allowed to vote in New York State at the time, 10 of them lived in Seneca Village. According to the 1855 census, this village had 264 residents.
Make no mistake: these people did not want to leave their village to make way for Central Park. They were forced out, along with about 1400 other people in the area. The park was originally set for a different site, but that location was owned by rich white people, and their lawsuits caused the city to look elsewhere.
The residents of Seneca Village also had lawsuits, but they lacked influence. Some of these residents stayed on until the bitter end, and were removed rather violently in 1857. Many of them weren’t adequately compensated when eminent domain made way for the park. The village was razed, leaving almost no trace that people once lived and loved and made a home there.
What must it have been like to watch your village, the place where you worshipped and shopped and helped your neighbor, get destroyed? How heartbreaking to realize just how powerless you are. How outrageous to have your legacy ripped from you, only to have it so quickly forgotten by the wider world.
Now, all that remains of Seneca Village is a plaque and a few archeological dig sites. Even the descendants of these people have been lost to time. I find this all rather sad.
Imagine if, purely by accident, you stumbled upon a way to have at least 50,000 people gaze lovingly at your business at any given time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I know if I drew that much attention to my blog, even once, I’d think I had died and gone to heaven. That’s the kind of PR gold that most fortune 500 companies would pay millions, as in Superbowl advertising money, to obtain.
But somehow, the Animal Adventure Park, a petting zoo in Harpursville, New York, halfway between Syracuse and Scranton, managed to achieve this miracle without even really trying. All they did was put up a live camera in the stall of April, their pregnant giraffe. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They thought a few locals might be interested, and some regular visitors to the park might want to take a peek as well. They never expected the world would be beating a path to their door.
As April’s anticipated due date came and went with no baby appearing, all eyes began to anxiously await the new arrival. They got to know the vet, the owner, and the handlers by name. They created Facebook groups. Plush toys and posters began flying out of their gift shop. They created a text alert system, where paid subscribers could obtain updates and exclusive photos.
When the calf was finally born on April 15th, 1.2 million people were watching the live feed. I was one of them, and I have to admit I had an ugly, joyful cry. They are now having a contest where you can pay to vote for a name for the new baby boy. So far, so good.
But publicity has its downsides. Fielding all those interviews and e-mails has made it nearly impossible for the park to focus on business as usual. At one point, April was limping, and their servers crashed from all the e-mails they received from concerned viewers. People even called 911. And everybody’s a critic. Are they being fed enough? Too much? Why don’t they go outside more often?
So, on the day of this writing, the Animal Adventure Park decided to pull the live camera, just as they had planned to do all along, prior to all this kerfuffle. They thought 5 days of seeing the baby was plenty. Thanks for watching. Now please go away.
I cried when that camera went down. April has been streaming on my laptop at least 8 hours a day for weeks now. As I wrote this blog, I had her off to the side, keeping me company. She has become part of my life. And I’m in love with that baby boy. I know I’m not alone. Schools have used April to teach about Giraffe conservation. Senior centers have noticed that their Alzheimer’s patients may have trouble remembering other things, but they are anxious to check on April every day. We have become a family.
The park staff say that you’ll be able to see them occasionally on yard cameras, and they’ll have sporadic updates and photos, and maybe turn the camera on every once in a while, but it won’t be the same. And what they’re doing makes no sense at all.
I hate to say this, but April is a cash cow. And all this attention could be parlayed into a unique opportunity to educate people about giraffes and their endangerment. It would be a great avenue for fundraising for the park. That little zoo in that little town could become Giraffe central. They could be the go-to people for giraffe information. Yes, it creates more work. So hire a Public Relations person. The live cam would raise funds for that easily.
Throwing away a chance like this seems foolish. It’s such a waste. I will never understand this thought process.
April, I’ll miss you. Having you snatched away from all of us is no way to celebrate Earth Day.
If you took a psychology class in high school or college, then the name Kitty Genovese probably rings a bell. She was the woman from Queens, New York, who, legend has it, was stabbed to death in 1964 in front of 38 witnesses, and not one of them did a thing. It’s a tragic story, and a shocking one, that lead many researchers to study the concept of diffusion of responsibility.
I had a really interesting conversation with a friend about this recently (waving at Caly). She mentioned that if you’re going to be attacked, it’s better to have it happen in front of one person, rather than a crowd, because an individual is more likely to do something. I think that’s sad, but true. The larger the crowd, the more likely you are to think someone else will take charge, and the less guilty you will feel when everyone else around you is being equally inactive.
But, I theorized, in this modern world, the more people you have around, the more likely it will be that someone will video the attack on their iPhone. Because nowadays that’s what one does, isn’t it? So, yes, you’ll still probably die a painful, bloody death, but at least there’s a chance that your killer will be caught “on tape”, so to speak. That’s progress of a sort, isn’t it? Kind of?
But, before writing this article, I went to that font of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, and read the article on Kitty Genovese, and it was quite fascinating. First of all, it’s not as if there were 38 people standing in a circle, watching the entire crime from start to finish while twiddling their thumbs. It turns out that the number of witnesses was inaccurately reported, and of those who saw something, they only saw a snippet of the interaction. Many thought it was just a lover’s quarrel. Most didn’t realize that a stabbing had taken place. Others, behind closed doors and several floors away, saw nothing and weren’t quite sure what they heard. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, after all. And Kitty was stabbed in the lungs early on in the attack, so it’s very likely that her “screams” weren’t very loud at all, unfortunately.
Also, at least two people called the police, and one woman rushed out and cradled Kitty in her arms as she lay dying, despite the fact that no one could be sure that the murderer had left the area. And then there’s the fact that it was 1964. More people would be apt to turn their backs on what they considered to be domestic abuse than would in modern times. In theory.
So maybe there’s hope for humanity after all.
Another interesting angle to this story that I don’t remember reading in my psychology textbooks is that the killer, Winston Moseley, was, indeed, captured, prosecuted and convicted. He was given the death penalty originally, but it was reduced to a life sentence eventually. And this was one really bad man. He actually went on a hunt that night to kill a woman, any woman, and Kitty just happened to be the first one who crossed his path.
Moseley also confessed to killing and raping two other women, committing an untold number of burglaries, and later he managed to escape custody. During that time he held 4 people hostage in two different houses, and raped one of them. He also participated in the famous Attica Prison Riot. Needless to say, this guy was a total nut job, and prison was where he needed to be. But I was pretty surprised to discover that he only died in prison just recently, on March 28, 2016, at the age of 81. He was unrepentant to his dying day.
I think the worst tragedy, here, is that Kitty Genovese was only given 28 years on this earth, and her horrible death is practically preserved in amber, inaccurately reported in textbooks all over the world. I’m sure she would have preferred to be remembered for other things, such as her reportedly sunny disposition.
If you ever find yourself visiting Lakeview Cemetery in New Canaan, Connecticut, please visit her grave and pay your respects.
One day a friend of mine was doing some gardening and a foot long mullet fell out of the sky with a thud, missing him by mere feet. Apparently the neighborhood osprey had butter fingers. You don’t expect fish to fall out of the sky. It sort of challenges your sense of reality.
Coyotes have been seen in Central Park in New York City. Kind of makes you not want to walk your Yorkie without a body guard. Speaking of which, when I lived in South Florida, a neighbor told me that she was walking her little dog and a bobcat jumped out of the bushes and carried it off, never to be seen again.
And another friend was sitting at a red light in stormy weather when all of a sudden all the lights in the area went out, and a tornado crossed through the intersection right in front of her. She said it was as if a car were crossing through. A big, loud, scary, dangerous, windy car. But my friend’s vehicle wasn’t moved at all.
About a decade ago, a hurricane picked up thousands of frog eggs from the tropics and gently deposited them all on a gentleman’s front porch in Connecticut. None of them landed anywhere else.
A couple years ago scientists were studying a dust cloud in outer space and discovered it contained the same chemical that gives raspberries their flavor. I don’t know why, but that makes me happy.
Back in November, 2012 I read a National Geographic article which stated that scientists have tested the microbial contents of the human belly button, and discovered some strange stuff. One guy had bacteria that had previously been found only in soil in Japan, but he’d never been to Japan. Another guy had some bacteria that usually only thrives in ice caps and thermal vents.
And in a book by my favorite author, Bill Bryson, called A Short History of Nearly Everything, he discusses, among other fascinating things, a slug that turns into a plant. This is not a fictional book. I’ve been unable to forget that fun fact.
We like to think we are privy to the laws of nature, but I’m beginning to think there are none.
The other day I learned about an amazing woman named Moira Johnston who is an advocate for women’s rights and human rights. One of her latest acts is walking topless through Manhattan. Because she can. It’s legal in New York State to do so, you know. Here’s a direct quote from her website: “It is legal for women to go topless anywhere men may do the same in the entire state of New York, since 1992.” Needless to say she draws quite a lot of attention and raises quite a lot of, uh…awareness about this double standard. People stop and take pictures. Some drive the wrong way down one way streets.
I was quite surprised at my own inner turmoil when I first heard about Moira the other day. Part of me thought, “Good for her! Why not?” but another part of me was shocked. So I had to ask myself why. It really is rather silly, this “thing” we have about women’s breasts. What’s the difference? Just a little bit of topography, really. I think the reason women’s breasts are so sexualized in the first place is because we keep them so hidden. The taboo is what turns people on.
We often make fun of cultures that keep their women entirely covered up, because we think it’s as simple as thinking that men can’t control themselves otherwise. Clearly the issue is much more complex than that. We keep ourselves covered, too. It’s so pervasive we don’t even realize it. There’s this unspoken social pressure. Would I have the courage to go topless in Manhattan? No.
And the more I think about it, the more I resent it. Once, when I was 19, I was hiking in the Swiss Alps. It was a warm summer day. The view was spectacular, and there was no one for miles around. All you could hear was the cowbells on the other end of the valley. I decided to hike topless. And I will never forget the feeling of freedom. I haven’t been topless in public since then, and I miss that feeling so much. I take exception to the societal norms that restrict me.
So thank you, Moira, for what you’re doing. I wish I could say it will make a difference. I want it to. But I have my doubts.
One day, the summer of my 25th year, I was standing in a New York City subway station and had the place to myself, which was a surprise. I was waiting for the sound of the approaching transport as you do in those situations. Once you’ve read all the advertisements, there’s really nothing to look at. At least in an elevator you can stare at the floor numbers, for all the good that does you.
And then down the urine-scented stairs came this man, moving so quietly I didn’t realize he was even there at first, so it gave me a start when I finally noticed him. He was a tall thin Rastafarian with dreadlocks all the way to his waist. Dressed neatly but inexpensively, he seemed to make it a point not to invade my space. He went and leaned against a pillar many yards away.
I’m a people watcher from way back, and with no train in sight, I started imagining his life in my head. Where did he live? Did he have children? What did he do for a living? What would we talk about if given the chance? And then finally I heard the sound of air rushing through the tunnel. He shifted, and we made eye contact. And they were the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen, before or since. As cliché as it sounds, they took my breath away. I really wanted to know this man. I wanted to say, “Wait! Talk to me.” Of course I didn’t.
We got on separate cars. We got off at different stops. And I still occasionally think of his eyes. I’m sure I didn’t stand out in his mind even back then. He was probably thinking about his plans for the day, or what to buy his kid for his birthday or something like that. But he is the standard by which I judge all eyes to this very day.
You just never know the impact you have upon those around you. I love the possibility that I, too, am in someone’s head like that, but by this type of encounter’s very nature I will never know.
Neither one of these are quite right, but you get the idea.