African Burial Ground National Monument

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Time spent 39 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The Visitor Center focuses quite a bit on the efforts at balancing the human desire to learn from the skeletons and artifacts in the burial ground, with the human desire to treat those remains respectfully and not have them end up on dusty museum shelves for eternity.  That’s a hard balance, and it’s valuable to have a glimpse into the  conversations that led to the compromises they made. 

African Burial Ground National MonumentThe African Burial Ground is a small monument overshadowed by the government buildings around Foley Square.  As they were digging for a new federal building in 1991 they discovered bodies, and from there re-discovered a forgotten cemetery used by the city’s African American population in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

African Burial Ground National MonumentToday a corner of what used to be the cemetery is a small green open space with a black granite monument, standing in for a headstone.  There aren’t any markers, of course, and if it weren’t for the signs and a series of low humps of earth, you’d probably just think it was a pocket park.  It’s not the whole extent of the cemetery, as this city is sufficiently about commerce and building that it won’t let the past fully forestall progress, even when that past includes the earthly remains of slaves.

Mosaic of Skeletons, African Burial Ground
Photomosaic of the remains examined and then re-interred at the African Burial Ground

You can visit the national monument in just a few minutes.  However, the as is the norm with the National Park Service, the visitor center’s exhibits are simple, thoughtful, and earnest, and merit spending some time and contemplation.

Comparative mortality ages show almost no African Americans lived to a ripe old age.

It looks at what we know about the people laid to rest at the Burial Ground — nothing in terms of written records, but quite a bit based on archaeological evidence.  It also talks a bit about contemporary black residents of New York about whom we do know something, and paints an unflinching picture of the hardships they faced.


The narrative of the visitor center speaks of “ancestors” (the remains of the people they dug up) and “descendants” (the modern activists who argued for humane treatment of those remains.  It forges a compelling but unproveable link– we don’t know the names of those who were buried there, and there probably isn’t enough DNA in bones that old to connect them with certainty to any living person.  Without a doubt, though, they were New Yorkers, and it seems very right that there is a space in the heart of the civic center of the city to note and remember the role that they played.

African Burial Ground National Monument Museum The African Burial Ground is definitely not entertaining.  But it is important.  Every New Yorker and everyone with an interest in the city and its history should go and pay their respects.

For Reference:

Address 290 Broadway (Visitor Center) and corner of Duane and Elk Streets (National Monument), Manhattan
Cost  Free


Hall of Fame for Great Americans

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Time spent 46 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Honestly, the whole thing, as a total work of art, history, sociology, Americana, and miraculous survival.  The whole Hall of Fame is the best part of the Hall of Fame.

Halls of fame today are two-a-penny.  Everyone and everything from minor league lacrosse to rock n roll  has a hall of fame.  But it wasn’t always that way.  There had to be, at some point, a first one.

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans was the first hall of fame in history.  Designed by the ubiquitous Stanford White as part of his broader super-classical design for NYU’s campus in the then-bucolic Bronx at the turn of the 20th century, the Hall of Fame was a shining beacon on a hill, inspiring Americans everywhere by demonstrating greatness across all fields of endeavor.  And American greatness at that. Continue reading “Hall of Fame for Great Americans”

Socrates Sculpture Park

Edification value
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Time spent 28 minutes (it was chilly)
Best thing I saw or learned Bryan Zanisnik’s “Monument to Walken” (2016) A bunch of cement heads of Christopher Walken, sprouting from the ground like malevolent mushrooms.  If I had a garden, I would absolutely want one or two for it.

Socrates Sculpture Park is a fantastic place to see, well, sculpture.  Located on the East River waterfront in Queens, it hosts changing exhibitions of works designed for an outdoor environment. Continue reading “Socrates Sculpture Park”

Isamu Noguchi Museum

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Time spent 100 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned It’s surprisingly difficult to pick a favorite! But I will call out Walking Void #2 (1970), which is a highly finished piece of granite, utterly harmonious and balanced.Isamu Noguchi Museum, Walking Void #2

Noguchi. I’d always meant to visit the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Queens.  I love Japan, and it always sounded like a good little museum to visit.  But then again, I only really knew Noguchi from blocks of stone that looked unfinished to me, like the sculptor gave up halfway through, and that famous curvy wood and glass coffee table from the 1950s.

So it never made it to the top of my to-do list.

To sum up, it’s amazing. I won’t look at or think about his work the same way again.  Seeing it in its own company, and understanding how it evolved, or how he evolved, was joyous and eye-opening. Continue reading “Isamu Noguchi Museum”